The mysterious pyramid-shaped mountain bearing the ruined fortress of Sartaba rises dramatically from the northern Jordan Valley west of the main road (road 90). It is mentioned in ancient Jewish sources as the second station from which signal fires were relayed from the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem to announce the New Moon to Babylonia. Indeed, when you’re standing at the top of the mountain, the view is breathtaking: below is the green Jordan Valley with its modern farming communities contrasting with the surrounding wilderness, to the east across the Jordan are the mountains of Moab and Gilead, west takes in Samaria, and to the north is Galilee.
Built in the first century BCE by the Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus, descendent of the Judah the Maccabee, Sartaba served the Hasmoneans in their battles with the Romans. Later, Herod’s two sons by his Hasmonean wife Mariamne (Herod executed all three) were buried here. At the end of a very strenuous one-kilometer climb to the fortress, you can see the remains of huge water cisterns, a Hasmonean-era wall that collapsed in an earthquake, heart-shaped stone column-drums from a Herodian terrace, and part of the water system.
The difficult path to Sartaba should be done with a guide. Tours can be arranged through the Society for the Protection of Nature’s Kfar Etzion or Ofra field schools.