Madaba, 30 km southwest of the capital Amman, was our first stop in Jordan. During our stay, the Jordanian people greeted us with openness and generosity. People were happy to help with directions, share a story or teach us about their country and traditions. The hospitality we received at the Queen Ayola Hotel was like no other we experienced during our 2012 travels. Well, we can’t forget about the wonderful Shan family at the Queen Inn Hotel in Inle Lake, Burma. Maybe we should start staying at hotels with “Queen” in their name. Our experience these first two days in Jordan really made us excited about traveling throughout the rest of the country.
The quaint little town of Madaba is known for its Christian Byzantine mosaics dating back to 200 AD when the Romans conquered Jordan. The town Madaba flourished for five centuries until it was devastated by an earthquake. It was abandoned until the late 19th century when the Christians from the south in Karak migrated to Madaba. Soon thereafter they found spectacular mosaics buried beneath the rubble. The discovery included the most famous floor map of the Holy Land found in what is today St. George’s Greek Church.
The map spans across the center of the church floor. It is the oldest map (560 AD) of the region, providing significant insight into the biblical sites of the Middle East. Marvelous mosaic depictions of Jerusalem, River Jordan, the Dead Sea, Jericho and Mt. Sinai are included on the map. Mosaic designs were such an integral part of life during the Byzantine era, that most families had them built into their homes. Mosaics were even part of the streets throughout Madaba before the town was destroyed. We visited the Madaba Archealogical Park which is built around an original central mosaic street from the 3rd century Romans.
The tradition of mosaic artistry still continues and is an integral part of modern day society. It’s even more important to the shrinking population of Christians which now only makes up 30% of Madaba’s population. We visited the “Madaba Institute of Mosaic Art and Restoration”. Jordanian artists are trained to create mosaic art using several distinct methods. Most mosaics take several weeks to produce depending on size and detail of the design.
There are several workshops in and around Madaba. We toured a workshop gallery on the drive back from Mount Nebo. In addition to hundreds of traditional mosaics for sale, we found a special Philadelphia Eagles wall mosaic. Apparently someone special ordered the piece and later decided not to buy it. We wondered if it had any special meaning around the old city of Philadelphia which is now Amman.
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