History

It’s easy to sense the antiquity of a region that has supported human endeavour for thousands of years. All along the highway, freshwater springs bring a hopeful abundance of life (as at Wadi Mujib) in vivid contrast to the surrounding barren escarpment. In season, the parched soil is threaded with crates of blood-red tomatoes and glossy-coated aubergines (eggplants), proving the unexpected fecundity of a region that looks to all intents and purposes like a desert.

Belying its name, even the Dead Sea has contributed to the pattern of human civilisation. Known to the ancients as the Sea of Asphalt, it produced bitumen, creating a nascent oil industry, as it was harvested by the Nabataeans and sold to neighbours for embalming processes.

Travel along the Dead Sea Highway today, with its proximity to the Israel and Palestinian Territories, and you’ll quickly feel how division defines the territory to this day. Police checks, border posts, cautious eyes across the Rift Valley – this is disputed soil, a land cleaved in two, geologically, historically and politically. You may try to float in peace in a Dead Sea spa, but you can’t help but be aware that the calm has been bought at a high price.