We got an early start from Tamar, driving north and a bit east to Mamshit. This is a well preserved Nabatean trading village along the Incense Route. I have only visited this site once before, in January 2012, so there are a number of this I wanted to explore, at the top of the hill there is an early Byzantine church with a number of Greek mosaics and a most interesting baptismal in a side room. The size and shape both strike me as odd, since it seems to have been used for immersion (there are steps), it it is so small it would have to be a self immersion at best. Mamshit also has a large Nabatean mansion with several nicely reconstructed rooms. Since we saw the Nabatean tombs at Petra, it is god to see how the wealthy lived.
From Mamshit it is a short 40 minute drive to Tel Arad. This marvelous site has been on all six of my tours for several reasons. First, the Canaanite villages allows visitors to see a Canaanite home (in contrast to a four room house) as wee as a Canaanite sacred precinct. At the top of the Tel is an Israelite fortress excavated to the eighth century B.C. The large gates loom over the site, but the real highlight is an early Israelite temple at the center. This complex of rooms is the same general proportions as Solomon’s temple, although the Holy of Holies in the center of the Temple rather than at the end. A standing stone was found in the Holy of Holies, but it has been moved to a museum. Two incense stands were found buried in the ground, either as the result of Hezekiah or Josiah’s reforms.
From Arad we drove to Masada, the highlight of any tour of the Dead Sea region. Masada was a desert fortress / palace built by Herod the Great on the top of a steep, flat-topped mountain. He had cisterns and a water system built to collect the minimal rainfall and provide water for most of a year, and storehouses for food, wine, weapons and other supplies. While the Herodians planned for a worst case scenario, it was a group of Zealots who captured the citadel when Jerusalem rebelled against Rome. When Jerusalem fell, the Zealots held put at Masada for over a year, finally choosing to kill themselves rather then be captured by Rome.
Our visit was early afternoon, so it was beastly hot. We made our way to the store rooms, northern palace, bath house and fantastic view of the Dead Sea valley, looking to the north. Most of the kids went down the stairs to the palace, I stayed on top to take their picture. Not that I couldn’t walk back up those stairs…
We had more than an hour for the Dead Sea float. We went to a private beach behind a cosmetics store, which has a nice patio with cold drinks and that type of thing. Everyone went into the water, although I neglected to warn the ladies to not shave their legs that morning (I never remember that, for some reason).
Tomorrow is our last full day in Israel, starting the the desert at Tamar, hiking at En Gedi, visiting Qumran, and a final fling in the Old City.