Madaba map

A few weeks ago I was guiding in the Old City and was explaining about the Madaba map, a graphical representation based on the Bishop Eusebius’ Onomasticon that lists cities and towns in the Holy Land during the Byzantine period. It is the oldest map we have of the area and includes a detailed map of Jerusalem. It was one of the first things that Haim Karel, who taught us in the guides course, impressed on us. It’s like having a map for buried treasure, the Madaba map shows archaeologists where to dig and guides what to guide.

Two summers ago while flying back from Nepal via Jordan we stopped in the sleepy Jordanian town of Madaba and got to see the original map in mosaic on the floor in St. Georges Church, a very special treat. I took this photo in the church.

Because Jerusalem is so important in Christianity the map includes a large and detailed depiction of Jerusalem. Note that in the Byzantine period it was customary to show north on the left (just as we show north up today). Hence, from left to right you can clearly see the Cardo running north-south from Damascus gate. In Arabic, this gate is called Bab el Amud which means the “gate of the column” because inside the gate was a plaza and a column with the statue of the emperor (today the column is gone but you can walk on the Roman flagstones of the plaza). The Madaba map shows that the Cardo joins the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity,  to the 5th C Nea Church of Justinian and there were religious processions along the Cardo between the two churches. Other things to notice are the gates of the city and the myriad of churches, any building with a red roof is a church: Holy Zion, Saint Sophia, Santa Anna, Siloam church.

Unusual for a Roman city there is another main north-south road, a secondary Cardo that follows the route of the Tyropean valley, part of which runs along the back of the Western Wall plaza. When plans were being made to build a visitors center for the Tunnel tour they knew that they would be building right on the secondary Cardo. What began as a salvage dig has become an important archaeological excavation. Although not yet open to the public you can view the excavation from a lookout point in the Jewish quarter.


2 thoughts on “Madaba map

  1. Pingback: Blogging and Guiding « Israel Tour Guide

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