The Mosaics of Madaba

When I think of Jordan, a myriad of emotions, images and memories come rushing back. Its so difficult to decide where to begin. I think I’d like to begin with Madaba because even though I do intend to write about beautiful, beautiful Petra at some point and the red sand of Wadi Rum, the biblical history of Jordan is less known and barely talked about. It is also connected deeply with the fact that Jordan has been a place of asylum and refuge for many people since biblical times and continues to remain so today.

Over a period of time, many civilisations flourished in this region. Its past occupants include the Moabites, the Nabateans, the Romans and the Ummaiyads. Madaba is best known for its many Bibilical sites and its Byzantine and Ummaiyad Mosaics. These mosaics include a Byzantine-era map of the region which is the oldest cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and Jerusalem and is the oldest known mosaic floor map in art history.

According to the final chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses ascended Mount Nebo to get a glimpse of the Promised Land, which he was forever barred from entering. He died there at the age of 120 and according to popular Christian tradition, was buried somewhere on the mountain or close by. He is revered as a Prophet in Judaism, Christianity and Islam and even today, in the middle-east where conflict has still not ceased since his time, Mount Nebo is called a ‘place of cure both for the souls and for the bodies’.

Looking out at the Promised Land across the Jordan River and the Dead Sea, centuries after Moses, you can’t help but realise the truth of those words. It is an incredible view of Jericho and the Dead Sea and, on a clear day you can see all the way to Jerusalem.

There are lovely mosaics in Byzantine churches all over Madaba and Jordan, especially in the ruins of Jerash in North Jordan. The country side is dotted with ruins with lovely mosaic floors as it is with UNHCR tents from the refugee camps. Jordan is a country that has always been welcoming and and this has enriched its culture so much. It is indeed a place of rest and cure for the weary traveller and has become much more for the thousands fleeing persecution in Palestine and Syria today.

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