Travel Stories: Madaba Map in Jordan

Whilst putting together this site and choosing images to use as the background for the front page, I came across some photographs I took a while ago at a fascinating site in Jordan, the Middle Eastern country between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Chris and I had hired a car at the airport in Amman and the first stop we made was at a central town called Madaba.

This mostly Christian community hosts a Greek Orthodox church called St George, which we found after thirty minutes of slightly tense driving through the centre of the town, dodging the cars, pedestrians and animals thronging the roads.

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St George’s church in central Madaba

Walking into the church we were baffled as to the location of the main attraction. We’d read in the guide book that there was a famous mosaic map located at St George, but it was nowhere to be seen.

Ushered out with a tour group into the bright sunshine, we belatedly noted a sign directing us to the ticket office.

Dutifully we purchased our tickets and once again entered the church.

The mystery was solved – a large rug had been lifted up to reveal the stunning map. Discovered when the present church was built in 1896 upon the site of a much older Byzantine church, the mosaic is thought to have been created to assist pilgrims travelling in the Holy Land.

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The mosaic has been damaged but remains impressive

Depicting only buildings that were built before the year 570 AD, the mosaic is clearly well over 1400 years old. It shows the area around the river Jordan and the Dead Sea, including several cities and towns such as Jericho, Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Each are labelled in Greek, and some are incredibly detailed.

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Jericho as depicted on the Madaba Map, surrounded by palm trees

The mosaic has suffered major damage throughout its existence, but has been restored with great care after money was donated in the 1960s.

In more recent years, excavations in places shown on the map have revealed its accuracy – archaeologists have discovered roads and buildings that had been hidden for centuries under newer structures.

This is not the only mosaic in Jordan – although the country is better known for the Dead Sea and Petra, there are several important mosaic sites around the region. Many have been defaced during the reign of the Emperor Leo, who decreed that people and animals should not be depicted in images.

As such, we are lucky that the Madaba Map was hidden from sight during this time!

Sarah Jayne

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