Masada: the Last Fortress

Masada, which means “fortress” in Hebrew, is a place of history, defiance, triumph and tragedy all rolled in one. About three months ago, we had the chance to visit this place.

After Jerusalem, Masada is the second most visited site for tourists in Israel. This fortress became a symbol of pride for the Jewish people, as it was their last stronghold against the Roman invasion.

DSC_0389

IMG_4219

Masada is located at the western end of the Judean Desert. Sitting on top of an isolated rock plateau, with surrounding cliffs as natural barrier, it is understandable why it was so hard to conquer it.

Today, it does not shun intruders, instead it even invites guests to come for a visit. To get to this fortress though, you have to ride a lift.

DSC_0371

DSC_0428

There is also a trail going through stairs that you can hike from the bottom of the valley to the top of the cliff.  This route is for the more adventurous souls, and definitely you need to be in excellent condition to go up this way.

DSC_0375

After reaching the top, we feasted on the spectacular view around us.

DSC_0379

DSC_0383

DSC_0426 (1)

DSC_0410

Masada is overlooking the Dead Sea valley which is the lowest point on earth.

Photo below is the Dead Sea which is about 430 meters below sea level, while the height from the valley floor below to the Masada fortress is 450 meters. So even though it looks that this fortress is at such a height, in actuality, it is at sea level.

IMG_4225

While we were on top of the cliff, we saw some paragliders sailing above the Masada fort. I would say this is far more cooler way to tour Masada, that is through a bird’s-eye view.

DSC_0392

DSC_0385

DSC_0397

King Herod the Great built the Masada fortress as a refuge for himself. Not only as a fortress, but on the northern part of it, separated by a wall from the fort, is a residential villa for the king.

Below is what remains of a palace court.

IMG_4223

Even what was left were ruins, it can be noted that this king’s palace was such a lavish place during its heyday. Photo below is one of the terraces of the king’s villa.

IMG_4224

King Herod the Great found a way to bring water to this fortress. Not just that it was in the middle of a desert, but also bringing up water to such a high place took a lot of engineering, logistics and possibly enormous brute labor.

Below is what remains of a large bath house.

IMG_4233

This specific room is the caldarium, where the suspended floor was supported by rows of low pillars, so hot air from the furnace outside, can be blown under the floor and through clay pipes along the walls, to heat the room to the desired temperature. In other words, it was the sauna! Who would have thought sauna was existing already more than two thousand years ago?

IMG_4235

After Jerusalem fell to the Romans in 70 CE, a group of Jewish rebels, zealots, and their family, held the fort of Masada. According to history written by Josephus Flavius, the Romans established camp at the base of Masada, and the fort was laid in siege. The Romans constructed a ramp from thousands of stones and beaten earth against the western wall of the fortress. It was said that part of the ramp were bodies of dead Roman soldiers, who died during the battle.

Below is the photo of the ramp the Romans built to conquer Masada.

DSC_0423

Finally in 74 CE, the Romans moved a battering ram up this ramp, and breached the wall of the fortress.

DSC_0388

The tragic story of Masada was when the Jewish defenders realized that it was apparent that the fortress would fall and they would be conquered, they decided to commit a mass suicide. There were almost one thousand men, women and children. They chose to die from their own swords than be conquered.

Those Jewish defenders casted lots to choose 10 men who would kill the last survivors. And then the last Jew killed himself, before the fort finally fell to the Roman invaders.

DSC_0425

Masada, a mighty fortress by a mighty people. Yes, it was breached and invaded. But never conquered.

*******

(*all photos taken by pinoytransplant)

 

 

 

Walking Where Jesus Walked

Life is a journey they say. As I commemorate my fifth decade here on earth, I decided not just to go for a trip, but for a pilgrimage. I wanted to walk where Jesus walked.

In tracing the steps of our Saviour, we ventured to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus. But unlike the familiar Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Bethlehem today is not a little town but a thriving busy city.


We were led to an old church, the Church of Nativity, where it was believed, based on tradition, to be the site of Jesus’ birth.

