A sea with the strange taste of a lake. Salt, do you want it? A not-so-dead Dead Sea. A rather steep ecological bill ...
And tourism in all of this? Let's go to the shores of a sea that is truly unlike any other.
The Dead Sea in brief
Dead Sea : the name calls out for its singularity. Is a “sea” without connection to the rest of the oceans a sea? When and why is she "dead"?
Let us set the scene for these shores blessed by the gods, which see innumerable references to sacred texts emerging from the depths of the ages. The West Bank is bordered by the blond and red mountains of Palestine and D'Israel, pointed to the southwest by the mount sodom (remember, that not very cheerful episode from the Bible!).
To the west, the incredible citadel of Massada dominates these landscapes frozen by time, as if Herod the Great were still extending his power here. From the north, within trumpet blast of Jericho, the Jourdain baptizes with its clear waters this sea a little too salty. The eastern shore, finally, is dominated by the Mount Nebo ancient city of Machéronte and the magnificent massifs of wadi Al-Mujib and wadi Ibn-Hammad en Jordan.
The Dead Sea gives the mountains of Judea and those of Jordan a very special resonance when they are reflected there as in a magic mirror. Its banks echo with a leaden silence. Its waters are the kingdom of nothingness. And it offers the sun a perfect setting for royal rises and sublime sunsets. Strong and majestic panoramas.
A Dead Sea, with the strange taste of a salt lake
In the sense of geographers, the Dead Sea is a lake pure sugar. "Pure salt", rather. And what a lake!
With its 67 km by 18, for a maximum depth of 380 m, it is the saltiest body of water in the world. Its surface? Difficult to quantify, because it decreases every day: the body of water is shrinking at a frantic pace.
Another record, he occupies the bottom of the great Jordanian rift at the lowest recorded point on earth, 408 m below sea level. A sea under the sea, in short.
So, why do we speak of the sea? Undeniably a title of nobility that it owes to its title of salinity and its large size (1,5 times Lake Geneva). Biblical writings already qualified it as "sea of salt", "sea of the Plain", "Arabian sea" or even "eastern sea". In Arabic, it is also called Bahr-Lût (Sea of Lot).
Why is this "sea" "dead"? Its waters, too mineral, prohibit all life, and this for thousands of years. Its banks, edged with a pretty stroke of a white pencil, testify to this incredible salinity. Very photogenic.
These dead waters are however marvelous in this setting of arid mountains. Waters of a deep blue, at the zenith. Turquoise, when the sun goes down. Brown, when the Jordan forcefully pours its silt into it in the rainy season. Impenetrable to the gaze at dawn and dusk, when the daylight sets ablaze the sky of Jordan or that of Palestine. The red summits are then reflected with majesty.
A sea not so dead as that
Unfit for life, the Dead Sea has been unfit for life since biblical times… and long before, even.
It was formed some 3 million years ago during the subsidence that generated the great Jordanian rift. Along the Levant fault, where the Asian and African tectonic plates play rubbish. The vagaries of rainfall have done the rest: for 40 years, its salinity has increased with the passage of time, preventing any form of life.
Certainly some Jordan fish guided by a backpacker soul sometimes decide to spend a day at the sea. Very bad trip: their "seaside" stay turns into certain death. The fact is not new. Saint-Georges church in Madaba is paved with a 6th century mosaic depicting the oldest known map of the Holy Land. Fish are represented going up the Jordan to flee the lethal waters ...
And yet, life has incredible resources. At the bottom of the sea, underground sources of fresh water favor pockets of water with less salinity. A small universe in which frolic and thrive Microorganisms living called "archaea". They are, of course, only microbes (in the scientific sense of the term), but they sometimes enchant the landscape when they suddenly multiply and give the Dead Sea reflections of ... red sea. In Arabic, it is also called Bahr-Lût (Sea of Lot)
Salt and minerals that float
The Dead Sea contains approximately 30% salt when the seas and oceans of the planet only have 2 to 4%. This induces a very dense water, which would have delighted Archimedes to illustrate his famous principle, or even to rework it: "Any body immersed in the Dead Sea floats there much better than elsewhere".
Do the plank is the favorite sport of the homo-touristicus who takes advantage of this incredible buoyancy to adopt burlesque positions. The duck buoys on sale in neighboring towns seem to be quite useless… The most mediocre swimmers are unlikely to drown!
Let's leave the surface of the water to take a little depth. Down to - 40 m, the mineral concentration is around 27% for a temperature ranging between 19 ° C and 37 ° C. Beyond that, the water reaches a density of 33% and a constant temperature of 22 ° C. The sodium chloride content (salt, if you prefer!) Is such that it is referred to as " fossilized water ».
