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The town of Madaba (approx. 90,000 inhabitants), 35 km southwest of Jordan's capital, is known as the City of Mosaics. World famous and much visited is the mosaic map of the Holy Land from the second half of the 6th century. More about this in one of our informative photo tours.
But you should also take your time to see the other fascinating mosaic floors in Madaba. Most of them were created in the 6th/7th century during the Byzantine period, developed from the classical Hellenistic-Roman tradition. Madaba's heyday continued until the 8th century under the Muslim Umayyads, who were tolerant of Christianity.
After a severe earthquake in 746, the city was abandoned. It only came back to life at the end of the 19th century, when Christian Arabs moved from Karak to Madaba. As they started to build their houses and churches on the Byzantine ruins, began the discovery of the magnificent mosaics which can be admired today.
Mosaic map from the 2nd half of the 6th century, one of the most important archaeological finds in Western Asia
Eastern section, incl. an exhibition of mosaics, the Hippolytus Hall, Virgin Mary Church, St. Elianus Crypt, Roman Street.
Western section: Burnt Palace with two wings, Martyrs' Church (al-Khadir), paved courtyard, Roman street.
Magnificent mosaic floor from 578, not disfigured by iconoclasts. Medallion with a personification of the Sea.
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.
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Compilation of information, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe, unless otherwise indicated.