Masada Snake Path



The Snake Path is a winding path which leads from the base of Masada to the summit. The path is on the eastern side of Masada and takes you up 349.9 meters in altitude (1,148 feet). Because of the twists and turns in the winding path hikers cover about 2km while scaling the 400 cliff using more than 700 steps. Today there are three options for scaling Masada – the cable car; the Snake Path on the east side and the Ramp Path on the west side which is not open to the public. The Ramp Path goes up Masada along the ramp constructed by Roman troops when holding the Jewish rebels under siege in 73AD.

The Snake Path in History

Mt. Masada tour couponsThe only significant record of the events which took place on Masada in the 1st century come from the writings of Roman historian Josephus Flavius (c.37-100) who wrote: “….. (it) is called the Serpent, as resembling that animal in its narrowness and perpetual winding…” Flavius also wrote of the path: “…there is nothing but destruction in case your feet slip, for on each side there is a vastly deep chasm and precipice, sufficient to quell the courage of everybody by the terror it infuses into the mind.” Josephus also tells us of the original inhabitation of Masada by Jonathan the High Priest (Alexander Jannaeus) who may have been responsible for first establishing the Snake Path when he fortified the summit in the 1st century BC. Jannaeus was the king of the Hashmonean Kingdom from 103BC to 76BC. It is possible that Josephus was referring to Alexander Jannaeus’ great uncle who shared the same name.

It is unsure who originally establishing this winding route but by the time Herod had his fortress built on Masada in 37BC-31BC the path was already in use. In fact there were three narrow paths up to Herod’s fortress gates but the Snake Path was like a backdoor to the fortress. It was used to bring up all the building materials, furniture, supplies and animals. Herod was followed by a Roman garrison which is thought to have guarded the mount from 6AD to 66AD when the Jewish War broke out. The Roman guards would have also used the Snake Path. Masada was taken from the Roman garrison by a group of Jewish zealots led by Judah the Galilean; later Eleazar den Yair escaped the war in Jerusalem and joined the zealots on Masada. He took over leadership on Masada and it became a base for Jewish rebels. During this period the Jews of Masada would make raids on the settlements near Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea; presumably using the Snake Path for scaling the mountain each time they left or returned from a raid. A group of Jews joined Eleazar ben Yair on Masada and they became the last outpost of resistance against the Romans. Roman Governor Flavius Silva ordered a legion, auxiliary troops and thousands of Jewish slaves to capture Masada. The Romans found it impossible to use the Snake Path to reach the Jews on the summit because of the advantageous position of defense that the mountain-top position afforded the Jews. If they had tried to storm the fortress via the Snake Path they would have been easily killed by arrows raining down on them from the Jews above. Instead the troops went to the western side where they set up camp. The Romans laid siege to the mount and in the end managed to reach the summit having built an assault ramp up the western side of Masada bringing them level with the fortified walls on the summit. Once they had broken through the defensive walls they found that Eleazar and the rest of the Jews had committed suicide instead of risking capture by the Romans.

In the following years Masada was manned by a small Roman garrison. In the Byzantine era Masada was used as a retreat for monks and in the Crusader Period Masada was also inhabited. All of these inhabitants and visitors to Masada during ancient history would have used the snake path. In modern times the soldiers of the Israeli Armored Corps hike up the Snake Path to the summit each year at the end of their basic training for the swearing in ceremony is held. Before the installation of the cable car in 1971 the Snake Path was used by tourists visiting Masada.

Climbing the Snake Path

Masada is open to visitors daily 8am- 4:30am and closes an hour early on Fridays. The Snake Path opens an hour before sunrise mini-DSC_0300and closes approximately 10am because of the heat. The authorities don’t want to risk hikers collapsing because of the heat on their way up. Climbing the Snake Path (including entrance to the site on the summit) will cost you 29ILS. Youths 5yrs-17yrs pay 15ILS. The cable car opens at 8am and stays open for the duration of the day until the site closes. You could take a one-way cable car ride up Masada for 57ILS (youths 29ILS, students 48ILS, seniors 29ILS) and then hike down the Snake Path or do the opposite. A return trip on the cable car costs 76ILS (youths 43ILS, students 65ILS, seniors 38ILS). The Visitor Center, food court, museum and cable car are all on the east side close to the start of the Snake Path. None of the amenities or cable car are open as early as the Snake Path. The cable car runs 8am-4pm in the winter and 5pm in summer. There are no guides along the route so try to do the hike with other people. Cover yourself in sunscreen, wear a hat and take a flashlight if climbing in the early morning. Dress in layers so you can peel off your clothes as the weather warms up. It will take you about 60-120 minutes to hike up the Snake Path and about half the time to hike down.

The best time to tackle the Snake Path is before sunrise so that you can enjoy the beautiful sunrise once you reach the top. You could spend the previous night at the hostel at the foot of Masada in order to get an early start. Hikers are allowed to start the ascent an hour before sunrise. Take water with you and stop to drink regularly on your way up. Take note that some sections of the path do not have railings so you need to be careful. Unlike Herod, the Jewish Rebels or the Romans the Snake Path now has sections where there are steps that have been installed for safety reasons. Despite the railings and staircases you still have to be careful when climbing the Snake Path. In 2015 a 20 year old American fell 7.9 meters (26 feet) from the Snake Path as she was hiking. Another incident occurred the same year when a group of 56 American students had to be rescued from the path; 25 members of the hiking group had suffered dehydration. The group had been hiking during a heat wave where temperatures on the Snake Path reached 40°C (104°F).

 



 

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