Madaba – Byzantine & Umayyad artwork

“The City of Mosaics” a collection of Byzantine and Umayyad artwork, including a Byzantine mosaic depicting a map of the Holy Land.

Madaba - Jordan

Madaba is home to the famous 6th century Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. With two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta.
In many respects Madaba is a typical East Bank town which differs in one major aspect: underneath almost every house lies a fine Byzantine mosaic. Many of these mosaics have been excavated and are on display in the town’s museum, but it is estimated that many more lie hidden waiting to be discovered.

Just 30km from Amman, along with the 5,000-year-old Kings´ Highway, is one of the most memorable places in the Holy Land. After passing through a string of ancient sites, the first city you reach is Madaba, the town remains one of the most traveller friendly in Jordan, and it’s an alternative to Amman as a base for exploring the King’s Highway and Dead Sea highlights. By taxi, you can even travel directly from Queen Alia International Airport in around 20 minutes, bypassing Amman altogether.

The town of Madaba was once a Moabite border city, mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9. Madaba dates from the Middle Bronze Age.

During its rule by the Roman and Byzantine empires from the 2nd to the 7th centuries, the city formed part of the Provincia Arabia set up by the Roman Emperor Trajan to replace the Nabataean kingdom of Petra.
During the rule of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, it was part of the southern Jund Filastin.

The first witness of a Christian community in the city, with its own bishop, is found in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, wherein Constantine, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bostra (the provincial capital) signed on behalf of Gaiano, “Bishop of the Medabeni.”

The resettlement of the city ruins by 90 Arab Christian families from Kerak, in the south, led by two Italian priests from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1880, saw the start of archaeological research.
This in turn substantially supplemented the scant documentation available.

Map - Madaba - Wonders Travel and Tourism

Madaba’s chief attraction – in the contemporary Greek Orthodox church of St. George – is a wonderfully vivid, 6th-century Byzantine mosaic map showing the entire region from Jordan and Palestine in the north, to Egypt in the south.

This map includes a fascinating plan of Jerusalem: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend “Holy City of Jerusalem”.

Other mosaic masterpieces in Madaba found in the church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba’s churches and homes.

Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George

Did you know?

Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George
This beautiful church is one of the main places of worship and pilgrimage across Jordan. Decorated with sumptuous interiors, elegant colonnades and various mosaics, the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George hosts the mosaic map of the holy land. With two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta.
The Madaba Mosaic Map covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which is located northwest of the city centre. The church was built in 1896 AD, over the remains of a much earlier 6th century Byzantine church. The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 X 6m, 94 sq.m., only about a quarter of which is preserved. 
The Mosque of Jesus Christ

Did you know?

The Mosque of Jesus Christ

“The Mosque of Jesus Christ” is the exact name given to a mosque in the city of Madaba, south of the Jordanian capital Amman, founded in 2008 to send out a message of togetherness and tolerance.  

The Imam of the mosque, Jamal al Sufrati, enjoys a fine reputation in the region of Madaba for his historic commitment to promote good relations with the Christian community, which represents approximately 10% of the country. Muslims respect and venerate Jesus Christ. They consider him to be one of God’s greatest messengers to humankind. 

Virtual excursion in Madaba

To see in Madaba


Entrance at Abu Bakr As-Siddiq St. to the eastern section of the Archaeological Park.Entrance at Abu Bakr As-Siddiq St. to the eastern section of the Archaeological Park.

Mosaic from Machaerus

Mosaic from MachaerusThe oldest mosaic found in Jordan, dated to the end of the 1st century B.C., a fragment from the bath of the fortress of Machaerus which was built for Herod the Great ( 73 – 4 B.C.)

Mosaic exhibition

Mosaic exhibitionArcade construction for the mosaic exhibition, designed by Ammar Khammash

Shelter building

Shelter buildingShelter building for the Hippolytus Hall and Church of the Virgin Mary, designed by the Jordanian architect Ammar Khammash


Hippolytus Hall and Virgin Mary Church

Hippolytus Hall and Virgin Mary ChurchThe floor mosaic of the Hippolytus Hall in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary.


