The Dead Sea is 75 kilometers long and from 6 to 16 kilometers wide. It is fed by the Jordan River, but it has no outlet. As its name suggests, the Dead Sea is entirely devoid of plant and animal life. This is due to an extremely high content of salt and other minerals—350 grams of salt per kilogram of water, as compared to about 40 grams in the world’s oceans. This concentration is caused by a rapid rate of evaporation. These natural elements give the waters of the Dead Sea certain curative properties, recognized since the days of Herod the Great over 2000 years ago.
Also famous for their restorative powers are the thermal mineral springs of nearby Zarqa Ma’een, which hosts a therapeutic health spa.
The Dead Sea is also famous geographically as “the lowest point on earth,” lying some 400 meters below sea level. In addition to the historical significance of the “Salt Sea,” as it was referred to in the Bible, the Dead Sea is today an important and rich source of minerals essential for agricultural and industrial development, as well as for the treatment of various medical conditions such as psoriasis. Visitors to the Dead Sea come away with an unforgettable swimming experience, as the high density of the water makes sinking virtually impossible. Indeed, swimming is also difficult, as one is lifted too high in the water to be able to stroke properly. More appropriate is the often-photographed pose showing a visitor reclining in the water, leisurely reading a perfectly dry newspaper.
While marine enthusiasts will find a paradise in Aqaba, the Dead Sea is a great place to catch up on your reading!
At the southern end of the sea, the Arab Potash Company has built vast evaporation ponds covering over 10,000 hectares to extract potash from the mineral-rich waters. The project has allowed Jordan to become one of the world’s leading potash exporters.
The main resort area is located on the northern shores of the Dead Sea at Sweimeh, about 45 kilometers southwest of Amman. In Sweimeh, the Government Rest House provides showers and changing facilities, a restaurant, and a choice stretch of beach. The only accommodations currently available are at the Dead Sea Spa Hotel, a few kilometers past Sweimeh. There, you can enjoy a variety of mineral treatments at the German medical center: as well as the waters of the Dead Sea, other therapies include black mud, highly oxygenous air treatment, filtered sunrays, massage and gymnastics. Private bungalows are also available. Work is progressing toward the completion of additional resort hotels along the Dead Sea.
In addition to being an attraction for leisure and medicinal tourism, the Dead Sea was the location for a number of significant biblical events. The Bible refers to it as the Sea of the Araba, the Salt Sea, and the Eastern Sea (Deuteronomy 3: 17; Joshua 3: 16; Numbers 34: 12; Ezekiel 47: 18). The Arabah desert, or “wilderness”, of the Bible is the arid basin between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba today known as Wadi Araba.
Of particular importance is the wide plain along Jordan’s southeast Dead Sea coast known today as the Southern Ghor. Known in the Bible as the Valley of Salt—undoubtedly because of the natural salt formations which form along the water’s edge—it is where David “slew 18,000 Edomites” (2 Samuel 7:29). This wide plain is also where Abraham and Lot divided their herds and people, going their separate ways after the journey from Egypt. While Abraham journeyed into Canaan, “Lot chose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the east” (Genesis 13: 11).
The Bible then says that “Lot lived among the cities of the plain and pitched his tents near Sodom” (Genesis 13: 12). The Southern Ghor may thus be associated with one of the most dramatic stories in the Bible, that of Sodom and Gomorrah. While conclusive proof has not yet been found, some scholars see Bab al-Dhra’ and Numeira as good candidates for the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, destroyed by God because of their wickedness (Genesis 19). The other biblical “cities of the plain—”Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (or Zoar)—may still be waiting to be rediscovered under the ruins of Early Bronze Age towns as Feifa, Safi, Khneizirah, and other places throughout the biblical Valley of Salt.