The most distinctive physical features of the Middle East are its vast deserts, but the region is also home to mountain ranges, high plateaus and even a few fertile river valleys. The region is home to the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea, which lies more than 1,400 feet below sea level. The mountain ranges in the eastern part of the region ascend toward the high peaks of the Himalayas, with peaks above 15,000 feet in elevation.
With much of the region dominated by hot, dry desert plains, the rivers of the Middle East are important sources of water for civilizations. The Nile River served as the lifeblood of the ancient Egyptians, and its regular cycle of flooding and receding led to the development of enormous civil construction projects, such as the pyramids. The Tigris and Euphrates nourished the Mesopotamian civilization and are still important rivers to the people of modern-day Iraq.
High plateaus and mountain ranges are also important features of the region. The rising land of the Levant, on the eastern border of the Mediterranean, helped wring water out of moist sea breezes to produce a green and fertile land suitable for settlement. The Taurus Mountains in Turkey separate the region from Asia, isolating the civilizations that sprung up in this area.