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Jordan: Mt. Nebo and Madaba

May 11, 2010
After touring Petra, the next day we worked our way north to Amman with a few notable diversions along the way.  We travelled the Desert Highway, also known as the King’s Highway, a 5,000 year old route that links pre-historic Stone Age villages, towns from the biblical kingdoms of Edom,  Ammon and Moab, Crusader castles, Madaba with its Byzantine mosaics, several Nabataean temples, several Roman fortresses, early Islamic towns, and Petra, the Nabataean city cut out of rock.  One could spend a lifetime and never fully take in all the history connected to this ancient road.  
View of Holy Land from Mt. Nebo

View of Holy Land from Mt. Nebo

Our first stop was Mt. Nebo, a high spot overlooking the Holy Land.  On a clear day Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Jericho are visible from the summit.  Unfortunately, our day was misty with a bit of drizzle in the air.  According to the Bible, Moses was allowed a view of the Holy Land from here but was not allowed to enter.  Moses was buried somewhere on Mt. Nebo but the actual location is not know.  After Mt. Nebo we continued north to Madaba, an old town dating back to the Neolitihic period.

Madaba is mentioned in the Bible and it also is named in the famous Mesha Stele (the Moabite Stone) that is on display in the Jordan Archaelogical Museum in Amman.  The stone records the achievements of Mesha, King of Moab in the mid-9th century BC, one of which was to retake Madaba from the Israelites.

Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George in Madaba

Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George in Madaba

Inside the church at Madaba

Inside the church at Madaba

Madaba  is well known for its Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics.  The most famous of these wonderful mosaics is the two million piece map of the Holy Land preserved in the floor of the modern Greek Orthodox church of Saint George.  Hundreds of mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered around Madaba.  Most of these were lost until modern times after the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD. 

Mosaic map of the Holy Land

Mosaic map of the Holy Land

The Madaba Map dates back to the 6th century AD and the colorful stones depict the hills, valleys and towns of Palestine and the Nile Delta.  The mosaic contains the earliest known portrayal Jerusalem during Byzantine times and provides many important details and landmarks that have been confirmed by archaelogical digs including the location of the ancient cardo and the Holy Sepulchre.  This mosaic is a rare masterpiece that is art, archaelogy, history, cartography and a religious artifact all rolled into one.

Working the loom in Madaba

Working the loom in Madaba

During our short walk through the neighborhood near the church, we passed small shops, restaurants and many locals.  Several of the shops had beautiful rugs hanging in the window.  As it turns out, Madaba has a rich weaving tradition, a craft with a long history among the Bedouins.  We were fortunate enough to visit a shop with a working loom. 

It would have been nice to have more time in this charming old city of mosaics, narrow streets and weaving, but, eventually we said good-bye to Madaba and hit the road.  Wow… what an interesting stop!

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