Built at the lowest elevation on earth, and less than a year old, this jewel-box of a museum showcases the Dead Sea region’s rich past.
After Israel, no nation has as many Biblical sites as Jordan. The Dead Sea gets several mentions in the Bible, and it’s where the Dead Sea scrolls were found. Jesus was baptized by John in Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, before the baptist lost his head in Machaerus.
Jordan was a favorite stomping ground for Moses: he struck a rock in ‘Ain Musa and his people and their livestock drank of its flowing waters. He gazed across the Jordan Valley to the Promised Land, then died at Mount Nebo.
And there’s Lot’s Cave, where the prophet and his daughters sought refuge after the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. That’s perhaps the Bible’s spiciest story: clan Lot narrowly escapes annihilation in the ancient “sin cities”, the missus turns to salt, and dad runs with his daughters into the Jordan hills for a future seeped in alcohol and incest. And now you can step right in to see where it all went down.
The Museum at the Lowest Place on Earth is located 1,329 feet below sea level at the southern edge of the Dead Sea, a stone’s throw from the Byzantine monastery that commemorates Lot’s cave. The museum, spearheaded by Dr. Konstantinos Politis, was developed by the Hellenic Society for the Near East (HSNES) in collaboration with the British Museum.
It features well-lit gallery spaces filled with important antiquities recovered from the Ghor-es-Safi region by Dr. Politis and his team of archaeologists. Clear storyboards describe the diverse populations that have inhabited the Dead Sea shores over millennia.
Visitors can see 4,500-year-old pottery excavated from Bab edh-Dhra and Numeira (commonly considered to be the biblical towns of Sodom and Gomorrah). There are architectural elements and mosaics salvaged from the Byzantine monastery, preserved Greco-Roman garments, and Bronze Age ceramics recovered from inside Lot’s cave.
Ancient tombstones unearthed from the region’s many cemeteries help tell the story of the Arab, Jewish and Christian communities that settled sequentially in Zoar /Zoora.
A final gallery displays objects from Ghor es-Safi’s more recent past, including artifacts from the intensive sugar industry that flourished in Zoar /Zoora during the Mamluk period (13th–16th centuries), as well as handicrafts and daily implements used by the Bedouin and villagers who live in the area today. (See a basket rendered in typical style using plastic bags collected from village roadsides, below.)
Visitors can sit in a small indoor theater and enjoy short films about the project’s mosaic conservation efforts or the geology of the Dead Sea and the Rift Valley, and the museum is planning special exhibits including “Seafaring on the Dead Sea” to “Zoar’s Pottery Through the Ages.”
Facilities include a large conservation laboratory, library, a multimedia center, and a shop run by the local women’s co-operative. Publications about the museum’s findings are available via the HSNES website.
Most trips to Jordan include a dip in the Dead Sea, and all along its northern shoreline, public beaches and a cluster of posh resorts offer that experience to every price point.
Backpackers and couchsurfers tend towards open camping and minimalist eco-accommodation, depending on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet for self-guided tourism. Wealthier travelers tend towards the larger hotels offering luxury spas and pricey restaurants, where there is some encouragement by concierge staff for visitors on extended stay to visit nearby sites like Karak Castle and Mount Nebo.
In the area? Check out this quiet gem. It’s an easy day tripping option within the coastal area’s wider tourism menu.
Museum photos from Dr. Konstantinos Politis; basket photo by author