The lowest point on Earth

Jordan’s western border runs below sea level for most of its 360 km length, following the line of the Jordan rift. At its heart is the Dead Sea, over 400m below sea level – the lowest place on earth. It is part of the Great Rift Valley, which runs from southern Turkey through Syria, Jordan and the Red Sea, west into East Africa and south to Mozambique.

The cataclysms that created the rift began some 30 million years ago and recurred until 15,000 years ago, forming mountains which on the east rise to around 1,500m above the Dead Sea. Until 100,000 years ago the rift was an extension of the Red Sea; then the waters receded, forming the saline Lake Lisan, 200m higher than today’s Dead Sea. By c. 10,000 BC this had shrunk further, leaving the Dead Sea and Lake Tiberias, linked by the Jordan Valley.

Dead Sea Tour, tourist sites Jordan

Tiberias became a freshwater lake, but the Dead Sea, with no outlet, remained saline. As the sources of the Jordan River are diverted by Israel and Jordan taps its streams for its own needs, the Dead Sea’s level has fallen sharply in the past 50 years – it is still falling by about one metre a year; and the rift is still moving.

Bitumen was harvested annually from the Dead Sea by the Nabataeans, and profitably sold to the Egyptians for their embalming process; now it rarely appears. Today’s major product is potash; also table salt and cosmetic and therapeutic preparations.