Jordan Valley, Jordan
The Jordan Valley is, and has been for centuries, the center for agriculture in Jordan. The Great Rift Valley runs from southern Turkey to the eastern side of the continent of Africa, including through the Jordan Valley. The geographic anomaly of the Dead Sea, the earth's lowest point of dry land where virtually no life exists, forms a contrast to the history of the area, shown through over 200 known archeological sites which date back over 18,000 years, virtually illustrating the story of humanity. Now the salad bowl of Jordan, local farmers are using modern technology to help them feed not only Jordan's growing population, but the region.
About 10,000 years ago, much of present-day Jordan, including the Jordan Valley, lay beneath a saltwater sea. As this sea contracted, it formed an inland lake, which continued to shrink. Lake Tiberias and the Dead Sea, as well as marine fossils in inland sites like Karak and Dana Reserve, are all that is left. The tectonic plates whose meeting points form the Great Rift Valley began to shift. The on-going tremors and earthquakes have played a substantial part in the history of the area. Interestingly, the edges of these plates are clearly visible in the valley and near the Red Sea.
The Jordan River, which comes to life atop Mount Herman in Lebanon, pursues its course almost entirely below sea level. It is primarily fed by four rivers, Nahr Leddan, Nahr Banias, Nahr Hasbani, and Nahr Bareighit. Considered one of the world's sacred rivers, the Jordan is weighted with associations. The word "Jordan" may have originally meant "the stream that descends rapidly", or "year-long", meaning the river was constant, not seasonal. This made it precious to early civilizations, as it was a reliable source of water. That most archeological sites show that they have been inhabited almost continuously since their inceptions shows how special this was in this region.
Stone tools and campsite remains have been found near Wadi Hammeh, in the northern part of the valley, dating to the earliest days of mankind. There is evidence that agriculture began to be practiced here 10,000 years ago and that by 3000 BC produce was being exported to the surrounding region, taking advantage of the trade routes. Sites like Pella indicate that humans have lived in the Jordan Valley, without interruption, for over 4,000 years. Food was abundant here. Skeletons of early rhinoceros and elephants have been found in the northern part of the valley. Animals like lions and camels have been portrayed in art like the Madaba Mosaic Map and documented in writings about the region. Currently, animals like jackals, boar, deer, ducks, herons, and partridges still live in sections of the valley.
The Jordan Valley has several religious sites. The Jordan River is mentioned several times in the Bible, most notably as the baptism place of Jesus. In the northern part of the valley, perhaps the most important burial site is of Abu Obeidah, a companion of the Prophet (PBUH) and one of the "Blessed Ten", dating from 639 AD. In addition to his grave, this pilgrimage center has a mosque, a cultural center and a library. The tombs of several other companions lie in the central valley.
Historical sources show that there have been 45 naturally occurring fords over the Jordan, primarily formed by erosion. One is shown on the Madaba Mosaic Map, and old photographs exist of people ferrying themselves across the water by hauling on a rope. The Romans, Ottomans and British built bridges across the Jordan. The ruined Allenby Bridge, which stretches across the river next to the two King Hussein Bridges, was originally built by General Allenby over the remains of the wooden Ottoman bridge.
The Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea, where it slowly evaporates, adding to the salt content and serving a constant stream of visitors who are looking either for amusement, a getaway or for relief from ailments. Further south lie saltpans and rich reserves of potash, as well as more archeological sites. Lot's cave is here, as well as perhaps the ruined cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Jordan Valley is more than just a valley. For centuries, it has been a blessed place in the desert, with reliable sources of water, food and trade. It has symbolic meaning to people all over the world. Today, the valley feeds people through agriculture, teaches them through the discoveries made at its many archeological sites, inspires people through its many religious sites, and provides tourism opportunities. It is a special place that deserves special attention.