Hippolytus Hall

Hippolytus HallThe western part (in the foreground) had been found in 1905 by Sulayman Sunna, then the property owner. In 1982, the eastern section was was located by Michele Piccirillo under the floor of the vestibule of the Church of the Virgin Mary.

The mosaic decorated a rich mansion of 6th century Byzantine Madaba. Due to stylistic parallels it was dated to the Justinian period (527-565).

Church of the Virgin Mary 1

Church of the Virgin Mary 1The church and its first mosaic pavement can be dated to between the end of the 6th and the beginning of the 7th centuries. The well-preserved later mosaic was constructed during the Umayyad period  when the church was restored.

The church has an internal vestibule, a round nave and an elongated, apsed presbyterium which is supported by two underground rooms with barrel vaults. The facade opens into a narthex and from there, two pairs of columns flank the entrance to the nave of the church which is a circle measuring 9.7 m in diameter.

Church of the Virgin Mary 2

The main pavement is a re-making of a mosaic floor which had been laid at the time of the construction of the church (end of the 6th/beginning of the 7th cent.). The well-preserved mosaic was constructed during the Umayyad period when the church was restored.

Church of the Virgin Mary 2The mosaic consists of a square frame decorated on the outer edge by a series of serrated points. In the center are a round medallion and an inscription which are enclosed in a guilloche. In turn, two interwoven squares, which form a star, surround the central design which lies inside another circle. Finally, all of this is enclosed in a circular border made up of interlaced smaller circles.

In the spaces between the square frame and the circular composition are two pairs of geometric-floral motifs. Next to each one of the eastern pair, which are in the form of rosettes, there is a tray of fruit with a knife.

A square containing a Solomonic knot in a circle is superimposed on the grid at the entrance from the west. Flowers, leaves, stylized fruit and diamonds fill the empty spaces of the mosaic’s white background.

Church of the Virgin Mary 3

Church of the Virgin Mary 3An eight-line dedicatory inscription lies in a tabula ansata [tablet with handles] in front of the chancel screen of the sanctuary, separated from the step by florets and diamonds:
“At the time of our most pious father, Bishop Theophane, this most beautiful mosaic work was realized in the glorious and venerable house of the holy and immaculate queen … Mother of God. Thanks to the zeal and ardor of the people who love Christ in this city of Madaba, for the salvation, and assistance, and remission of sins of those who have made offerings, and of those who will make offerings, to this holy place. Amen, O Lord. Finished by the grace of God in the month of February in the year -74, of the fifth indiction.”

Church of the Virgin Mary 4

Church of the Virgin Mary 4The metric inscription of the central medallion is noteworthy for the elegance and precision of the theological formulae employed to express the maternity of the Virgin Mary and the universal kingship of Christ, her son. It was addressed to the faithful who entered the church to remind them of the spiritual purity necessary for proper veneration of the church’s icon of the Virgin Mother. The actual icon, made of fresco or mosaic, probably covered the interior of the apsidal wall.

The inscription reads: “If you want to look at Mary, virginal Mother of God, and to Christ whom she generated, Universal King, only Son of the only God, purify [your] mind, flesh and works! May you purify with [your] prayer the people of God.”

Church of the Virgin Mary 5

Church of the Virgin Mary 5Remains of the Roman temple beneath the church are reused as a crypt. The church with its round nave is supported by two underground rooms with barrel vaults and arches.

Roman street

Roman streetThe street would originally have crossed Madaba from east to west, leading to gates in the city walls which have since vanished. It was paved with large flagstones and flanked by columns. The street was covered by a layer of beaten earth during the Byzantine/Umayyad period. Many of the columns were reused in later structures, both in antiquity and in more recent times. Today most of the Roman street is covered by the modern town but two sections, bisected by a modern street, have been excavated.
The large building is the shelter for the Hippolytus Hall and Church of the Virgin Mary, designed by A. Khammash.
On the left, the entrance to the Crypt of St. Elianus.

Crypt of St. Elianus

Crypt of St. ElianusLocated beneath the destroyed Church of the Prophet Elias. Paved at the time of Bishop Sergius who was also called the Priest of Saint Elianus, in 595 – 596.
On the photo, a tree laden with fruits on the south side of the stairway.

Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration (MIMAR)

Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration (MIMAR)Originally established as the Madaba Mosaic School in 1992, converted into the MIMAR in 2007. A regional center of excellence for preserving mosaics, and providing skilled and professional graduates for employment in the restoration and production of mosaic art and stone presentation. The Institute offers the only diploma program specialized in scientific methods of restoration and conservation, as well as the artistic aspects of mosaic art and development in the region.

Details at the end.

Madaba the town in history

During the roman-byzantine period (II-VII Century AD.), the city formed part of the Provincia Arabia set-up by the roman emperor Trajan to replace the Nabathean kingdom of Petra. During the Islamic epoch under the Omayyad dynasty, it was part of the southern Jund of Palestine.

The first witness of a christian community in the city, with its own bishop, is found in the Acts of the Council of Calcedonia in 451 AD, wherein Constantine, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bostra, the provincial capital, signs also on behalf of Gaiano bishop of the Medabeni.

The re-occupation of the city ruins by 90 christian families from Kerak, in the south, led by two Italian priests from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1880, saw the start of archaeological research. This in turn supplemented substantially the scanty documentation available.

The first mosaics were discovered, purely by chance, during the building of the new permanent dwellings using squared-up stones from the old monuments. The new inhabitants of Madaba, made conscious of the importance of the mosaics by their priests, made sure that they took care of and preserved all the mosaics that came to light.

The mosaic Map of Madaba was discovered in 1896 and published a year later. This discovery drew upon the city the attention of scholars worldwide. It also positively influenced the inhabitants who shared the contagious passion of F. Giuseppe Manfredi to whose efforts we owe the discovery of most of the mosaics in the city. Madaba became the ‘City of Mosaics’ in Jordan.

The northern part of the city turned out to be the area containing the greatest concentration of mosaic monuments. During the byzantine-omayyad period, this northern area, crossed by a colonnaded roman road, saw the building of the Church of the Map, the Hippolytus Mansion, the Church of the Virgin Mary, the Church of Prophet Elijah with its crypt, the Church of the Holy Martyrs (Al-Khadir), the Burnt Palace and the Church of the Sunna’ family.

Excavating the Hippolytus Hall

To date the mosaic monuments that have been discovered in the southern part of the city include: the Cathedral which also incorporates a Baptistery Chapel and another Chapel dedicated to the Martyr Theodore, the Church of the Apostles with its two side-chapels, the Mansions of the Seasons, Achilles’ Mansion, the Mansion of the Bacchic Procession, the Paradise Mansion and the Chapel of the Twal family in the Archaeological Museum.

Mount Nebo, to the west formed part of the Madaba Diocese. Here the mosaics discovered at the Moses Memorial together with those in the churches in the village of Nebo, in the ‘Uyun Musa valley and at ‘Ayn al-Kanisah carry inscriptions which date them to the times of the Bishops of Madaba from the late V century to the middle of the VIII century AD.. Umm al-Rasas – Kastron Mefaa, on the southeastern steppes, also formed part of the diocese, laying as it is close to the Wadi Mujib-Arnon, a natural boundary of the Province. Here were brought to light the splendid mosaics of the Saint Stephen Complex together with the Church of the Lions (VI-VIII century AD.), which complement the VIII century mosaic discovered in the village of Ma’in.

Spurred by the wave of enthusiasm caused by the discovery, in 1982, of the Hippolytus Hall beneath the Church of the Virgin Mary by the Archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, based at Mount Nebo, we embarked on the process of defining an ambitious project which envisaged the creation of an Archaeological Park, where the Roman road crosses the northern part of the old city; a Museum Complex for the protection of the Church of the Virgin Mary and the Hippolytus Hall as well as a School for the restoration of old mosaics, located in existing buildings in the vicinity. The school is a must if we are to safeguard the wealth of art and civilisation which could so easily go lost.

This is a project that was thought of on Mount Nebo and which involves today four countries committed to its realisation: The Jordanian government, who is slowly expropriating the non-built areas; the US. government who funds the construction of the Museum and the restoration works being carried out through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), with the collaboration of the Canadian Government; the Italian government who is providing the technical assistance required for the setting up of the Madaba School of Restoration, which School started regular courses in the autumn of 1992.

