The town of Madaba, located 30 kilometers southwest of Amman, is most famous for its exquisite 6th-century mosaics. Its history dates back at least 3500 years, however. Madaba, which was known in the Bible as the Moabite town of Medaba, is mentioned in the Old Testament account of Moses and the Exodus (Numbers 21: 30). David also vanquished an Ammonite and Aramean coalition near Madaba (I Chronicles 19: 7). His victory was short-lived, however, as in the mid-ninth century BCE the Moabite King Mesha freed the city from the control of the Israelites (2 Kings 3). Mesha, whose capital was the ancient city of Dibon (now called Dhiban, and located just north of Wadi Mujib), recorded his victories on the famous Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone set up in about 850 BCE. The rich farmlands around Madaba were coveted and fought over by the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Israelites and other local kingdoms.
The Ammonites had conquered Madaba by 165 BCE, but it was taken from them by Hyrcanus I around 110 BCE. His son Hyrcanus II later gave the city to the Nabateans in exchange for their help in recovering Jerusalem from Aristobulus II. Near the beginning of the second century CE, Trajan ousted the Nabateans from Madaba, and the city gradually became a Roman provincial town with the usual colonnaded streets and impressive public buildings. The Byzantine era saw Madaba enter its most affluent era. Grand buildings and a reservoir were constructed, while in the sixth century CE bishops were assigned to the city and a number of religious structures were erected. The importance of Madaba as a Byzantine ecclesiastical center is demonstrated by the wealth of elaborate mosaics scattered throughout the town.After the Persian invasion of 614 CE and a devastating earthquake in the year 747, the town was gradually abandoned. Madaba then lay virtually untouched until it was resettled in the late 19th century by Christians from Karak. The city's greatest treasures, its mosaics, were uncovered then when these migrants were digging foundations for their houses. Madaba's most famous mosaic is located in the Church of St. George in the middle of town. The Mosaic Map of Palestine represents the Holy Land and its surrounding regions. Clearly visible on the map are al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, Nablus, al-Khalil (Hebron), Ariha (Jericho), Egypt and the Nile River, Turkey and Lebanon. The mosaic was made around 560 CE, originally composed of over 2.3 million pieces, and measured a staggering 25 by 5 meters.
It is thought that 11,500 man-hours would have been required to lay the entire mosaic. The church is open to the public every day 08:30-18:00, except for Friday and Sunday when it is open 10:30-18:00. A small donation to the poor is requested.
Madaba's museum is located down a small alley a few blocks south of St. George's Church. Just follow the signs. The museum's greatest attraction is a collection of mosaic collages, some of which are in excellent condition. It was established on the site of an ancient chapel, so its own mosaics form the hub of the museum's collection. The museum also exhibits traditional embroidered Jordanian dresses, and jewelry and pottery dating back to various ages. The museum is open Wednesday through Monday 09:00-17:00, holidays 10:00-16:00. Adjacent to the museum is an innovative mosaic school. In an effort to preserve Madaba's heritage and develop its tourist potential, the Ministry of Tourism established the school to train technicians to repair and restore mosaics. It is the only project of its type in the Middle East.At the southern entrance to Madaba, near the King's Highway, is the Church of the Apostles. The ruins of this Byzantine church date to 578 CE, and are currently being restored. One of Madaba's most beautiful mosaics adorns the floor of this church. The mosaic is known as "Personification of the Sea" and it vividly depicts a woman emerging from the sea, surrounded by mythical aquatic creatures and a hodgepodge of rams, bulls, parrots and exotic vegetation. The mosaic was signed by a mosaicist named Salamanios. In addition to its spectacular collection of mosaics and Byzantine treasures, Madaba is also well known for its hand-woven carpets, saddle bags and tapestries. You can actually see them being crafted on the loom in several shops.
To get to Madaba, take the airport road south from Amman. Turn off at the road to Na'ur and follow the signs to Madaba, which is about 30 kilometers southwest of Amman. The Madaba Visitors Center (tel. 08-543-376) is located in a white building near St. George's Church and open Saturday through Thursday 08:00-14:00.
The Mosaic Map of Madaba
It was the Christian vision of continuity and completeness that inspired the mosaic artists and craftsmen of the area to make the Mosaic Map of Madaba, which was considered a guideline for establishing geographic regions and borders.