Moreover, the fresh waters that flow into the sea do not risk themselves in these depths: less dense, they remain on the surface and are the first to undergo evaporation. They therefore contribute very little to lowering the salinity of the Dead Sea, which contains, in addition to salt, many minerals, in more than significant proportions: 3 times more sodium, 30 times more magnesium, 16 times more potassium, 36 times more calcium than in the Mediterranean!
The Romans already exploited small amounts of salt there. The riparian countries of today have also grasped the vein. Mineral extraction industries abound south of the sea. Among other things for cosmetics. But this is another story: did you ask for smooth skin? Don't quit… we'll talk about it below.
The Dead Sea is dying!
In this desert region, water is vital for the survival of neighboring countries whose birth rates continue to point upwards. With a demographic increase of 2,6%, the Jordan has more than doubled its population in 20 years, reaching in 2015 the symbolic figure of 10 million inhabitants. Other riparian country, Israel rose from 6,6 million inhabitants in 2000 to 8,6 million in 2018 ...
No more thirst to quench, no more mouths to feed, no more domestic needs, and therefore always more pumping of natural resources. So, we capture sources and rivers. A canal is created on the Jordanian side to irrigate the market gardens. A dam is being built on Lake Tiberias, on the Israeli side, for the same reasons.
The resulting figures are simply CATASTROPHIC. The Jourdain, the main source of food for the Dead Sea, went from a flow of 1 million m300 in the 3s to 1960 million m300 at the turn of the millennium. Almost 3% of its water is captured. From a mythical river, it has turned into an ordinary little river.
The sea level is falling about 1 meter each year. Moreover, the body of water has now split in two (and Moses has nothing to do with it!), Leaving only a set of lagoons to the south.
This withdrawal of water has unexpected effects. Underground cavities once submerged in these hyper-saline waters have filled over time with crystals. However, when the sea recedes, the runoff water dissolves these crystals and the cavities collapse on themselves, creating huge sinkholes. Any construction around the lake becomes hazardous, and beware of who is there at the fateful moment of the landslide ...
At this rate, the total drying up is inexorable as it was for the Aral Sea in Russia. Perhaps one day, to the misfortune of men, walking on the Dead Sea will no longer be a miracle!
The dream of a canal between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea
Linking the Dead Sea to the Mediterranean or the Red Sea by a canal, the idea is not new. In 1855, a Briton already proposed this breakthrough. Unfortunately for him, this dear William Allen had just failed to take into account the difference in height which made his project unrealistic. In 1975, a new draft of a canal from the Mediterranean, on the Israeli side, failed. Explosive geopolitical context obliges.
More peaceful, the 2000s saw the resurgence of this pharaonic project. Around the table, Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians agree to connecting the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, from the Gulf of Aqaba. The canal, totally located in Jordan, will measure 180 km long, 408 m of drop, will cost 10 billion dollars and will take 2 million m000 of water per year intended to be desalinated (the wing has since reduced, and we estimate in 3 the project at 2019-3 billion dollars, while desalinating a smaller volume). The resulting brines will feed into the Dead Sea. Incidentally, a power station will produce 5 to 150 MW per year using the steep slope of the land.
This infusion of the Dead Sea in will slow down the water level (without reversing the process), while providing the region with eau douce which is sorely lacking. The 2013 tripartite agreements provide for the Jordanians to deliver water to southern Israel from the desalination plant, against Israeli water destined for northern Jordan from the Sea of Galilee. The Palestinians too would benefit from more freshwater soul from Israel.
The name found in this book, Peace channel, dream in this region in continuous conflict, in living memory. It remains to complete the financing.
Bathing in the Dead Sea: it's good for your health!
Who says sea, says "want to take a dip". However, these too mineral waves are less suitable for long swimming than for a good priest.
The waters and black sludge of the Dead Sea are famous in the disease treatment of skin like eczema and psoriasis. Of sulfur baths stimulate blood circulation and relieve rheumatism. The baths would also have soothing and de-stressing virtues: it must be said that one feels a little levitating in the Dead Sea. We quickly regain our child's soul by imitating these bathers who read the newspaper or adopt incongruous positions, like sea fakirs ...
But before you dive headlong into the broth, alright check authorized places : on the Jordanian side, a large part of the shore is prohibited for swimming. Night baths are also prohibited. Avoid contact of the eyes and mouth with water. Limit the bath to 10-15 min, and follow it with a good fresh water rinse. Also remember that in Islamic lands modesty is in order: we forget the monokini and we prefer the one-piece swimsuit.
One cannot imagine finding dream beaches with white sand and palm trees. The banks are quite ungrateful. Dead Sea, we tell you! That budding divers don't fantasize, either. Impossible to go bubble at the bottom of these still waters: the buoyancy and the composition of the water forbid it.
A few unofficial beaches are practiced by the locals. There are tea sellers, hookah rental companies, camel drivers and mule drivers who (insistently) offer to roll their hump on board their four-legged animals. No shower to rinse off: bring your own fresh water bottles.
