The Fortress of Machaerus was a threatening fortress, built to intimidate and control the troubled area between Palestine and Petra with strong natural and manmade defences.

One description of the defensive design was recorded by the first-century Romano-Jewish scholar Josephus, in his writings titled ‘The Jewish Wars’. The temple stands on a hilltop 1,100 metres above Dead Sea Level, surrounded by deep ravines which provide natural strength and protection. Being located on a hilltop, the temple is thus standing between two valleys, with the valley on the west side extending 60 stadia from the Dead Sea, and the valley on the east side descending to a depth of 150ft.

Fortress from above

Aerial image of the fortress ruins.

In addition to the natural geographical defensive structures, Herod built a fortress wall measuring 100 metres long and 60 metres wide with three corner towers standing at 90ft high. Within the fortified walls and behind the towers stood the palace, with cisterns being positioned in the proximity of the palace to assist in the collection of rain water. The royal courtyard found in the palace is considered by most to be the closest archaeological parallel to the Herodian Gabbatha in Jerusalem, the place where Jesus was judged by Pontius Pilate prior to his crucifixion. 

An artistic reconstruction of the fortress

An artitic reconstruction of the fortress, courtesy of Győző Vörös and the Hungarian Academy of Arts.