Northern Palace (Masada)

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Northern Palace also known as "Hanging Palace" is one of Herod's more lavish palace-fortresses, and was built on the hilltop on the north side of Masada and continues two levels down, over the end of the cliffs. It was added during the second building phase in 25 BCE. According to Flavius, Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. Herod, an Idumean, had been made King of Judea by his Roman overlords and “furnished this fortress as a refuge for himself.”


The 'Promontory Palace' at Masada is a stepped architectural complex, built on natural terraces, used for private and intimate purposes (except for the upper level). The Northern Palace probably reflects Hellenistic architectural conceptions and inspirations.

The Norther Palace of Masada was erected on three steps of natural cliff, protruding to the north.

The upper terrace of the Northern Palace included living quarters for the king and a semicircular portico (top) to provide a view of the area. A stairway on the west side led down to the middle terrace (center) that was a decorative circular reception hall. The lower terrace (bottom) was also for receptions and banquets. It was enclosed on all four sides with porticos and included a Roman bathhouse. Northern Palace was more like a villa and used presumably for meetings, parties, rave-ups and so on.

circa 10 BCE

An aerial view of the Masada Northern Palace from the west. This Palace-Villa in the northern part of the plateau was extensively luxurious, had a large administrative and warehouse complex, baths with hot sauna and a huge swimming pool. The central part of the plateau was taken by gardens.

It is speculated that the landscape surrounding the rock of Masada at Herod's time was not as rugged and barren as it is today. Ehud Netzer and Gideon Foerster highlighted the striking differences between the Northern and Western Palaces built by Herod at the site. Whereas the Western Palace is a hybrid of ancient Middle Eastern and east Greek architectural elements, the Northern Palace bears the stamp of Rome, and shows strong affinities with palatial edifices built for Augustus and Marcus Agrippa.

Upper Terrace

circa 10 BCE

The upper level had a large semi-circular balcony and several rooms with black and white mosaic floors, these rooms apparently were Herod's private quarters. The upper terrace was mainly used as a residence and there are 4 grand bed rooms. The semi-circular colonnaded balcony allowed views of the Dead Sea. All of the palace rooms were originally decorated with frescos and they had mosaic floors. The floors on the first level were covered with black and white mosaics with geometric shapes. The main bath house, for the residents on Masada was built to the south of the North Palace.

Middle Terrace

circa 10 BCE

The middle terrace had two concentric walls with columns, covered by a roof; this created a portico around a central courtyard. Remains of the middle terrace can still be seen from the upper terrace and lower terrace. Originally this structure would not have been visible from the lower terrace.

The middle terrace comprises two parts; the round strucure (tholos) and five rectangular niches. These architectural elements indicate religious-cultic purpose.

Lower Terrace

circa 10 BCE

The third and the lowest of the three tiers is the best-kept part of Masada. Many frescoes were preserved under rubble and have since been restored. This lowest tier had its own bathhouse on the west. Here and in the grounds nearby, beneath ash, the archaeologists found several remains, including a woman's braid among other items including sandals, arrows, and scales of armour.

The lower level also has a colonnaded hall (peristyle) this time with an uncovered central trapezoid- shaped entrance courtyard, bath rooms, storerooms, a kitchen and bathhouse. The lowest, square terrace has an open central courtyard, surrounded by porticos. There was also a retaining wall surrounding the third level.


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