A short drive from the hustle and bustle of Amman sits a colorful city full of ancient mosaics where local artists continue traditions started by their Byzantine predecessors. Known as the City of Mosaics, Madaba is a feast for the eyes, and its location makes the city a great base station for any Jordanian adventure.
Located on the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, this 6th century mosaic is the oldest known map of the Holy Land and Madaba’s most famous piece of artwork. Although only about a quarter of the map remains, the two million stone design still aids modern day archaeologists in their efforts to locate historical sites throughout the region.
Rediscovered in 1864, the medallion boasts a half-clothed woman (the sea) standing waist-high in the water with aquatic creatures (real and imagined) surrounding her. It is the centerpiece of a lavish, 6th century mosaic that contains a host of colorful animal motifs.
Address: Church of the Apostles, Al-Nuzha St, Madaba
The museum complex encompasses the ruins of several Byzantine churches and showcases the mosaics they once housed. Hippolytus Hall contains the most ornate and interesting mosaics, including a scene of a bare chested Aphrodite attempting to paddle Eros with a sandal. The oldest mosaic in Jordan (1st Century) can be found at the park, too.
In use for at least 3,000 years, King’s Highway connects important Jordanian sites such as Jerash and Petra. Road-trippers keen on traversing the winding road can catch it in Madaba and take it south to the Gulf of Aqaba. The La Storia Tourism Complex has a map, billed as the “World's Largest Mosaic Portrait,” that details the highway’s 207-mile route.
Panoramic views of the city await those willing, and able, to climb a steep, rickety set of stairs to the church’s bell tower. A life-sized statue of Jesus points visitors in the right direction. It’s the highest point in Madaba. So, only the surefooted should attempt the ascent.
Phone: +962 (5) 3244065
Grab a handful of Mansaf, the National dish of Jordan. The aromatic lamb and rice delicacy has its roots in Bedouin culture and is traditionally served on a large, communal plate. While locals may only use their right hand to eat this dish, tourists can opt for utensils.
Mansaf can be enjoyed at numerous local restaurants.
The Roman Emperor Pompey conquered the city in 63 BC. Now, Jerash stands as one of the best examples of Roman architecture outside of Italy. Charioteers, gladiators, and Roman soldier re-enactors stir-up the Hippodrome’s dust for tourists.
An important pilgrimage destination, and arguably the most significant religious site in Jordan, is a stone’s throw away from Madaba. According to Christianity, God ordered Moses to survey the “promised land” from this 2740-ft vantage point; Islamic faith contends that Moses was buried in the area. A Byzantine chapel shares the real estate, but it is the sweeping views over the Jordan Valley and into Israel that make Mount Nebo worth the stop.
The lowest point on earth (1388 feet below sea level) is just a 20-minute drive from Madaba. Bathers can lather the sea’s mineral rich mud onto their bodies, and then wash it away in some of the saltiest water on earth. Many Dead Sea resorts offer day passes to those wishing to access the water.
143-miles south of Madaba stands the UNESCO World Heritage Site that made its big screen debut in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The city cut from, and into, red hued mountains exceeds expectations. While the roads can be treacherous, especially at night, a daytrip to this ancient wonder is still doable.
Phone: +962 321 57093
Mosaics, of course. The Tree of Madaba, animals and religious scenes are popular motifs. Prices for the intricate, handmade pieces of art depend on size, design, and haggling skills, but expect to shell out at least 50 Jordanian Dinars (about $71).
A budget friendly hotel with a great location: a ten-minute walk from the city center and only a three blocks from St George’s Church (The Madaba Map).
Address: Aisha Um Mumeneen St., Madaba
Phone: +962 5 3248606
Although 15-miles away from Madaba, it is an upscale micro-city worth considering, especially for those who want a 5-star experience on the Dead Sea.
Address: Dead Sea Road, Sweimeh
Phone: +962 5 3560400
Cannabis Laws: Cannabis is totally illegal in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. And, while it may be used amongst a handful of locals, it is best for Westerners to steer clear of anything marijuana related while they are in Jordan.