Suitcase and World: Madaba - the Mosaic Map.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Madaba - the Mosaic Map.

Today is our last full day in Jordan and it began as all the other mornings had, with a simple breakfast of ayish, cheese, egg and tea. We had the morning on our own. Bridget, Laura and Kirsten went to visit Bethany - a site along the River Jordan where it is believed that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. Daniel, Alex, Sandy, Dora, Lei and I went off to explore Madaba. Zdena decided to go her own way.

The six of us retraced the steps that Daniel had laid out for us the previous night. Our first stop was Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. George. The church was built 1896 A.D. over the remains of a Byzantine church.

What this tiny, modest church in Madaba, Jordan is famous for is its floor on which are laid millions of pieces of mosaic stone - known world over as the Madaba Mosaic Map. It was one of the reasons why I was so excited to come to Jordan!

The Madaba Mosaic Map dates from the sixth century CE and depicts hills and valleys, villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta - the Holy Land. The mosaic contains the earliest representation of Byzantine Jerusalem, labeled the "Holy City." The map played a key role in developing scholarly knowledge about the physical layout of Jerusalem after its destruction and rebuilding in AD 70. Only about 25% of the original floor exists today.

Daniel, Dora and Sandy admiring the floor.

This section of the map represents Gaza and Sinai.

There was a Spanish speaking tour leader who was using a bamboo stick to explain sections of the map to his group. With my rudimentary knowledge of Spanish, I understood him to say that his stick was pointing to Jerusalem and that just to the right of Jerusalem was representation of Bethlehem.

Photo below. Close up of the mosaic of Jerusalem. The lettering at the top reads "The Holy City of Jerusalem".

In the photo below, the winding strip represents the River Jordan. The fish are depicted swimming upstream, away from the Dead Sea, because the Dead Sea cannot sustain life. The map section that is surrounded by palm trees represents Jericho.

Alex, Lei and I all decided to buy a document explaining the various sections of the map so we would be able to identify the geographic areas that were represented.

Archaeologists discovered that Madaba was full of mosaic monuments and in fact, there is a modern school, in the center of town, that teaches mosaic art. Daniel had pointed it out to us the night before so we headed there when we left the church. Unfortunately, it was closed so we decided to do a bit of souvenir shopping instead.

To no one's surprise, we found store after store selling mosaics of all different sizes - commonly represented themes included the Tree of Life and reproductions of the mosaic of Jerusalem from the Madaba Mosaic Map. Though I was tempted, I quickly decided against buying any mosaic - didn't want to lug the weight in my pack - so I settled for a small rug instead which I could fold up and pack in my daypack. I don't know the origins of the rug (Bedouin maybe??) but I love it! Alex, Lei and I also decided that we couldn't come all this way and not go home with some Dead Sea products. The minerals from the Dead Sea are reputed to have restorative properties for the skin and so we soon found ourselves in a store that sold everything from soaps to hand lotions to mud masks. The owner was the perfect advertisement for the products that she sold in her store - she told us she was 45 and had 6 kids. She didn't look a day over 30! We were amazed by her story and of course, bought our share of products. She also noticed my plaster cast and could not resist the opportunity to sign it!

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at King Shaurma and I couldn't resist the smell of the meat being cooked on a spit over charcoal flames. I bought 2 chicken shawarma (with a pickle tucked inside the sandwich) for lunch - they were the best tasting shawarma that I had on the entire trip and worth every fil of the 2JD I paid!

Read about Lei's memories of our day in Madaba.