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Madaba: Madaba Map & St. George's Church

Madaba: Madaba Map & St. George's Church

 

Location

1. Madaba is about 25 miles (40 km.) east of Jericho and 20 miles (32 km.) southwest of Amman, Jordan.

2. It's located on the King's Highway, a famous road that linked Africa and Egypt with Asia and Europe. This was a major traffic and trade route during ancient times.

 

3. Modern roads today still follow the same route as it provides the best geographical way to navigate the natural terrain.

Historical Background

1. Madaba can be traced back at least 4,500 years. The ancient settlement, now mostly buried beneath the modern town, lies on a natural rise created by branches of the Wadi Madaba.

2. Madaba has a long history. It once belonged to the Moabites, Nabateans, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Muslum rule, and today, is home to the biggest Christian community in all of Jordan, proportionally speaking. Catholics and Greek Orthodox Christians make up around 10 percent of the total population of Madaba.

 

3. Accounts of Christians living in Madaba can be traced back to around 200 AD. Partial evidence for this can be found in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. They appear to have erected sites of worship in the area. Later, during the Byzantine period, around 350 AD, they erected a church where St. George's Church is located today.

 

4. During the 5-8 centuries AD, many mosaics were built in Madaba, causing it to be called "the City of the Map, or Maps." The most elaborate and famous of these mosaic maps is located where the Church of St. George is today and is what is called the "Madaba Map."

5. The Byzantine church known today as St. George's Church stood on the very spot of this famous mosaic map but was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century. After this, it lay largely abandoned for many centuries. It stayed desolate until the 19th century, when its remnants were discovered.

6. In the 1880s, tensions arose between Muslims and Christians in the city of Karak, Jordan, and the Christians were forced to leave and relocate to Madaba. These Christians wanted to build churches but only were allowed to do so on the condition that these churches were built on sites where churches had once stood before. 

7. These Christians originally lived in caves as they had no homes yet. However, as they began building homes, they often did so over the foundations of ancient structures. In so doing, they came upon mosaic after mosaic. Many were incorporated as floors in the new houses being built by the settlers. The announcement in 1897 of the discovery of the famous "Madaba Map" of the Holy Land, dating to the Byzantine era, created a sensation. By the end of the century, the majority of the known mosaics of Madaba had been at least partially uncovered. In most cases, they were preserved and can be seen today.

 

8. At the heart of Madaba is St. George's Greek Orthodox Church. The church broke ground in 1884 when the Greek Orthodox community saved enough funds to start construction. But to the surprise of the builders, under it were the remains of a Byzantine Church dating back to the 3rd century AD. It was on the floor of this ancient Greek church that the earliest, most extant map of Israel and surrounding areas were found that today is called the "Madaba Map." It has 157 captions (in Greek) depicting all the major biblical sites of the Middle East. This mosaic map is dated to around 560 AD. It was originally around 66 ft. (20 m.) long and 20 ft. (6m) wide. It once contained more than two million pieces, but only one-third of the original mosaic has survived.

 

Sites of Interest

1. St. George's Greek Orthodox Church

Famous Madaba Map

The Madaba Mosaic is located in the apse of St. George's Church. As you approach the map, you will discover that it is oriented to the east (most tourists assume northwards). Therefore, your east is the top of the map, and the north falls on your left-hand side.

In the center of the map, there is a very detailed description of Jerusalem. At the center of the map is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which marks the place of Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead.

 

On the right side of Jerusalem, you will find Bethlehem, and on the left, you will see Jacob’s well.

 

In the upper-middle part, there is the Sea of Galilee with two boats.

2. Madaba Visitor Center
Madaba’s visitor center is worth a visit to learn more about Madaba’s history and its mosaics. It's located in a scenic, renovated traditional house and is right next to St. George's Church and the Archeological Park. 

3. Madaba Archeological Park
While the map of Madaba in Saint George’s Church gets most of the attention, some claim that the most beautiful mosaics are at Madaba’s Archeological Park. Here you can find some of the oldest mosaics in Jordan. The site has some Roman ruins as well as the remains from the church of the Virgin Mary.

Some of the most beautiful mosaics are in the Hippolytus Hall, where you can find another famous Madaba mosaic that tells the myth of Hippolytus.  

4. Apostles' Church
The largest mosaic floor can be found at the Apostles' Church. The church might look rather simple, but the inside is beautiful. The mosaic is dedicated to the twelve apostles and has lots of images, including animals and other interesting details.

5. Church of St. John the Baptist 
This Roman Catholic church is the only tourist place in Madaba where mosaics are not the main attraction. Although there is a small museum with some replicas, One of the biggest reasons to visit this church is to climb the bell tower. From the very top, it provides a spectacular view over Madaba.

Madaba in the Bible 

Note: The Hebrew word for Madaba is Medeba

 

1. Madaba occurs in the Bible as part of a lament describing the conquest of a series of Moabite cities, including Madaba, by the Amorite King Sihon of Heshbon.

Numbers 21:30But we have shot them down with arrows,
Heshbon is destroyed as far as Dibon, then we have laid waste as far as Nophah, which reaches to Medeba
 
[Madaba].

 

2. Madaba was part of the inheritance of the 2 1/2 tribes of Isreal that settled on the east side of the Jordan River.

Joshua 13:8-9: With the other half-tribe, the Reubenites and the Gadites received their inheritance which Moses gave them beyond the Jordan to the east, just as Moses the servant of the Lord gave to them; 9 from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley, and all the plain of Medeba [Madaba], as far as Dibon.

Joshua 13:15-16: So Moses gave an inheritance to the tribe of the sons of Reuben according to their families. 16 Their territory was from Aroer, which is on the edge of the Valley of the Arnon, with the city which is in the middle of the valley and all the plain by Medeba [Madaba].

3. When King David wanted to show kindness to the son of Nahash, king of Ammon, his servants were humiliated. Then, the son of Nahash went to war with King David but was defeated at Madaba.

1 Chronicles 19:7So they hired for themselves thirty-two thousand chariots, and the king of Maacah and his people, who came and camped opposite Medeba. And the sons of Ammon gathered together from their cities and came to the battle.

4. It was conquered by Israelite King Omri, as found in Numbers 32 and 2 Kings 3:4-27.

 

5. The prophet Isaiah pronounced judgment over Madaba.
Isaiah 15:2: The people have gone up to the temple and to Dibon, to the high places to weep. Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba [Madaba]; Everyone’s head is bald and every beard is cut off.

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