At the basement of this church was the marked site where He was born. But there was no shepherds. No angels singing. Just a crowd of eager people trying to make a bee line to see this site.

Then as we traveled through Israel, I saw signs that points to Nazareth, the place that Jesus spent most of His years – from His childhood until He started His ministry. But the Bible was silent about those years He spent in Nazareth.

We followed Jesus’ footsteps into the river Jordan. This is where He was baptized, signaling the start of His ministry.

Some in our group even decided to be baptized in the Jordan River.


Jordan River is not as a large and mighty as I imagined. Though it appears “muddy” as it was described in the scriptures. No wonder Captain Naaman of the Syrian army as recorded in 2 Kings, refused to dip in this water.

Yet, muddy or not, I must at least dip my hand, and my belief.

Then we followed Jesus’ footsteps into the mountains near Jericho. This is the mountain where it was believed He was tempted.

What could it be like to spent 40 days and 40 nights in this barren place? Though interestingly today, there is a stone quarry at the foot of the mountain. Definitely lots of stones that can be turned into bread.

Then we looked for Jesus’ traces in the town of Cana. This is where He performed His first miracle, where in a wedding feast, He turned water into wine.


IMG_4622

Our trip then led us to a town that He spent some time during His ministry, a town called Capernaum or Capharnaum.

The only remains of this town today are ruins. Though the site is still beautiful as it is beside the lake, known as the Sea of Galilee. We even saw the remains of an old synagogue (photo below).


Even though we only see ruins of that Capernaum town, it showed us a glimpse, a window if you will, of where Jesus walked.

We climbed a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee. This they say is where He gave His teachings or His sermon on the mount, that became known as the Beatitudes.

img_4588

img_4594

As I looked at the beautiful scenery, I tried to listen through the blowing wind, to His voice and His teachings, in that Beatitude mountain.

img_4605

We even had the chance to sail across the Sea of Galilee, where on this very waters, He shouted “Peace, be still,” amidst the roaring waves and howling winds. Good thing there’s no violent storm when we sailed across it.

img_4535 I could even imagine the footsteps that He left on the waters, when he walked on it. But no one among us tried to walk on the water, for that will be preposterous.

We followed Him through Jerusalem. We climbed the Mount of Olives, where He spent some time teaching and praying.

From the Mount of Olives we viewed the City of Jerusalem (photo below). This is where Jesus wept when He looked into the city and the temple, knowing of its coming destruction.

IMG_4336.JPG

Then we trace Jesus’ footsteps into the walled city of Jerusalem and walked in its streets and alleys.

IMG_4402

IMG_4455

We followed Him into the Garden of Gethsemane where He fervently prayed, the night before He was arrested.

IMG_1501

Then we walked the path known as Via Dolorosa or the Way of Suffering. This is the path that he chose to walk on his way to Calvary in behalf of you and me. (Photo below is Station V of the Stations of the Cross in the Via Dolorosa)

IMG_4454

We then went to the place known as the Skull Hill (calvarium is Latin for skull) or also known as Golgotha. This is the place believed where Jesus was crucified and died, so we can have life.

Below is the Skull Hill today. Old photos of this hill showed it is really shaped as a skull, though recent earthquakes have changed its distinct features.


Then we went to see the tomb where they laid His body after He died. (The Garden Tomb is one site, though there’s another possible site, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which we also visited.)

We even went inside the tomb. But that tomb was empty. For He is risen! And that is the very foundation of my faith.

As we celebrate this Lent season, may we contemplate on His life and what He has done for all of us.

IMG_4541

at the Sea of Galilee

And as a pilgrim, I realize that walking where Jesus walked would be pointless, unless we also follow His will and walked spiritually as well, where He walked.

May we have a meaningful and glorious Easter.

Walking Through Old Jerusalem

In our trip to the Holy Land, we walked inside Old Jerusalem. It is a walled city that roughly covers one square kilometer within the modern city of Jerusalem. It’s a place that has been, and still is, the center of constant clash of powers throughout history.

IMG_4330

The city of Jerusalem have been surrounded by walls for its defense since ancient times. These walls have been destroyed several times but also have been rebuilt through the ages depending on whose occupying the city.