A little more structured, official beaches paying facilities are equipped with showers, changing cabins and snacks. They are always cheaper than the beaches of great chain hotels, which line up their (ugly) buildings side by side over ten kilometers north-east of the sea. We bask the pill there while offering services related to well-being. Their private beaches are open to non-residents, for a fee whose amount (salty!) Gives the sea a little bitter taste.
Alongside these seaside activities, the Wadi Mujib conceals the wonderful Ma'In hot springs, known since antiquity for their thermal waters at 65 ° C. They arise in a set of natural basins (paid and expensive access!).
By the way, the Dead Sea panoramic complex (also paying access) offers a superb view of the lake, as well as an interesting museum dedicated to it. A panoramic restaurant, on site, immerses your gaze in the Dead Sea, with the Judean mountains as a backdrop, ideally lit in the morning ... magnificent when the sun disappears behind them.
La nature reserve of Wadi Mujib is suitable for all kinds of activities involving the calf muscles: hiking, observation of fauna and flora. Ideally located chalets offer lodging on the shore of the sea and are the starting point for some beautiful hikes in the reserve.
To conclude this health, glory and beauty section, there are many shops in town, in hotels, in Amman ou Aqaba offer cosmetic products taken from the Dead Sea: bath salts, ointments on, the secret of its beauty from the use of products from these shores, that is to say!
Find all the practical information, tips and addresses in the Jordan Routard in bookstores.
To prepare for your stay, consult our Jordan online guide.
- Visa: possible at Amman airport or land borders from Israel for 40 JOD (single entry).
The good plan: the Jordan Pass serves as proof of visa, while ensuring access to almost all of the country's major tourist sites (including Petra, which is also very expensive). Count 70 JOD (including 1 day visit to Petra) to 80 JOD (including 3 day visit to Petra).
How to get there ?
- By plane: from Paris, 1 flight / day with Air France and 1 flight / day with Royal Jordan to Amman, then car rental, taxi or agency (around 80 km).
Or sleep ? Where to eat on the shores of the Dead Sea?
To eat on the shores of the sea, there are hardly any other solutions than resort restaurants. Before entering, we show our white paw: drastic security!
The chalets of Mujib : good address managed by the authorities of the nature reserve. Perfectly placed to put both feet in Wadi Mujib while keeping an eye on the Dead Sea. Count 75 JOD for 2 people (breakfast included). Meal possible on site (by reservation, residents only): 14 JOD.
Dead Sea Spa Hotel : to Sweimeh. This hotel has the distinction of being the oldest of the resorts located on the Jordanian shore, north of the Dead Sea. A little aging, but the comfort remains sufficient. Double standard 130-160 JOD, breakfast included.
Mövenpick. : Dead Sea Rd., Sweimeh. The most chic of luxury hotels on this shore, with everything you can expect at this price: several restaurants, swimming pools, private beach. The most expensive accommodation is made up of a real-false village, nicely scripted in the park. Double standard 160-210 JOD in the main building, more expensive deluxe; breakfast included.
Or sleep ? Where to eat in Madaba?
Pilgrim's House at the Saint-Georges church. House of pilgrims, the title says it all: an inexpensive establishment, all in simplicity, perfectly located in the center of the village. email@example.com Doubles 30 JOD.
Madaba 1880 Hotel : Talal Street. Very central, modern, because recently renovated. About thirty large rooms, decorated in the spirit of the times, an Itou-Itou dining room. 1880 is not the year the hotel was created, but that of the founding of Madaba by around fifteen Christian families. Doubles 45-55 JOD.
Jaw Zaman : Al-Hussein Bin Ali, 11. A small restaurant as we like them. Friendly welcome (as often in Jordan) and feminine (much rarer). Tasty, local dishes served in ethnically decorated rooms.
Activities around the lake
Amman Tourist Beach. Government complex located 1 km south of Crowne Plaza going south. Entry: 12 JOD.
Private beaches of luxury hotels : Ramada Resort, Dead Sea Spa Resort, Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Mövenpick, Kempinski, Mariott offer access to non-residents for 35-50 JOD on weekdays, 50-75 JOD on weekends, usually including lunch.
Mujib nature reserve : depending on the hike, count 20 JOD / person (solo) to 45 JOD / person (guide included).
Dead Sea Panoramic Complex : access 2 JOD. Museum daily 8 a.m. to 18 p.m. (17 p.m. off-season, 16 p.m. in winter). Catering possible on site.
Hot springs of Hammamat Ma'In: access 15 JOD. Catering possible on site.
Purchase of cosmetic products: in Madaba, Holy Treasures Center, opposite Saint-Georges Church (King Tahal street). Daily 8 am-20pm (later in summer).