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RELIGION & FAITH

Located just 86km south of Amman, Madaba has been inhabited for at least 4,500 years, and is mentioned in the Bible as the Moabite town of Medeba (Numbers 21:30). After several centuries of Moabite and Nabataean rule, Medeba and the surrounding lands became part of the Roman Province of Arabia with the Emperor Trajan’s conquest of the Nabataean Kingdom in 106 AD.

During the 1st century AD, Christianity spread rapidly through the Roman province of Arabia, but the Romans persecuted believers. Several martyrs died for their beliefs in Madaba, under the orders of Emperor Diocletian. In the 4th century, the emperor Constantine converted to Christianity, which then became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

During the Byzantine era from the 5th century onwards, Madaba had its own bishop, and numerous churches were constructed from the 6th to the 7th century. Mosaic floors were the hallmark of this era and continued to be made in Madaba until the 8th century. In 749 AD, a devastating earthquake leveled the city and it was abandoned. In 1897, three Christian families, consisting of a group of 2,000 people, migrated to Madaba from the ancient crusader town of Karak. After that event, the city became predominantly Christian. Numerous mosaics were discovered when new housing and churches were built to provide for the new immigrants.


Sites of religious interest in and around Madaba include:

St. George Greek Orthodox Church

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Mosaic map of the Holy Land.

Situated in the centre of the town, St. George's Greek Orthodox Church contains a remarkable mosaic map that portrays the entire ancient Holy Land dating from 560 AD. The map depicts the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon in the north, to Egypt to the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Arabian Desert in the east.

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St. George's Church.

The mosaic was discovered in 1897 when a flat area on a hill was chosen on which to build a church.When the area was cleared for construction, a church foundation and a large mosaic was discovered that represented the floor of an ancient Byzantine church built around 560 AD. The original mosaic was an astounding 15.7x5.6m and is at present 15x3m. It displays all the major cities and features in the Holy Land with remarkable accuracy. Jerusalem, and all its major features is the most important city, and is placed in the centre of the map. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is clearly shown as well as the Cardo Maximus, a colonnaded main street that ran east/west through the centre of the Old City.

Fragments of the Cardo Maximus, built by the Romans after they destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, can still be seen in Jerusalem today. There are 157 Greek captions that label most of the important towns and features of the Holy Land at that time. The mosaic also includes the Jordanian towns of Karak and Madaba.


Mount Nebo

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The Brazen Serpent Cross at Mount Nebo.

According to the final chapter of Deuteronomy, Mount Nebo is where the Hebrew prophet Moses was given a view of the Promised Land that God was giving to the Hebrews. "And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho." (Deuteronomy 34:1).

According to Jewish and Christian tradition, Moses was buried on this mountain by God himself, and his final resting place is unknown. Scholars continue to dispute whether the mountain currently known as Nebo is the same as the mountain referred to in the Torah.

Islamic belief holds that Musa (Moses) was buried not on the mountain but a few kilometres to the west, somewhere beyond the River Jordan.

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The church at Mount Nebo.

On the highest point of the mountain, Syagha, the remains of a church and monastery have been uncovered. The church, discovered in 1933, was constructed in the second half of the 4th century to commemorate the place of Moses' death. The church design follows a typical basilica pattern. It was enlarged in the late 5th century AD and rebuilt in 597 AD. The church is first mentioned in an account of a pilgrimage made by a lady Aetheria in 394 AD.

Six tombs have been found hollowed from the natural rock beneath the mosaic-covered floor of the church. In the present presbytery you can see remnants of mosaic floors from different periods. The earliest of these is a panel with a braided cross presently placed on the east end of the south wall.

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The late Pope John Paul II holds a sermon at the presbytery.

On March 19, 2000, Pope John Paul II visited the site during his pilgrimage to the Holy Land (Mount Nebo being one of the most important Christian sites in Jordan). During his visit he planted an olive tree beside the Byzantine chapel as a symbol of peace.

In addition to Mount Nebo, there are four other holy sites that were designated by the Vatican as Millennium 2000 pilgrimage sites.

The Serpentine Cross sculpture (the Brazen Serpent Monument) atop Mount Nebo was created by Italian artist, Giovanni Fantoni. It is symbolic of the bronze serpent created by Moses in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9) and the cross upon which Jesus was crucified (John 3:14).



