Situated 30 kilometers southwest of Amman, Madaba belongs to the most popular tourist destinations in Jordan and can be found along the King’s Highway. Referred to as the “City of Mosaics,” Madaba’s history goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. While there is a mention of the city in the Bible (Joshua 13:90 and Numbers 21; 30), describing it as a Moabite border community, Madaba’s ancient mosaics from the Byzantine and Umayyad eras are what has made the city so popular.
The Madaba Map: Madaba’s Top Attraction
One of the main reasons so many tourists visit Madaba is the world’ oldest map of the Holy Land in existence: the Madaba Map. Located on the floor of a church in the city, the mosaic map originally depicted a whole area spreading from Lebanon to the Nile, covering more than 15.5 meters by 5.5 meters. Sadly, only about one third of the mosaic map has survived the test of time. The orientation of the map is somewhat unusual to the modern world – The East is at the top where the North is usually shown, whilst the Jordan River is depicted as flowing from the North (left) to the South (right). The map was created by an unknown artist during the Byzantine Era in the mid-6th century and was made from over a million of small fragments of colored stone.
Seen as the most accurate representation of the Holy Land from before the modern era of cartography in spite of its simple features, the Madaba Map shows many Biblical places where vital events occurred, as well as landmarks that indicate certain cities. Jacob’s Well, for instance, is depicted at Shechem, while Jericho is shown in a circle of palm trees and John can be seen in the Jordan River as he baptizes Jesus. In the center of the remnants of the Madaba Map, the main focus is on Jerusalem, called “Holy City.” Many landmarks (mostly from the New Testament, not the Torah) are portrayed on the map, for example the Roman collonaded street, the walls of the city, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Cardo. Apart from city landmarks, animals and plants are also identifiable on the map, such as a gazelle, a lion, and fish. Boats can be seen as well.
A Brief History of the Madaba Map
In 746, Madaba suffered an enormous earthquake, which destroyed the city and left it in ruins. The mosaic lay forgotten in an abandoned city for a long time, until the Christians came to Madaba in the 1880s and decided to rebuild Madaba with the aim to turn the city into their safe sanctuary, away from the Muslim population of the other places in the country. The mosaic was uncovered in 1896 when the site of a former Byzantine Church became the foundation for a new Greek Orthodox Church – the construction process allowed for the mosaic to be once again seen by the world. The new St. George’s Church went on to be built on the site, and the mosaic became a part of its design. There are a few possible explanations for the purpose of the Madaba Map: perhaps it was created in order to portray what Moses saw when he looked upon the land from Mount Nebo, or maybe the map was used to help pilgrims reach the holy sites. It might have also served as a way to impress the churchgoers and enhance their experience at the site.
Other Attractions in Madaba
The Madaba Map is not the only mosaic in the city – there are five other mosaics in Madaba whose remains are on display. Apart from mosaics, Madaba features places such as thermal mineral springs at Hammamat Ma’in, the Madaba Archaeological Park, the weaving rooms of Mukawir Village, or many more remains that date from the Early Bronze Age to the modern times. These are for example an Iron Age temple that is 3000 years old or a fortified wall from 9th century BC.
If you want to visit Madaba, join one of our Jordan tours.