Madaba and Mt. Nebo
South of Jordan’s capital lies the home of the world’s largest collection of ancient mosaics. An archbishopric during the Byzantine era, Madaba contains historical mosaics most of which are at least 1,400 years old. Perhaps the most famous is the 6th century map of the Holy Land, the earliest original map to survive. Situated in the Greek Orthodox Church of St George it is a stunning 25 by 5 meters of beautiful colored stone. Archaeologists have used this map to discover a number of important Biblical sites, including Jerusalem’s Cardo and the site of Jesus’ baptism at Bethany across the Jordan. There is an impressive collection of restored Herodian and Byzantine mosaics on display in the Madaba Archaeological Park, the Madaba Museum, the Burnt Church and the Apostles’ Church…..and elsewhere around this living-museum city.
Modern Madaba is built on the ancient ruins, so people are continually discovering ‘new’ ancient mosaics under their houses, garages and gardens. In 1994 Queen Noor formally opened the Madaba School for Mosaic Art. Restoration of discovered mosaics is an important mission for the school’s students, who also extend the craft with modern designs and interpretations (see Handicraft Tour page). This school is now on the road to becoming a degree – granting piece of the Jordan University’s institutional mosaic.
Most visitors to Madaba make a quick stop to check out the map and then hit the road. We think you should stay a little longer. And not just for the mosaics, although that is certainly one argument for extending your stay here. Madaba is wonderfully diverse – about half Muslim and half Christian. This contributes to the laid-back, tolerant atmosphere you’ll notice in the town. In the late afternoon, after most tourists have departed, stroll through the center of town and you’ll find many opportunities to stop for a chat, a cup of tea or even an invitation home for dinner.
Madaba is surrounded by fertile farmland and vineyards. Some of Jordan’s best table wines come from this area. Haret Jdoudna, the famous restaurant in the centre of town, has a shady courtyard where you can conduct your own wine tasting. The Haret Jdoudna courtyard (name means “gardens of our ancestors”) is surrounded by old Madaba houses (early 20th century) which were once home to prominent local citizens – a city mayor and physician among them. Today they house one of Jordan’s best traditional restaurants, small handicraft shops and a good pizzeria. At night you’ll find visitors and locals mingling to enjoy the food, live entertainment and a hubbly – bubbly pipe until the wee small hours.
A short drive from Madaba takes you to Mt Nebo, where Moses was first shown the Promised Land. It is also said to be his death and burial place. The view encompasses the Dead Sea, the Jordan River Valley and the Judean hills. On a clear day, you can make out the spires and domes of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. At Mt Nebo the Franciscans have built a contemporary church over the ruins of various pilgrimage churches which stood in the past. Inside the church are restored mosaics from the previous succession of churches on this site. The modern church is surrounded by the excavated ruins of ancient monastic settlements on this spot.
Pope John Paul II planted an olive tree beside the Moses monument on his pilgrimage to Mt. Nebo during his Holy Land visit. A plaque commemorates this event. The Franciscan monks who purchased Mt. Nebo in the 1930’s still have a monastery on the spot, and the gates are closed to visitors an hour before sunset each day.