Madaba, Jordan

Madaba, Jordan

Madaba is a town in west central Jordan situated on a highland plain 760 metres above sea level, 32 kilometres south of Amman. It is famous today in historical cartography for the Madaba mosaic map, a 6th-century mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land housed in a Greek Orthodox church, and for its collection of beautiful mosaics from the Byzantine era.

Madaba is located along the King’s Highway, an ancient trade route that once connected Aqaba to Syria and which is now a scenic route linking Jordan’s historical sites, including Petra and the Jordanian capital of Amman. Madaba is around 30 kilometres from the capital.

Madaba is an ancient city. It was mentioned in the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible (as Medeba or Medaba). Numbers 21 describes how it was attacked by the Israelites, led by Moses, when they were refused safe passage:

 We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.

Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites. (from Numbers 21)

The Amorites were an ancient Semitic-speaking people who dominated Mesopotamia, Syria and Palestine from around 2000-1600 BC. Madaba later served as a stronghold of the Moabites, who flourished in the 9th century BC in the highlands east of the Dead Sea.

Following the spread of Christianity, Madaba became an important centre for the Romans and Byzantines from the 2nd to the 7th centuries. The town was destroyed in 1880 and resettled with Christian Arabs from Karak, who then rebuilt its churches and buildings.

The Madaba mosaic map, which forms the floor of Saint George Church, was discovered during construction work in 1884. This archaeological treasure is believed to have been created in the sixth century, the year 560, and originally measured around 15 metres to 25 metres long and 6 metres wide. It is believed to be the oldest surviving map of its kind, showing the Holy Land and its pilgrimage sites in the Middle East from Egypt to Palestine. The map captions are in Greek.

Madaba mosaic map, Madaba, Jordan
Detail from the Madaba Mosaic Map, a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George in Jordan.

Viewing of the map is not permitted when the Greek Orthodox church opens for mass on Fridays and Sundays, but of course visitors are free to join the Greek Orthodox mass.

There are more beautiful Byzantine-era mosaics and mosaic floors in other parts of the town. If you’d rather not stay a long time in a hotel in downtown Amman, Madaba can be a good alternative base for exploring the country highlights, such as Petra, Wadi Rum, and the Jordan River, where Jesus was said to have been baptised by John the Baptist. Mount Nebo, where Moses was said to have been granted a view of the Promised Land, is also located in Madaba.

By taxi, Madaba is only around 20 minutes away from Queen Alia International Airport.

 

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