As you plan your Jordan itinerary, there are probably a few sights you really want to see, right? Petra – of course. Wadi Rum, aka Mars on Earth, naturally. And rounding out the trifecta, the Dead Sea. A natural wonder that is accessible from Jordan and only a few other places, the Dead Sea is, well, a must-see!
Before you visit though, you might have a few questions: what is the Dead Sea? And how was it formed? Has it always been important? And how can you visit?
In this post, I’ll cover all these questions and more, so that you can be knowledgeable when you do finally visit the Dead Sea and find yourself floating in it. Ready to learn all you need to know about the Dead Sea? Let’s dive in. (Except don’t actually dive into the Dead Sea because it is way too salty for that!)
What Is the Dead Sea?
Let’s start this guide by answering the most basic question, what is the Dead Sea?
Simply put, the Dead Sea is a landlocked salt lake and is one of the earth’s saltiest bodies of water.
Now let’s cover some of the other questions people have when they want to learn more about the Dead Sea, where it is located, how it was formed, and the significant history of the Dead Sea.
Where Is the Dead Sea Located?
At its most basic, answering the question of where the Dead Sea is located is that it is in the Middle East. More specifically, the Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley. The southern half of its western shores belong to Israel, while the eastern shores belong to Jordan. The northern half of the western shore lies within the Palestinian West Bank, but it has been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
How Was the Dead Sea Formed?
The answer to this question could be an extended version of the first one, what is the Dead Sea. To answer it, we need to bring back a basic geology concept: plate tectonics. The integration and movement of these plates have created the landforms we see today, including volcanoes, mountains, and seas.
The Dead Sea’s origins date back to four million years ago. It sits between two tectonic plates: the African Plate and the Arabian Plate. These two plates have constantly been moving in a north-northeast direction. However, the Arabian Plate moves faster, causing a separation. Between these two diverging plates, we can find a series of faults that form a depression known as the Dead Sea Transform or the Dead Sea Rift.
Now, how did water get there? About 3 million years ago, the Dead Sea was part of a long bay of the Mediterranean Sea. The result of millions of years of tectonic activity lifted the land to the west, thus isolating the Dead Sea from the Mediterranean.
What Is the Dead Sea History?
The Dead Sea’s history is just as fascinating as its geology. Let’s see how it made an appearance in different periods of history.
Given its proximity to Israel, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see numerous passages referring to the Dead Sea in the Bible. It appears under different names: the Salt Sea (Genesis 14:3; Numbers 34:3, 12; Deuteronomy 3:17; Joshua 3:16; 12:3), the Sea of the Arabah (Deuteronomy 3:17; 4:49; Joshua 3:16; 2 Kings 14:25), and the Eastern Sea (Ezekiel 47:18; Zechariah 14:8).
However, if you’re curious to read all of the sections of the Bible which mention the Dead Sea, here’s a list of all the mentions.
Greek and Roman Period
The Dead Sea enjoyed vast popularity during the Greek and Roman periods. Even Aristotle wrote about the marvelous healing effect of its waters!
The Dead Sea was an invaluable source of natural asphalt for the Nabateans. The globs constantly floated to the surface, and they collected them with nets. For the Romans, the Dead Sea was one of the world’s first health resorts, with Herod the Great as a regular client. The Egyptians depended on the Dead Sea to purchase the asphalt, as they used it in the mummification process.
Its connection to the Desert of Judah plus its isolation made the Dead Sea a place of escape and refuge. It attracted Greek Orthodox monks, who built monasteries that remain as places of pilgrimage to this day.
Since the 19th Century, The Dead Sea has been a draw for explorers and scientists, who come to the area to analyze the minerals and research the unique climate.
Why Is it called the “Dead” Sea?
The name, Dead Sea, is nothing more than a metaphor for its nonexistent aquatic wildlife.
The Dead Sea contains about 340 grams of salt in every liter of water – which makes it 10 times saltier than seawater. This extreme salinity of its water makes the Dead Sea an inhospitable environment, and most life (except for a few microbes) can’t survive in it.
Why Do You Float in the Dead Sea?
It doesn’t matter how hard you try; you won’t be able to dive into the Dead Sea. The reason why people float in the Dead Sea is the same that makes it an inhospitable environment: a high concentration of salt.
The extreme salinity makes the water denser than a person’s body weight, consequently increasing their buoyancy.
Other FAQ about the Dead Sea
Now that we’ve covered all the basic questions, like what is the Dead Sea, here are other popular questions about the Dead Sea and their respective answers to satiate your curiosity even more.
Is the Dead Sea the Lowest Place on Earth?
Yes, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth. Its surface lies 430.5 meters below sea level, making its shores the lowest land-based elevation on Earth.
Is the Dead Sea Drying Up?
Unfortunately, yes, the Dead Sea is drying up. According to statistics, the Dead Sea’s surface area has shrunk by around a third since the 1960s, and its water level is declining by 3 to 5 feet a year, which is definitely one of the most worrying facts about the Dead Sea.
What Is the Elevation of the Dead Sea?
The Dead Sea’s surface and shores are 427 meters below sea level.
Why Is the Dead Sea So Salty?
Like all bodies of water, the Dead Sea also has a global water cycle. One of the main steps in this process is evaporation.
When the water collected in the Dead Sea evaporates, it leaves an accumulation of minerals (salt). Since the Dead Sea is landlocked, there are no outlets for the water to flow out, meaning the minerals stay there forever. Another reason the Dead Sea is so salty is the lack of rainfall, which helps dilute the saltiness of this salt lake.
How to Visit the Dead Sea in Jordan
All of this post, I’ve been focused on the Dead Sea generally – but if you’re on this site you might be planning to visit the Dead Sea from Jordan.
You can also travel from Aqaba to the Dead Sea, though this is a much longer journey and can’t be done as a day trip (as it can from Amman).
Have any other questions about the Dead Sea? Let me know in the comments and I’ll answer plus add them to this post!