Madaba today counts over 55,000 inhabitants and has once again taken up its role as the administrative centre for the Jordanian territory south of Amman (the Land of Madaba as referred to in the Biblical and Moabite texts). The inauguration of the Archaeological Park and the Madaba School of Restoration, one hundred years after the discovery of the Mosaic Geographical Chart of the Biblical lands augurs for Madaba a central role also in the cultural development of the country.

Chronology of Madaba

Fourth millennium B.C.
In the early Bronze Age (3300 – 2000 B.C.) first settlement on a hill on fertile high plains (beneath the present town center).

9th – 7th century B.C.

As part of the kingdom of Moab, the settlement grew rapidly, which is why Madaba is considered a foundation of the Moabites. Since there were no springs, the inhabitants built cisterns to collect rainwater.

Inscribed on the Mesha Stele, King Mesha of Moab (ca. 830 – 805 B.C.) states in lines 7-8 that he has ended the Israeli occupation of the “Land of Madaba”.

Earliest mention of “Medeba” in the Bible (Book of Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9).

2nd / 1st century B.C.

The Ammonites had conquered Madaba in 165 B.C., but lost it again to the Hasmonean Hyrcanus I around 110 B.C.

In the struggle for dominion of Jerusalem that broke out after 67 B.C., Hyrcanus II gave the territory of Madaba to the Nabataeans expecting their support against his brother Aristobulos. Madaba became part of the Nabataean kingdom.

63 B.C. – with the conquests under the general Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (106 – 48 B.C.) Rome and then the Eastern Roman Empire also gained power in Transjordan for several centuries.

30 B.C. Herod, vassal king of the Roman Empire, occupied Madaba in the war against the Nabataeans.

2nd / 3rd century A.D.

The Roman Emperor Trajan (ruled 98 – 117 A.D.) sealed the end of the Nabataean kingdom in 106 A.D., incorporating it into the Provincia Arabia. The Nabataeans were expelled from Madaba.

Madaba became a Roman provincial town on the Via Nova Traiana with the usual representative architecture. Remnants of it could still be seen by explorers around 1900. Some building elements were reused in churches during the Byzantine period.

At the end of the 2nd and beginning of the 3rd century the city minted its own coins.

4th century – Christianity

After the Constantinian shift and the Edict of Milan of 313, Christianity spread rapidly in the Roman Empire and became the state religion in 380.

First evidence for a Christian community with its own bishop in Madaba: Acts of the Council of Chalcedon where Metropolitan Archbishop Constantine signed on behalf of Gaiano, “Bishop of the Medabeni.”

6th – 8th century A.D.

In the 6th century, sacred building activity and Christian artistic creation experienced a boost, especially during the reign of Emperor Justinian I (527 – 565).

Around 530, beginning of the “Golden Age” of mosaic art in Jordan.

From the second half of the 6th century onwards, numerous church buildings with elaborate mosaic floors were built in Madaba, including the Madaba map. Their cultural roots lie in the classical tradition of the Hellenistic-Roman period.

614 – 628
Madaba under the rule of the Sassanids

The victory of the Muslim army in the Battle of Yarmuk marked the end of the Byzantine, respectively Eastern Roman era, and the dawn of the Islamic era in Transjordan.

661 – 750 Umayyads
The Umayyad caliphate was tolerant of other religions, therefore the Christians in Madaba could continue practicing their faith. New elaborate churches were built, such as the St. Stephen Church in Umm er-Rasas, which belonged to the diocese of Madaba.

Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake and abandoned afterwards.

19th / 20th century

Guided by their priests, some 2000 Christian Bedouins moved to Madaba in the early 1880s and settled in the area assigned to them by the Ottoman authorities at the request of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, despite resistance from local tribes. They came from Karak, where their ancestors had fled to, many of whom were originally from Madaba.

For their churches and houses on the ruins of the Roman-Byzantine town, the newcomers used stones and architectural elements from historic buildings found on the site. It is thanks to the attention of the priests that many of the mosaics discovered in the process have been preserved.

