Tag Archives: sight seeing

Madaba, City of Mosaics

Upon arriving to the bus station in Madaba, I began to try to get my bearings. I had a tourist map from a previous trip to the city but, for some reason, whoever drew the map decided that the bus station wasn’t important enough to be included. So I have a map but no land marks to tell me where on the map I am.

However, being a good boy scout, I brought along my compass. There are only a few major roads in Madaba and I was on one of them. But which one? Well, my compass reading said that the road I was on was running 30 degrees off of North and South. Thankfully, there was only one major road that matched that bearing. Golden! Now I knew which road I was on.

Of course, I didn’t know exactly where on that road I was but I made my best guess as to which way to go. It wasn’t long before I started seeing signs leading me through the maze-like side streets toward my first landmark, the visitors center. From there finding all of the other places was pretty straight forward.

Madaba has been inhabited for over three thousand years and makes a cameo appearance in the Bible in Numbers 21:30 and Joshua 13:9. However, it wasn’t until the 6th and 7th centuries, under the Byzantine Empire, that it began to flourish as a center for mosaic artistry, something it is still chiefly known for today. One of the city’s most famous works is a mosaic map of this region found in the Greek Orthodox Basilica of Saint George. It is the oldest known map of this area and is made of more than 2 million stones.

This is the church, the Basilica of Saint George:

This is inside the church:

They still have services every Sunday.  They just roll a carpet over the top of the mosaic and bring in pews.

This is the mosaic:

This is a close up of the part showing Jerusalem:

While this mosaic map is the most famous mosaic in Madaba it is by no means the only one.

There are many archaeological sights in the city.  This one is a church that was also built in the 6th century.  It is call the Church of the Virgin Mary and was build on top of a Roman mansion that dates back even earlier:This is a mosaic depicting a Greek tragedy found in that mansion:

Other mosaics can be found in old tombs or churches in various places around the city.  Here is one of the Tree of Life found in a tomb near the Church of the Virgin Mary:

Here are a few from the Church of the Apostles:

And mosaics continue to be made today.  They are all hand crafted and there are many shops where you can watch as they are being made.

I had a great time exploring the city of Madaba and I hope to go back this next weekend with a couple who have come to Jordan to run our guesthouse.

You can click on any of the pictures to see a larger view.  Enjoy.

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On a Bus to Madaba

In addition to doing some sight seeing here in Amman, I also recently got to go to Madaba. Madaba is a town south of Amman that has a very rich cultural history. It is most known for the mosaics that artisans have produced there for centuries. But I’ll talk more about that in another post. I have to get to Madaba first.

There are a number of ways to get to Madaba from Amman. You could rent a car for a day for 20 to 30JD (~ $28 to $42 U.S. dollars). You could get a taxi for about 15JD (~ $21). Or you could take the bus for .65JD (~ 90 cents). Hummm… which one should I go with… ?

After deliberating for an entire nanosecond, I decided to take the bus. If you read my earlier post about riding the bus you probably won’t be surprised to hear that taking the bus is always a bit of an adventure. You’re never 100% certain about where you’ll end up but the odds are in your favor that you’ll get where you want to go. And for less than a buck, I’ll take them odds.

So, I went to Ragadan Station to catch my bus to Madaba. There aren’t any signs to tell you which bus goes where and a bus that goes to one destination won’t necessarily be found in the same spot the next time. However, some buses do have their destination written on the front of the bus. Luckily for me, after just a little bit of looking, I found one labeled ‘Madaba’.

Upon boarding the bus, the driver gave me a strange look and asked me where I was going. After shaking off the feeling of deja vu, I told him “Madaba” and took my seat at the back of the bus near an open window. I got comfortable and looked forward to a pleasant ride. In all honesty, I enjoy riding the bus. I find it relaxing. Usually.

As the bus began to fill up, a man took the seat behind me and immediately decided he wanted the window closed (it was shared between our two seats). So much for the refreshing breeze. To add insult to injury, not terribly long after we had gotten on our way, this man and his friend both decide they need a cigarette.

