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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
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.