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Dead Sea Holidays
Jordan’s most unusual topographical feature, the Dead Sea is actually a huge inland lake whose salt-laden waters lie at some 412 metres below sea level, making it the lowest point on the earth’s surface. It was formed by a dramatic cleft in the earth’s surface and is geologically part of the Great Rift Valley that extends all the way into East Africa.
About 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, rainwater washed large quantities of limestone down from the mountains, partially filling the rift and creating a large freshwater lake (the Lisan Lake) that covered the Jordan Valley. About 15,000 years ago, following the end of the last Ice Age, much of the lake’s water evaporated and became saltier, eventually separating into three separate bodies of water: Lake Tiberius (the Sea of Galilee), Bisan Lake and the Dead Sea.
The Dead Sea’s high salt content (more than 20%, as compared with 5% for the world’s oceans) is due to high evaporation rate. The Dead Sea is fed by the Jordan River, which drains into it from the north and by the various wadis and springs, which drain into it from the east and west. Being below sea level, the Dead Sea has no outlet so water only leaves the lake by evaporating under the heat of the sun. As well as common salt (sodium chloride), the waters of the Dead Sea are rich in magnesium chloride, calcium chloride and potassium chloride, the latter providing the raw material for the industrial production of potash on the southern shore. These salts, together with a wide range of other trace elements, also give the water (and the mud below) significant therapeutic properties, adding another aspect to the Dead Sea’s tourist appeal.
Apart from a handful of microorganisms that thrive in saline water, the Dead Sea is devoid of all normal marine life. Its shimmering blaze of blue is made all the more dramatic by the austere barren cliffs that rise from its shoreline. For travellers, the surreal sensation of floating without having to make any effort is astounding no matter how many times it’s described to you beforehand. These days there are plenty of places where you can take that dip. From the luxurious confines of one of the world-class resorts that surround the northern shore (where you can indulge in all manner of spa treatments), to popular beaches that cater for local day trippers and travellers on a budget.