From 1516 to 1918 the territories east of the Jordan River belonged to the Ottoman Empire. In a decree issued by Sultan Suleiman to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Germanos (1537-1579), it was stipulated that Christians were only allowed to build churches in places where there had been churches before and adhering to their ground plan. Since this was still the case in the 1880s, the settlers in Madaba came across mosaic floors from previous buildings during the construction of the Greek Orthodox Church (St George’s Church in the north) and the Roman Catholic Church (on the Acropolis in the south).

In 1886 the first Greek mosaic inscription was found in a ruin in Madaba, which was later identified as the Church of the Virgin Mary.

The discovery of the Madaba Map during the construction of the Greek Orthodox Church of St George was a sensation that brought Madaba into the focus of international research. Read more in our presentation of this mosaic.

Michele Piccirillo (1944 – 2008)
From the 1970s onwards, the Franciscan archaeologist was instrumental in researching the mosaics in Madaba, Mount Nebo and other places in Jordan. He is the editor and author of a number of fundamental publications.

September: Opening of the Madaba Mosaic School for mosaic restorers, an Italian-Jordanian project.

On November 12th, the Madaba Archaeological Park was officially inaugurated by Queen Noor.

7-9 April, International Conference “The Madaba Map Centenary – Travelling Through the Byzantine Umayyad Period”. The contributions are published in an extensive and richly illustrated publication.

Madaba's Museum

Madaba’s Museum as known in the guide books as “Al Twal House” is located down a small alley a few blocks south of St. George's Church its greatest attraction is a collection of mosaic collages, some of which are in excellent condition. It was established in traditional houses built on mosaic floors, and divided into two main units which together forms a complete unit, ‘The Archaeological Museum’ and ‘The Folk Museum’.

The Archaeological Museum

This part of the house is a floor- designed by mosaic shapes with photos of two Peacocks and two Rams infront of a pot with a base which has two vine branches with leaves grew from it. Also a classic mythological scene shows a Bajosh female dancer wearing a transparent dress beating her anklets and a picture of Sateros naked holding a small stick with his right hand.

Mosaic Portrait

A mosaic portrait inside a (3.58m * 5.37m) room designed by a square drawing with four shrubbery setting out from the angles, its branches contact a circle in the centre with a human shape, two rams, two rabbits, two ducks, a lion and a bull inside, with herbs infront of them.

The Folk Museum

Consists of two halls which contains some accessories, gold and silver jewelry, old and folkloric male and female costumes that shows the tradition of Madaba and some cities near, also you can see some historical tools and handworks from the daily life of Madabian heritage and other cities from Jordan.

Mosaic school

The Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration (MIMAR), founded in 2007 – a governmental owned, non-profit entity, with a strong public-private partnership, incorporated in the membership of boards and committees.

The Institute was originally established as the Madaba Mosaic School in 1992, offering the high school vocational certificate in Mosaics.

Nowadays, the Institute offers the only diploma program specialized in scientific methods of restoration and conservation, as well as the artistic aspects of mosaic art and development in the region.

Throughout its history, both the school and the institute enjoyed technical, administrative and financial support from the government, NGO’s, people of Jordan, Italian Government and the United States.

MIMAR campus located in Madaba; The campus is set around a historic Roman road and situated next to the Madaba Archeological Park; which places MIMAR in an excellent location for accessing around 400 mosaics sites in Madaba and throughout Jordan, especially in Amman, Ajlun, Jerash, Salt, Mafraq and Petra.

Based on the Institute’s philosophy and mission of achieving excellence the Institute has been granted public and private accreditation from the Council of Higher Education for its programs and started offering the Diploma in Mosaic Art Production and Restoration in the academic year of 2007-2008.

United State Agency for Development (USAID)
Through USAID/Jordan Tourism Development Project (USAID SIYAHA), USAID support the transformation of the school to be the only community college of its kind in the region,  giving 2 years Diploma in Mosaic Art and Restoration .

Italian Government
One of the main founders of the Institute, the Italian Government has helped establish and maintain the progress of the school from the Madaba Mosaic School to the Institute, it has become today. They have been providing the Institute with technical assistance, training of experts and the initial capital investment and equipment needed.