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Madaba: Complete Guide to the City of Mosaics
In central Jordan, a 40-minute drive from Jordan’s capital Amman, lies Madaba, one of Jordan’s most culturally interesting cities and home to a large portion of the country’s Christian minority. Whether you want to gaze at the world-famous Madaba mosaics, enjoy shopping in the old city center or dine in one of the city’s wonderful restaurants, Madaba won’t disappoint.
In this article, I’ll show you the best things to see in Madaba. You’ll also get some useful tips, for example from where you’ll get the best view of the city.
What is Madaba Famous for?
The main reason most people choose to visit Madaba is to see the mosaics constructed at the height of Byzantine rule. The city is famous for the Madaba Map, the oldest known mosaic map showing the holy land.
The most famous site is of course the Madaba Mosaic Map, located in St. George’s Church. Madaba Map was lost for centuries and rediscovered in the late 1800s, spurring many archaeologists to come here. Excavations are always ongoing. The artwork is the oldest known map of the Holy Land.
However, the Madaba Mosaic Map is not the only mosaic relic worth visiting! The city is also home to mosaics in The Church of the Apostles (which contains scenes of mythology mixed with everyday life) and Madaba’s Archaeological Park. Another interesting site that reflects the city’s Byzantine heritage is the Burnt Palace. Most sites are within walking distance of each other and the city center itself.
Many of the mosaics of Madaba are not only nice to see, they also have an interesting history to tell. The mosaics in the Hippolytus Hall in the archaeological park for instance show an elaborate floor mosaic symbolizing the cities of Rome, Gregoria and Madaba.
The mosaics of Madaba were created during the Byzantine rule, a Christian settlement who inhabited the area between the 4th and the 7th century. As such, you’ll find most of the mosaics in ancient churches of the city.
Some of the churches are fully restored and modernized, while you’ll get to see ancient vaults and arches in others.
A good example for a modernized church is the famous St. George’s Church of Madaba. This church consists of a sitting area which is used for church service nowadays. The church is beautifully decorated with numerous small mosaics and paintings on the walls and pillars across the church.
The archaeological park on the other hand is a purely historical site. You’ll see ancient mosaic patterns among pillars and other constructions.
Madaba’s Old City Center
With its relaxed atmosphere and welcoming locals, it comes as no surprise that Madaba is a haven for all groups in Jordan. While the majority of the population is Muslim, there is also a large Christian minority, reflective of the town’s Byzantine heritage. You will see old churches and modern mosques alongside each other.
The city center of Madaba is a wonderful place to people-watch, shop and eat. There are numerous shops in town, selling everything from famous locally hand-made rugs, mosaic map replicas and clothing. Enjoy a relaxed shopping atmosphere in both souvenir shops and mosaic workshops, which you can enter for free.
Additionally, the city has a wonderful overall atmosphere, relaxed and not too crowded like Amman Downtown. You will truly be able to take a rest at one of the numerous coffee shops and high quality restaurants in town.
To get the best view on Madaba, head over to Saint John Hotel. The hotel has a restaurant with a terrace from where you’ll have a great view on the city. The restaurant has moderate prices and is open to the public (not reserved to hotel guests).
Plan Your Stay
Excited to visit Madaba? Make sure to check out my travel planning tips below.
Best Time to Visit
Madaba can be visited any time of the year. Sites are open seven days a week all year round. Best avoid Fridays, when the Iman call to prayer will wake you before dawn and Orthodox church bells continue into the afternoon. If it is your first time in Jordan and you’re planning a round-trip through Jordan, check out my article best time to visit Jordan.
How to get from Amman to Madaba?
If you have a rental car in Jordan, Madaba is only a 40-minute drive from Amman via Highway 35 (King’s Highway). If you don’t drive, Madaba can be easily reached by public transport. In Amman, a minibus leaves at the 7th circle and takes roughly one hour (fare: JOD 1). A taxi from Amman to Madaba costs around JOD 15 (one-way).
If you want to explore the country on your own, my recommendation is to drive down from Amman to Madaba first, and then continue to Mount Nebo and the Dead Sea. You’ll drive through the valleys down to the Lowest Point on Earth, amazing panoramas included.
Most visitors will visit Madaba during a daytrip from Amman. It’s probably best to keep your hotel in Amman if you rely on public transport or travel with kids.
There are various hotels in the city. Most of the hotels are small, family-run hotels or guesthouses. You’ll also find a couple of chains here. I’ve been to several hotels in Madaba and the following three are my personal favorites. For more information, check out my full review of hotels in Madaba.
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