Madaba: The City of Mosaics and Moses

Madaba is replete with many old-world charms, from the Biblical site of Mount Nebo and a Byzantine-era map of the holy land to mind-blowing mosaic masterpieces.

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Besides the gorgeous frescoes, Madaba’s St George’s Church is also home to a Byzantine-era map of the Holy Land, which was crafted using 1.5 million mosaic pieces. Photo by Abhishek Hajela.

Clutching a steel ramp ringing the ridge, I’m standing where Moses stood centuries ago. It’s from this point the prophet was afforded panoramic views of the Promised Land he never crossed. Pope John Paul II stood and prayed here too at the turn of the millennium, announcing Mount Nebo as a biblical site of great significance. It’s unsurprising then to see believers read from the Bible here, eyes wet, faces sombre. “Oh, many Christians come here, including many from your country,” my guide Isam says, following my gaze. The Dead Sea, Jerusalem’s mountains and the Palestinian city of Jericho can all be partially seen from here on a clear day, and today happens to be one such. “You’re lucky, lady” Isam tells me.

Our last destination in Madaba, the ‘mosaic city’ 35 kilometres south-west of Amman, is the St George’s Church. Built it 1896, this Greek Orthodox church is home to a masterpiece: a Byzantine-era mosaic map of the Holy Land. Crafted in 560 A.D. with 1.5 million mosaic pieces, the map was discovered during the church’s construction. “About 11,000 hours went into its making,” Isam says of the map that’s today sprawled on the church’s floor, cordoned by chains. Around me, visitors crouch for best angles. Some devotees stand shedding tears. I’m focused on Palestine. Its rivers, homes, hills stand disintegrated, like a jigsaw puzzle abandoned midway. My eyes scan for Israel. I can’t locate it.

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A D V E R T I S E M E N T

A D V E R T I S E M E N T

  • Humaira Ansari is a certified nihari-lover who travels with an open mind and lots of earbuds. She invests a lot of time and Wi-Fi in planning her itineraries. She loves neighbourhood walks, meals at a local’s home, and discovering a city's nightlife. She is former Senior Associate Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.

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