Since Biblical times, the walls of Jerusalem have been well-known. Photo below is the tower of David, old Jerusalem’s citadel, located on the western side of the walled city.

IMG_4400

Most of the walls that exist today is from the Ottoman Empire of the 16th century, when Sultan Suleiman decided to fully rebuild the walls.

IMG_4464

Entrance through the walled city is through several gates. Currently there are eight open gates to the city. The ninth gate, the Golden Gate, is blocked and closed, as according to tradition, is awaiting for the arrival of the Messiah.

Below is one of the gates leading to the old city. I believe this one is called the New Gate.

IMG_4338

We entered the city through the Jaffa gate and began our walk inside the old city.

IMG_4401

Perhaps the most known part of Jerusalem’s wall is the Western Wall, or also known as the Wailing Wall. This is considered sacred by the Jews, believed to be the only remnant of the wall that was part of the Second Jewish Temple, rebuilt and renovated by King Herod the Great, and was destroyed by the Romans. (The first temple was built by King Solomon and was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E.)

The Wailing Wall has been the site for pilgrimages and a place to pray for the Jews, where it is believed that one has immediately has the “ear of God.” Below is part of the Wailing Wall.

IMG_4461

Walking through the narrow streets and alleys inside the old city gives you a feeling that you’re walking through the pages of history.

IMG_4408

IMG_4411

IMG_4452

IMG_4427

Most of these small streets are only passable by walking.

IMG_4409

Though there are very narrow alleys that cars can drive through.

IMG_4404

There is also a part of our walk that we went through market-like alleys. As a Filipino, I feel like I was in Divisoria or Tutuban in the Philippines.

IMG_4429

There is food, spices, jewelry, and other merchandises as you can imagine.

IMG_4460

IMG_4438

IMG_4431

IMG_4432

IMG_4436IMG_4439

There is even this Holy Rock Café. Only in Jerusalem.

IMG_4443

But perhaps the most visited locations in Old Jerusalem are the churches and religious sites.

IMG_4424

A famous path for pilgrims and visitors is the path known as Via Dolorosa, or Way of Suffering. It is also called the Way of the Cross. This path is believed to be the path that Jesus took from Pontius Pilate’s court, to Calvary, and finally to his tomb.

On this Way of the Cross are 14 stations where significant events were believed to have happened. However, many of these locations were based on traditions only, rather than hard facts or archeological findings.

IMG_4454

Above photo is station V, where Simon of Cyrene was compelled by the Roman soldiers to carry the cross of Jesus. Below are other stations we passed through.

IMG_4450

IMG_4442

We also passed this church, the Holy Sepulchre Church, which by tradition is the site that encompass both Calvary where Jesus was crucified and the tomb where he was buried.

IMG_4419

As expected it was packed, and there was a long line of people waiting to enter this church.

IMG_4422

It will be unfair and I will not give the real picture of Jerusalem if I only mention the famous sites for Jews and Christians. In fact, if you view Jerusalem from afar (see the very first photo), the most conspicuous structure is the golden dome, known as the Dome of the Rock. This is a Muslim shrine believed to be the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Below is the Mosque of Omar, which is adjacent to the Church of Holy Sepulchre.

IMG_4418

Definitely Old Jerusalem is a place that provides a passageway to the storied past. It is also a crossroad of the past, present, and perhaps even of the future.

IMG_4410

It was quite an experience for me walking through Old Jerusalem, adding my footprints in the thoroughfare of time.

IMG_4457

(*all photos taken with an iPhone)

 

Walking in the Land of History

In my lifetime, there are trips that I really cherished. Journeys that have deep personal meaning, that they are more than just trips.

Like the trip we made a few years back to the place that gave me so much inspiration since my teenage years (see previous post). And to see and be there in person in that awe-inspiring place was a life-fulfilling dream.

IMG_7306

me in the Grand Canyon

Then there are the trips that are always dear to me. Trips that bring me back where I came from. That even though how far I wandered, this place always pulled me back, for this is where my heart is. Home.

