Madaba is an ancient town of the Jordanian Plateau, which was resettled by Christian Arab tribes from the Karak region in 1880 A.D. It is now inhabited by Christians and Muslims alike. A great deal of antiquity has been found here, much of which can now to be seen in the Museum and in Archaeological Parks.
Modern Madaba is built on an artificial mound which conceals the remains of much earlier sites. The town has a long history, being first mentioned in the Bible at the time of Exodus, about 1200 BC. A tomb of this period has been found in the east of the town.
By Maccabaean times (c.165 BC) it had been re-occupied by the Ammonites, but in around 110 BC it was taken, after a long siege, by John Hyrcanus. It remained in Jewish hands until the time of Alexander Jannaeus, and was one of the towns promised to Aretas, king of the Nabataeans, if he helped Hyrcanus II to recover Jerusalem.
The Romans made it a typical provincial town, with colonnaded streets, fine temples and other buildings, large water cisterns and a town wall. The town continued to flourish throughout the 8th century and beyond. As the date of the mosaic floor in the church is 767 AD traces of the Roman town can be seen in the long stretches of the paved street in Madaba’s Archaelogical Park.
The Madaba Mosaic Map covers the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which is located northwest of the city centre. The church was built in 1896 AD, over the remains of a much earlier 6th century Byzantine church. The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally around 15.6 X 6m, 94 square meters, only about a quarter of which is preserved.
The Old and New Testaments mention it, the Romans fortified it and the local Christians were still embellishing it with Byzantine-style mosaics well over one hundred years after the beginning of Muslim rule: Kastron Mefaa, modern Umm Ar-Rasas, has a long history.
The rectangular walled city is mostly in ruins but does still include several buildings, as well as four churches and some beautiful stone arches. The main attraction is outside the city walls within the Church of St. Stephen, which contains a very large, perfectly preserved mosaic floor laid down in 718 AD. It portrays fifteen major cities of the Holy Land from both east and west of the River Jordan. This magnificent mosaic is second only to Madaba’s world famous mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
Less than 2km north of the fortified town, the highest standing ancient tower of Jordan puzzles the specialists: a 15m high, square tower with no door or inner staircase, now inhabited by birds.
Madaba Archaeological Museum
Several neighboring houses built on Byzantine mosaic floors in Madaba were purchased by the Department of Antiquities to form the core of a museum for the city. The site was opened in 1987.
A number of mosaics from Hesban, Ma’in Qastal, and Mount Nebo are on display in the open courtyard of the museum, along with a collection of lonian and Corinthian capitals, and a number of Byzantine collonettes and altars. The museum also houses several collections of pottery, glass from Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic periods.
An important collection of Islamic pottery and bronze vessels found inside a room of the Umm Al-Walid was conserved at the Institute of Conservation in Geneva and is now on display in Madaba. There is also a collection of silver Ptolemaic coins from Muraba’ at Musa and a collection of gold Umayyad dinars. Madaba is considered an important centre of mosaic artistry with large numbers of mosaic floors found all over the ancient city, most famous among them is the map of the Holy Land in the modern Greek Orthodox Church.
To complement the ancient "school of Madaba," a modern school teaching mosaic conservation was established in the city.
Mosaic sites are found surrounding Madaba at Ma’in, Hesban, Siyagha, Mukhayyat, Masuh, Mukawir, Nitel, Jamil, and, most importantly, at Umm Ar-Rasas (ancient Kastron Mefaa) with its fourteen churches, most of which date to the 5th and 6th centuries AD. The most famous, however, is the Church of St. Stephen dated to the Abbasid period (8th century AD).
Madaba Folklore Museum
The Madaba Folklore and Archaeological Museums form one complementary unit. They are both located in the same group of old houses built on ancient mosaic floors. The site was opened in 1978.
The museum is composed of:
The traditional house: The house is built on Byzantine mosaic floors. These include purely geometric designs, a scene showing two peacocks and two rams surrounding a vessel from which two vine scrolls emanate, and a classical mythological scene depicting a dancing Bacchantes and a nude Satyr.
A room measuring 3.58x5.37m, with a mosaic floor decorated with four trees emanating from the corners and meeting a circle in the centre containing a human head. The spaces between the trees have the figures of two birds, two rams, two hares and a bull and lion eating grass together.
The ethnographic museum is composed of two halls with displays of gold and silver jewellery, cosmetic items, traditional Jordanian costumes, rugs and other traditional household items.