This famous mosaic was designed in around 570 AD to decorate the floor of a Byzantine church in Madaba. Actually, it is more than a geographic text of that era, showing the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south, and depicting in picture form: plains, hills, valleys, villages, and many towns and cities, complete with walls and pitched re-roofed houses, while in the Nile huge fish swim.
It includes a fascinating plan of the holy city of Jerusalem placed at the center of the redeemed acumen: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend "Holy City of Jerusalem".
Today this splendid map is housed in the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which was built in 1896 over the remains of the original Byzantine Church. Only part of the map has been preserved. It originally measured a staggering 25 x 5 meters and was made of more than 2 million pieces of colored stone tesserae.
The Visitors' Centre, tel. (05) 3253563. Opens daily 08:00h-18:00h. It is a good place to orient yourself for a visit to Madaba.
The Tourist Office, tel. (05) 3243376. Opens 08:00h-18:00h, closed Fri. & Sat. It is located in front of the Burnt Palace and other archaeological remains. It is another place to obtain information.
St. George's Church with its famous mosaic floor map is of course the star attraction. Opens daily 08:00h-18:00h. Admission 1 JD.
The following sites share one admission ticket for 2 JD, which can be purchased at any of the three:
Madaba Archaeological Museum, tel. (05) 3244056. Opens daily 09:00h-17:00h.
Madaba Archaeological Park.Opens daily 08:00h-17:00h.
Church of the Apostles with more stunning mosaics. Opens daily 08:00h-17:00h.
RESTAURANT & HANDICRAFTS CENTRE: Haret Jdoudna, tel. (05) 3248650
HOW TO GET THERE
By car or taxi: Madaba is 33 km from Amman. For the fastest trip, take the Airport Road directly to Madaba; for a more scenic approach, use the King's Highway.
Ten minutes to the west is the most revered site in Jordan: Mount Nebo, with the memorial of Moses at the presumed site of the prophet's death and burial place. A small, square church was built on the spot by early Byzantine Christians, and later expanded into a vast complex. Sixty years of excavation reveal a basilical church and a large cluster of monastic buildings. From a platform in front of the church you take in a breathtaking view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
WHAT TO SEE
Moses Memorial Church at Mount Nebo displays a large number of the most beautiful mosaics. Opens daily 08:00h-17:00h. Admission ½ JD.
If you continue your ride on the King's Highway after leaving Madaba and turn right at Libb, you eventually arrive at Machaerus (Mukawir in Arabic), the hilltop stronghold of Herod the Great. Upon Herod's death, his son Herod Antipas inhabited the fortress, and it is here that he ordered John the Baptist to be beheaded.
Southwest of Madaba are the thermal mineral springs of Hammamat Ma'in or Zarqa Ma'in, where people have come for thermal treatments - or simply to enjoy a hot soak - since the days of Rome. What better way to end a day immersed in history than in a wonderful, naturally warm bath?
WHERE TO STAY
Mercure Ma'in Spa, 4-star hotel in Hammamat Ma'in, tel. (05) 3245500 fax (05) 3245550. Indoor and natural outdoor hot pools, swimming pool and therapeutic services.
The Old and New Testaments mention it, the Romans fortified it and the local Christians were still embellishing it with Byzantine-style mosaics well over one hundred years after the beginning of Muslim rule: Kastron Mefaa, modern Umm ar-Rasas, has a long history. The rectangular walledcity lays in ruins, but several buildings in its eastern part, including churches, a courtyard with a well, staircases and beautifully curved stone arches have been excavated and restored. The main attraction, though, lies outside the city walls: it is the Church of St. Stephen with its perfectly preserved mosaic floor, the largest one in Jordan. It contains the images of 15 major cities of the Holy Land from both east and west of the Jordan River, making it a discovery second only to the mosaic map of Madaba. Less than 2 km north of the fortified town, the highest standing ancient tower of Jordan puzzles the specialists: a 15 metre high, square tower with no door or inner staircase, now inhabited by swarms of birds.
HOW TO GET THERE
South of Madaba, in the town of Dhiban, a road leading east takes you to the site. Alternatively, you can leave Amman on the Desert Highway passing Qastal and Jiza and turn west shortly after Dab'a.
For a longer, more scenic trip, take in the Crusader Fort of Karak, (see the section on Crusader Castles in this brochure). Alternatively, make Madaba your first stop on a King's Highway journey ending at Petra, Wadi Rum or even Aqaba!