A predominantly Muslim country today, our mystery country had a large Christian population throughout the Byzantine period and beyond. The city of Madaba on the Kings Highway had its own bishop as early as the 5th century and still has a significant Christian community today. The remains of numerous ancient Christian churches have been discovered, mostly in the northern part of town, with much more excavation yet to be done. So many mosaics have been discovered in the ruins, of homes as well as churches, that Madaba is known as the City of Mosaics. The Muslim Umayyad dynasty took control of the area in the middle of the 7th century and many Umayyad mosaics have been discovered as well.
Can you name that country?
See below for answers.
Everyone knows about Petra in Jordan; it’s the headliner, and for good reason. But Jordan is also home to some very important religious sites. It’s just across the Jordan River from Israel and very much part of the Holy Land.
Mt.Nebo is traditionally believed to be the site where Moses died and was buried. After wandering in the desert for 40 years, he was denied entrance into the Promised Land but he was allowed to look upon it from Mt.Nebo. As the story goes, Moses and the Israelites had been wandering in the desert for many years. It was hard on everyone. There was a great deal of kvetching and little gratitude, faith or loyalty among the Israelites. When he went out to get water for this mob of moaners, Moses was on his last nerve. “Fine,” he said, “we’ll get you your gosh darn water!” He struck a stone three times and water poured out. In that moment, Moses committed at least three sins and his fate was sealed. He failed in his responsibility as leader by losing his temper. He disobeyed the Lord by striking the stone rather than speaking to it as instructed. And, probably worst of all, he failed to properly credit the Lord for the miracle. His punishment was to never set foot in the Promised Land. It seems a harsh penalty. The poor guy left a life of royal luxury and accepted a thankless mission of extreme hardship. Why not give him some latitude, for pity’s sake? On the other hand, he fell short in his assignment of obedience to the Lord and leadership of the Israelites.
There’s plenty to ponder while standing on Mt.Nebo looking out over the Jordan Valley. If conditions are right, you can see Jericho and beyond to Jerusalem. Remains of a Byzantine church are incorporated into the modern church on site, which houses some very nice mosaics and the soaring serpentine cross sculpture at the edge of the summit seems to hang from the sky. It’s all very moving.
Just down the road about 5 miles is Madaba, famous for mosaics. They’re still excavating Byzantine remains all over town. The Basilica of St. George is the main attraction, where you can see the famous 6th-century map of the holy land in a mosaic floor.
About a 20 minute drive from Madaba at the very southern end of the Jordan River is Bethany Beyond the Jordan, the site widely believed to be where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. There’s very strong archaeological evidence to support that belief. After the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, this border area had to be cleared of mines. Excavations began in 1996 and have uncovered Roman and Byzantine remains of baptismal pools, churches, pilgrim lodgings, hermit caves, a monastery and a prayer hall. This is also believed to be the site from which the prophet Elijah ascended to heaven in a chariot of fire.
I’m not at all religious but I was affected by the serenity of this place. Just thinking about it now is calming. My secular being has been similarly moved to the core at Mt. Nebo, Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall… Is there some inherent power in these places that is deeper than their associated spiritual traditions? Or does centuries-of-pilgrim-ardor hang so thick that even casual visitors are swept up in it? Or is it just the suggestion of emotional response that makes it so?
While these are interesting questions to consider, perhaps why we respond the way we do is far less important than the response itself. Aspire to faith in experience and acceptance of the unexplained. Ultimately, no matter our system of belief, the source of the feelings inspired by these places is the same for all of us. What differs is how we explain those feelings.
Visit Mt. Nebo, Madaba and Bethany Beyond the Jordan and feel for yourself: www.yallatours.com/jordan
The Dead Sea shore is 1400 feet below sea level, the lowest land spot on earth. There is no outlet for the water, which flows into the Dead Sea, technically a lake, from the Sea of Galilee (also technically a lake) via the Jordan River. Water leaves the Dead Sea only by evaporation, leaving minerals behind in high concentration. Because of the extremely low elevation, the barometric pressure is higher than anywhere else on earth, there’s a greater concentration of oxygen in the air, greater filtration of ultraviolet sun rays, and the air is practically free of pollen and other allergens.
The Dead Sea has been known for its healing properties for thousands of years, and even today, the unique climactic and mineral properties are used in therapies for conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis and cystic fibrosis.
The modern city of Madaba Jordan sits on top of multiple layers of previous inhabitation, going back some 4,000 years. Walking around town you can see the remains of buried structures poking up through the grass. Among Madaba’s excavated past (and probably the unexcavated as well) is a large collection of mosaic floors, walls and ceilings.
After being mostly abandoned for almost 1,000 years, Madaba began to be resettled in the 1880s by Arab Christians. The first mosaics were discovered as they mined the ancient rubble to build their new town. In 1896, the famous mosaic map of the holy land was found and excavation and preservation of Madaba’s mosaics has continued pretty steadily ever since.
St. George’s Church – This is where you’ll find the mosaic map that put Madaba on the map. A modern-era church stands atop the remains of a 6th-century Byzantine church, the floor of which contained this detailed depiction of the Mediterranean basin. The map was originally over 1,000 square feet but only about 1/4 remains.
Archaeological Park – This fine open-air museum encompasses the remains of several churches and houses including, of course, some very good mosaics.
Archaeological Museum – Here is a nice little collection of mosaics from Madaba and the vicinity, as well as other artefacts and cultural displays.
Church of St. John the Baptist – Climb the bell tower for sweeping views, then explore the maze of passages that burrow through the hill underneath the church.
Church of the Apostles – If you really can’t get enough mosaics, walk a bit away from the city center to the Church of the Apostles, which houses a beautiful, large mosaic floor.
Um er-Rasas – This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although it seems utterly forgotten. Hidden in the expansive field of debris, you’ll find Roman, Byzantine and early Muslim ruins in early stages of excavation. The most spectacular discovery to date is the beautifully preserved mosaic floor of the Church of St. Stephen. The site is about 19 miles south of Madaba.
Wadi Jadid – For a nice juxtaposition to the detailed, micro-artistry of Madaba’s mosaics, travel about 6 miles to the southwest to find a field of megalithic tombs from the 3rd millennium BCE. Most of the dolmens are tumbled down but there are enough standing to give a very satisfying sense of mystery and extreme ancientness.
Madaba is located along the famous King’s Highway, about 20 miles south of Amman.
It pairs nicely with visits to Mt. Nebo, Bethany Beyond the Jordan and the Dead Sea.
To see tours to Madaba click here.
All the clues in this post refer to one Ya’lla Tours destination: Bahrain, Cuba, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, Turkey, or United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi and Dubai).
We’ll show you images of popular tourist sites in our mystery country, along with descriptions of those sites. Continue reading