Madaba, The City of Mosaics, flourished during the Byzantine age, the millennium which followed the end of the Roman Empire. Today with a population around 60,000, it is one of Jordan’s largest cities. But it may be Jordan’s oldest city, with archaeological finds extending into the Neolithic Period (around 9500 BC). Clearly it was one of the most important crossroads for many of the earliest Mideast cultures.
Madaba earned its nickname in the 6th century when craftsmen from around the Mideast converged into something of a pre-feudal art colony. The specialty was mosaic floors. They were created for churches, public buildings and the homes of the wealthy.
The most famous is the 6th century Madaba Map of ancient Palestine. Laid with over 2,000,000 stone tessera, it once covered the floor of a Byzantine church. The remarkably well preserved work of art was discovered in 1897 when excavations preceded the building of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George. The map depicts the Holy Land in pictures including plains, hills, valleys, villages, rivers, seas, towns and cities, complete with walls and pitched-roofed houses. Jerusalem is shown as the center of the universe, surrounded by Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. Recent excavations in Jerusalem have shown the map’s layout of 6th century streets to be accurate.