DSC_0601

photo taken somewhere in the Philippines

This year we made another epic journey. To a place whose relevance is more far-reaching than the place itself. A place so rich in history, that the events that happened here changed the course of humanity. This place has a special spiritual meaning to me: to walk where my Savior walked.

Jerusalem as viewed from the mount of Olives


(*More post of our trip to Jerusalem to follow. No, not the musical chair, but the real trip to Jerusalem).

On the Banks of Jordan

(Our Pastor was away one weekend and I was requested to speak. This is an excerpt of that sermon.)

They were encamped at the eastern banks of the rushing and swelled up river. They were looking across the river, to a land that was promised to their parents to inherit. A land that was described to be flowing with milk and honey. A land so different from the desert they have been traveling on for so long.

Behind them was the land of Egypt where their parents came from, as slaves. But they cannot remember Egypt that much, as they were all children when they left Egypt. All that were clear in their memory was their aimless wandering in the desert for many years. They practically grew up in the desert. Some of them were even born in the desert.

But their elders and their parents were all gone now. The older generation had all died and had become carcasses in the desert. Also now dead was the spirit of murmuring and unbelief. Gone away was the complaining attitude towards their leader. This was a new generation. A generation with a more trusting spirit.

This was the new nation of Israel.

They were not a great nation. At least not yet. They were not mighty warriors. They were children of slaves! Their generation was inexperienced and young, that none of them was older than 60 years old (anybody older than 20 when they left Egypt, were not allowed to see the Promised Land). Except for their new leader, Joshua, and another older man named Caleb.

*******

The distance from Egypt to Canaan if you travel by the most direct route, is about 250 miles. This is a trip that the Israelites could have completed in about a month. Even if they only walk 1 mile a day…..1 mile a day! Do you know how slow that is? A giant tortoise can walk a mile in 4 hours. So if they walk slower than a tortoise and even resting on Sabbaths, it would take them less than a year to reach the Promise Land. But how long did it take them to reach their destination? 40 long years!

I know sometimes in this life we are made to wander in the desert. Sometimes we experienced long delay, and I am not talking about airport terminals, but in achieving our goals in this life. Many times we are like little kids asking God, are we there yet? How long O Lord would we wait? The answer my dear brethren is, in His time. Yes, in God’s time.

*******

Back to the Israelites, finally their wandering was almost over. Finally they were in the boundary of entering the Promised land. Finally they were overlooking the land that had been promised for them, many years ago.

Only one more obstacle laid in their path: the mighty Jordan river.

Jordan. In Hebrew, Yarden. It is derived from the word meaning to “descend or flow down.” If we study the geography of Jordan from the part that flows out from the Sea of Galilee, down to where it ends up to the Dead Sea, it is about 60 miles. In this relatively short course, it has a rather steep descent, from 682 feet below sea level from Galilee, to 1300 feet below sea level at the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth). That’s a fall of 10 feet per mile, explaining the rapid currents.

The Jordan river near Gilgal, the location where the Israelites cross, was said to be only about 100 feet wide at times. But we were told that it was the harvest season and it was flooded in its banks, as the snow from the mountains flows to it. Those who visited this river during the spring season, claims that Jordan river can swell up to 1 mile. 1 mile wide!

Jordan River, flood covering area by Allenby Bridge, mat04340 800

Jordan River flooding, circa 1930’s

(*photo from LifeintheHolyLand.com)

God made sure that if the people of Israel will cross Jordan it will not be through their own strength. They have to fully trust on the power of God.

My friends, we all have our Jordan. Something that we need to cross to get to the other side. Something that is blocking our path to reach our goals and destination. For some of us it is our poor health condition and illness. For some of us it is our financial predicament and difficulties. For some of us it is our strained or broken relationship. For some of us, they are some other problems that I have no idea, but you alone know what they are.

Brethren, our God is more mightier than our Jordan. He is bigger than the biggest problem we can encounter. He is more powerful than any obstacle laying in our path. And He will help us cross it, if we will fully trust in Him.

*******

(sermon adapted from the Book of Joshua)