Madaba is home to the famous 6th century Mosaic Map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land, Best known for its spectacular Byzantine and Umayyad mosaics. With two million pieces of vividly coloured local stone, it depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns as far as the Nile Delta.
In many respects Madaba is a typical East Bank town which differs in one major aspect: underneath almost every house lies a fine Byzantine mosaic. Many of these mosaics have been excavated and are on display in the town’s museum, but it is estimated that many more lie hidden waiting to be discovered.
During its rule by the Roman and Byzantine empires from the 2nd to the 7th centuries, the city formed part of the Provincia Arabia set up by the Roman Emperor Trajan to replace the Nabataean kingdom of Petra. During the rule of the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate, it was part of the southern Jund Filastin.
The first witness of a Christian community in the city, with its own bishop, is found in the Acts of the Council of Chalcedon in 451, wherein Constantine, Metropolitan Archbishop of Bostra (the provincial capital) signed on behalf of Gaiano, “Bishop of the Medabeni.”
The resettlement of the city ruins by 90 Arab Christian families from Kerak, in the south, led by two Italian priests from the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 1880, saw the start of archaeological research. This in turn substantially supplemented the scant documentation available.
This map includes a fascinating plan of Jerusalem: on the left is the north gate from which two colonnaded streets run south. On the straight street through the heart of the city stands the domed Holy Sepulcher. Clearly inscribed above the north and east gates is the legend “Holy City of Jerusalem”.
Other mosaic masterpieces in Madaba found in the church of the Virgin and the Apostles and the Archaeological Museum, depict a rampant profusion of flowers and plants, birds and fish, animals and exotic beasts, as well as scenes from mythology and everyday pursuits of hunting, fishing and farming. Literally, hundreds of other mosaics from the 5th through the 7th centuries are scattered throughout Madaba’s churches and homes.
The Nabataeans governed the city during the 1st century AD. And in the Hellenistic period, under the Romans, it was a flourishing provincial town with temples and colonnaded streets and surrounded by a strong wall. Under the Byzantines, Madaba became the seat of a bishopric, and in 451 AD, its bishop attended the Council of Chalcedon. During this period, and particularly in the 6th century, mosaics were lavished on churches and public and private buildings.
Madaba was sacked by the Persians in 615, and its ruin was completed by the earthquake of 747. It stood abandoned for over 1000 years until, around 1880, a group of about 2000 Christians from Kerak settled here. It was they, in the process of rebuilding, who found the mosaics buried under the rubble.
The museum was established in 1978 and contains:
The Institute is located between the Madaba Visitors Center and the Madaba Archeological Park. Visitors are welcome to explore the school grounds and the workshop from 8am – 2pm Sunday thru Thursday.