Masada PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
Water Supply
Herodian Structures
Northern Palace
First Jewish Revolt
Masada and revolt

The Northern Palace

Just north of the bathhouse we see a plastered wall; it stretches across this narrow part of the mountain. Behind it is the upper ledge of Herod's three-tiered northern palace. He built it as a refuge from the rest of the family -- hence the wall. If Masada itself was designed as a refuge, then here was a refuge within the refuge!


Herod chose the northern end for his private "hideaway," because it turns its back to the sun and, jutting out, gets the dominant southwest breeze.

The palace has three tiers. The upper one was the residence. It affords a panorama to the north and east. Note the green strip of Ein Gedi, six miles distant (photo below).  We can also see the path of the water carriers who supplied the Roman army; it leads toward springs three miles away.


Directly below are the two lower tiers, which served as pleasure gardens. Herod's builders enlarged the mountain with retaining walls to provide sufficient space.

We can reach these lower tiers by descending a staircase (southwest of the "privacy wall") of 160 steps. Pausing in the middle tier, we find a section of Herod's own winding staircase. This tier probably had pillars supporting a roof. The circular channel may have contained water.

The lowest tier is the best-kept part of Masada. Many frescoes were preserved under rubble and have since been restored (enlarge photo on right). We note the scrupulous avoidance of images. The lines are soft, because the artist would paint in fresco, that is, he would paint the fresh plaster while still wet; the colors wouldn't fade, therefore, when the wall was washed.

Each pillar was made of sections, which were plastered over to resemble a single stone. So it was with all the pillars on Masada. The plaster apparently fooled Josephus (or more likely, his Roman informant): "These buildings were supported by pillars of single stones on every side," he wrote. (War VII 8.3) Josephus made another error too: he mixed the northern palace up with the western one.

This lowest tier had its own bathhouse on the east. Here and in the grounds nearby, beneath ash, the archaeologists found human remains, including a woman's braid. There were sandals, arrows and scales of armor. Archaeologist Yigal Yadin attributed these to Jewish rebels (as he did 25 skeletons found in a cave on the southern end). An Israeli researcher has disputed these claims (Zias ).