Take in Jerusalem from Mount Scopus, walk the ruins of Masada and dip your feet in the salty Dead Sea, the lowest point on Earth.
The Dead Sea is a salt lake bordering Israel, Jordan and the West Bank. It is the lowest point of dry land in the world. The high level of salt in the water makes swimming feel more like floating and the mineral rich mud provides health benefits for arthritis, chronic pain and skin conditions. Plants and animals cannot live near the body of water; however, jackals, leopards and birds live in the surrounding area as an established nature preserve. The Dead Sea has been shrinking rapidly and Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian State are working to combat the erosion.
The Dead Sea can be seen from Masada, a mountain fortress built by King Herod in the first century BCE. It is believed Sodom and Gomorra stood on the Southeastern shore of the sea before being destroyed in the Book of Genesis. The Essenes of Qumran, who lived in caves overlooking the Dead Sea in the first century BCE, left an extensive religious library known as the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in the 1940s.
Masada is an ancient stone site atop a desert plateau with a view of the Dead Sea which can be reached by snake path or cableway. This National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site is a well-preserved piece of the ancient kingdom of Israel with many of its buildings and artifacts restored. Masada is one of the most popular Israeli tourist attractions featuring light shows on summer nights. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) holds swearing in ceremonies at the top of the mountain and many young Jews take birthright excursions to the top at sunrise.
Built as a palace by King Herod in the first century BCE, Masada became a fortress against the Romans, the siege of which led to the mass suicide of Jewish rebels. Masada’s last occupation was by Byzantine monks who built the Monastery of Marda. Its remoteness left Masada untouched for two millennia until the site was extensively excavated in the 1960s.
Mount Scopus is a mountain ridge that offers a vast view of the Old City. When Jews were barred from Jerusalem, many would view the city from the Mount, which served as a UN-protected site during the 1948 War and Six Day War. Hebrew University, built on the Mount, contains the National Botanic Garden which houses the largest collection of Israeli uncultivated plants, and Tabachnik Garden, a national park featuring burial caves from the Second Temple Period and views of the Dead Sea. The Mount also holds the Hadassah Medical Center and the Cave of Nicanor, an ancient burial site. Mount Scopus has multiple cemeteries and memorials for fallen soldiers including Jerusalem War Cemetery, American Colony Cemetery and Bentwich Cemetery.