Umm Ar-Rasas

A rectangular walled city, about 30km south-east of Madaba, which is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. It was fortified by the Romans, and local Christians were still embellishing it with Byzantine-style mosaics well over 100 years after the start of the Muslim Umayyad rule.

Most of the city now lies in ruins, but there are several buildings in its eastern part, including churches, a courtyard with a well, staircases and stone arches that have all been excavated and restored. More recent excavations have revealed some of the finest Byzantine church mosaics in the Middle East.

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St. Stephen's Church Mosaic.

Just outside the city walls is the recently unearthed Church of St. Stephen with its perfectly-preserved, outstanding mosaic floor, the largest of its kind to be discovered in Jordan, and second only to the world famous mosaic map at Madaba. The mosaic depicts the images of 27 Old and New Testament cities of the Holy Land, east and west of the River Jordan.

Just two kilometres north of Umm Ar-Rasas is the highest standing ancient tower in Jordan, believed to have been used as a place of solitude by early Christian monks. The tower is 15m high and has no door or inner staircase. Today it is inhabited only by flocks of birds.

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Umm Ar-Rasas is a UNESCO World Heritage Site


Dhiban

Known during Biblical times as Dibon, it was the capital of ancient Moab. It is located about 30km to the south of Madaba, just before the spectacular descent into Wadi Mujib - aptly dubbed as Jordan’s Grand Canyon.

The site comprises two hills: The southern hill which is now occupied by the modern town, and the northern hill, which was excavated in the 1950s and 1960s. Excavations indicate that this site was occupied in the Early Bronze Age (c.3000 BC), with no evidence that it was occupied in the Middle and Late Bronze Ages (c.1950-1250 BC).

According to the Biblical account, Dibon was captured from the Moabites by Sihon, King of the Amorites (Numbers 21: 21-30), who in turn was overthrown by the Israelites. Omri, King of Israel, subdued Moab and his heirs, until Mesha, the king of Moab who was residing in Dibon, revolted and extended his kingdom northwards as far as Nebo. To celebrate his victory, Mesha built a new royal quarter, which he called Qarhoh (the prominent). It included a highplace for the Moabite god Kemosh, a palace, an acropolis with gates and towers, and houses for his people. He also set up a stela recounting his achievements. The basalt stone stela was discovered in 1868 and now graces the Louvre Museum in Paris. It is the longest known Moabite inscription. The Bible describes King Mesha as a sheep-breeder who “had to deliver annually to the King of Israel a hundred thousand lambs, and the wool of a hundred thousand rams” (2 Kings 3:4). This together with the story of Ruth (Ruth 1: 1-5) attests to Moab’s agricultural productivity.

In 731 BC, Moab was under Assyrian domination. Later, Moab joined a general revolt against the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, which led to the state’s destruction in 582 BC, five years after the sack of Jerusalem.

For about five centuries the site was deserted. Prosperity returned to Dibon under the Nabataeans, who built a fine temple at the southeastern quadrant of the hill. Also, the walls on the summit of the site were rebuilt as was a north gate. Two inscriptions and the remains of a bath indicate there was a Roman garrison here in the 3rd century. Architectural features from the Byzantine and subsequent Umayyad periods include the remains of a 6th century church and two small domed structures. In the 19th century, the village relocated to the south hill using the ancient tall as a burial ground.


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Ten minutes to the west of Madaba is the most revered site in Jordan: Mount Nebo, with the memorial of Moses at the presumed site of the prophet's death and burial place.

Less than 2km from Umm Ar-Rasas is the highest standing ancient tower in Jordan. It is 15m high and has no door or inner staircase. Today the tower is inhabited only by flocks of birds.

There are several theories as to why Madaba’s map of the Holy Land was depicted in mosaics on the floor of a Christian building in a remote provincial town of the Roman Empire. Some have suggested that the map may have been useful to pilgrims, to help them find their way from one holy place to another. Others believe that, because it is close to Mount Nebo, it may represent the vision that Moses had of the Promised Land, from the place of his death.

As-Salt is the most historic town in Jordan. For long periods in history it was the most important settlement between the Jordan River and the desert to the east.

The stunning 6th century Byzantine mosaic map, which is located in the contemporary Greek Orthodox church of St. George and shows Jerusalem and other holy sites, features around two million pieces of coloured stone!

Hundreds of mosaics from the 5th through to the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba's churches and homes.