Something to know about Jordan, if you ever plan on visiting here, is that smoking is permissible anywhere. Your taxi driver will smoke in the car with you. Your doctor will smoke in the clinic with you. I’ve seen restaurants that have “no smoking” signs above the tables and ash trays on the tables. So, on the bus, it is always possible someone might light up. You just hope that they aren’t sitting right behind you. With the window closed.

It wasn’t too long, though, before this guy and his friend got off and I was able to enjoy the fresh air of countryside. The ride from this point on was quite pleasant as we drove through ancient farmlands covered in olive groves or fields dotted with Bedouin tents. In what seemed like no time at all we were rolling into Madaba.

The Roman Amphitheater

In Amman there is are a number of ruins from various times in history. This city has been inhabited for thousands of years and has been under the control of many different groups of people. In Jesus’ day it was one of the ten Roman cities that collectively were know as the Decapolis.

The Romans left their mark in a number of ways but one of the most striking is an amphitheater that they built in the heart of the city. This theater is as tall as most modern football stadiums. The acoustics are just as pitch perfect as the day it was built and from the right spot on stage even the faintest voice can be heard with crystal clarity high up the hill.

The steps leading to the top are just steeper than a forty-five degree angle. I couldn’t help but think that in modern America this would just be a lawsuit waiting to happen. I’m glad that in some places in the world people are still taught to take responsibility for their own actions.

Once I reached the top I sat and watched the other people milling around the theater. There were some in large tour groups, with guides explaining the long history of this impressive structure. While there were others who were all by themselves, perched on the highest points of the theater, sitting alone while surveying the vast expanse of the city stretching before them.

I can’t help but wonder where these different people were from. What’s their story? What brought them to Amman? There were people from all over the world, Americans, Europeans, Asians, even Jordanians. I saw one young married couple laughing, having fun, taking pictures of each other. Honeymoon? I wonder.

There was a small museum in one of the rooms inside the theater that displayed some of the traditional dress from the region. The women’s clothing was adorned with coins that would have been been part of her dowry upon getting married. The men’s clothing that was on display was that of a soldier, with rifle and bandoleer. He was even fitted with a small dagger that has been traditionally carried by religious pilgrims for hundreds of years.

Having finish my exploration of this piece of history, I went with two friends to a favorite restaurant of mine that happened to be near by. I rounded out my day with the quintessential Jordanian meal: Mansef. I’ll have to do another post on mansef. It deserves one of its own. For now, it is sufficient to say that it is a meal which is both filling and delicious. It also makes you want to go take a nap, just like a good thanksgiving dinner.

Being a Tourist

When I first got here to Jordan, I was excited to see all of the fascinating and historic places that dot the map across this country. But, at the same time, I really didn’t want to be lumped in with “tourists”. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with tourism itself but rather it is those tourists who are loud and rude and know nothing about the culture that bother me. In a word, I find them disrespectful.

So, I did my best to be an “interested outsider”. Someone who knows enough about the culture to be respectful but acknowledges that he still has a lot to learn. It is easy enough not to dress like a tourist (don’t have a Hawaiian shirt or shorts with me) and I’m not about to put on a fanny pack. I try not to get caught looking at my map and am always very discreet when taking pictures. I still stand out but there isn’t a whole lot I can do about my blond hair and blue eyes.

After having been here for more than a year, I don’t get to do as much traveling as I did at first. Just like at home, life gets busy and you have responsibilities to attend to. But on occasion, I still get to do a little sight seeing. It’s kind of odd to have your “hometown”, where you live and work, turned into a exotic travel destination by doing nothing more than deciding “I’m going to be a tourist today”.

The past couple of days I decided to do just that. I did a little sight seeing here in Amman and some in a nearby town called Madaba. I’m going to take a few posts this next week to share about some of the things I saw.