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From Jordan to Jerusalem via Madaba

The Madaba Map is the oldest existing graphic representation of Jerusalem that exists. It is found on the floor of the Church of St George in Madaba Jordan. The modern day Church sits on top of the remains of a Byzantine Church dating to around the mid 6th cent AD. For centuries it lay hidden until in 1884 the surviving fragments were uncovered when Christians once again came to live in Madaba following tensions with the Muslim community in Al-Karak. The detail of the map is astonishing with over 700 000 to 800 000 stones used in its construction covering approximately 30 square metres, however the map in its original entirety would have covered approximately 93 square metres. The map is astonishing as it provides us with a window in time to see how the Holy Land was over 1500 years ago.

Today when walking through the Old City of Jerusalem it is possible to view a replica of the map, specifically a depiction of the section of Jerusalem with the main features of the Cardo (Roman collonaded street), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Damascus Gate. No tourist comes to Jerusalem without walking down the Cardo and encountering the mosaic model as it so clearly demonstrates that where we walk today, was indeed where people walked so many centuries before us.

It is interesting that the map faces east, towards the Orient and rising sun rather than to the north, hence the word orientation as the focus of the world in that era was towards the east as most Churches at the time faced east.

As in the section of Jerusalem there is a representation of the Nea Theotokos Church, which was consecrated by Justinian in 542 AD, the mosaic must post date its construction. Large parts of the mosaic unfortunately have been destroyed, perhaps by the Persians when they swept through the area 614 AD and destroyed many Churches in the Holy Land.

When considering the labour that went in to creating the original floor mosaic, if it covered 93 square metres then a total of 1 116 000 pieces would have been required and it would have taken about 186 days for 3 workmen directed by an artist to complete. The map is quite a special find and the insight it provides is unique and raises many questions about the relationship between the people that settled on the eastern side of the Jordan Valley and the Holy Land. It is worth the visit to Madaba and also to Jerusalem to walk along the roads it represents.

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