General Introduction

You are about to start a fascinating travel through the Holy Places as they had been represented on the mosaic floor of an ancient church at Madaba (Jordan). You will discover the most truthful map of the Land of the Bible ever done.

The Town of Madaba

Madaba is an ancient town of the Jordanian Plateau (ca. 780 above mean sea level), resettled by Christian Arab tribes coming from the Karak region in 1880 A.D. It is now inhabited by Christian and Moslems alike. A great deal of antiquity treasures have been found there. They are now to be seen in the Museum area and in Archaeological Parks funded by the International Cooperation and by the Government of Jordan. See also the article:

Madaba. One Hundred Years from the Discovery (M.Piccirillo)

The Church of the Map

The Madaba Mosaic Map still serves today as floor of the Greek Orthodox parish church of St. George. The church, located to the northwest of the city center, was built in fact in 1896 A.D. over the remains of a Byzantine church, whose dating is probably to be set at the end of 6th or at the beginning of 7th century A.D. The church was divided into a nave and three aisles by two rows of columns, an arrangement that corresponds only partially with the present one. The mosaic panel enclosing the Map was originally some 15.60 by 6 m, that is 94 square meters, of which 25 are preserved, corresponding only to about a quarter of the total. The map covers the entire area from the south wall to the north wall of the church leaving only a little space for a frame, of which no remain has been recovered.
See also the articles:

The Church of the Map (M.Piccirillo)

The Discovery of the Madaba Mosaic Map (Y.Meimaris)

The Uniqueness of the Madaba Map and its Restoration (H.Donner)

Some Ideas on the Preservation (A.Almagro)

A Map of the Holy Places

Many have already inquired about the meaning of such a map, depicted in mosaic, on the floor of a Christian building in a remote provincial town of the Roman Empire. Some have suggested that the map may have been useful to pilgrims, to help them peregrinate from one holy place to another. Some others point out that the map has been found not far from Mount Nebo. Thus it may represent the vision of Moses of the Promised Land, from the place of his death.

Some scholars view the Holy Cty of Jerusalem as the center of all the composition, beeing also presently the most detailed map item. A new idea may also be presented here. The central portion of the map stood in front of the chancel of the sanctuary, there the mosaicist would place what was most important to him,. Topographic extent, as well as iconographic parallels suggest that this had to be the town of Madaba whit all the details of its streets, churches and shrines. Unfortunately this part of the mosaic is not preserved, but this very idea may help us to understand the pride of the people of ancient Madaba, in seeing their town as part of the Land originally promised to the Jewish people and now belonging, by the grace of God, to the Christians, as truly legitimate heirs. Moreover, in the same Land, great events of salvation beneficial to humankind, were accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ, as related in the New Testament. All of this may still not be enough to give sense to every detail of the map.

See also the articles:

The Madaba Mosaic Map Revisited (I.Shahid)

The Pilgrimage Routes During the Byzantine Period in Transjordan (E.Alliata)

Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques (N.Duval)

The Holy City of Jerusalem (Y.Tzafrir)

The Representation of the Late Antique City (W.Pullan)

The River Nile and Egypt (B.Hamarneh)

Other contributions:

The Road Linking Palestine and Egypt along the Sinai Coast (P.Figueras)

Mosaic Pavements recently found in the Gaza Strip (M.Sadeq)

The rivers of Paradise in the Byzantine Church near Jabaliyah (J.-B.Humbert)

Ainon Sapsaphas and Bethabara (M.Piccirillo)

The Sanctuary of Agios Lot (K.Politis)

Northern Jordan: What Might Have Been in the MMM (R.Schick)

La carte de Madaba et la toponymie du Hauran (M.Sartre)

Tradition and Reality of Holy Tombs (K.Nashef)

The Presence of Nature in the MMM (J.M.Blázquez)

The Churches of Jerusalem (A.Ovadiah)

The Golden Gate and the Date of the Madaba Map (D.Bahat)

The Architectonic Models (G.López Monteagudo)

Sources of the Map

It is the commonly accepted view among scholars that the Madaba map depends heavily on Eusebius' gazetteer of biblical places, the Onomastikon. One might even take the view that the Madaba map is but a 'revised edition' of the Onomastikon, illustrated and brought up to date by the addition of churches and pilgrim places that in Eusebius' time did not exist, and by the juxtaposition of additional sources for areas not covered by Eusebius, e.g. a map of the Egyptian Delta or a road map.

On the other hand, it is perhaps legitimate to ask ourselves, if the apparent dependence of the Madaba map on Eusebius may not be due to the fact that these two are the only extant monuments of biblical geography, or at least the only ones that present a complete view of the Holy Land in late antiquity. Most of the entries found in both can be traced directly to Scripture, often through the mediation of Josephus, and they may refer to a background of Jewish and early Christian interpretation of biblical geography. We know very little about the actual contents of such interpretation, or which form it may have taken, but we do know that pilgrims relied on local guides, and as pilgrimage became more and more common, itineraries, guidebooks and probably pilgrim maps began to be available. All this oral and written stream of information reflected the contemporary landscape of the Holy Land as seen through the eyes of local tradition.

See also the articles:

The Tabula Peutingeriana and the Madaba Map (E.Weber)

The Cartographic Context of the Madaba Map (P.D.A.Harwey)

The Roads in Roman-Byzantine Palaestina and Arabia (I.Roll)

The Onomastikon of Eusebius and the Madaba Map (L.Di Segni)

The Palaeography of the Madaba Map (J.Russel)

Jerusalem and Bethlehem in the Iconography of Church Sanctuary Mosaics (R.Farioli Campanati)

The Nile and the Rivers of Paradise (H.Maguire)

Other contributions:

Roman Roads East of the Jordan (D.F. Graf)

L'idéologie de la cité et la carte de Madaba (P.-L. Gatier)

The Madaba Map in the History of Cartography (S. Giversen)

Scholarly Discussion

Each discussion page is composed of:
  • A general presentation of the place under a biblical and historic point of view.
  • A detailed analysis of the Madaba Map item, selected mostly from the presentations of Roger T. O' Connor (1953), Michael Avi-Yonah (1954), and Herbert Donner (1992).
  • A specific contribution on the subject as offered by some other people, including renowned scholars, students, the editors of this site, frends, ecc.

We must here make a special mention of the trilogy: The Ancient Christian Villages of Galilee (1), Samaria (2) and Judaea/Negev (3) of the late Father Bellarmino Bagatti. The books were first published in Italian in the 70's-80's, then translated into English by Father Paul Rotondi, a franciscan from New York. After been extensively revised by prof. Leah Di Segni of the Hebrew Jerusalem University all three books are now finally near to be published in English. We thank the Franciscan Printing Press of Jerusalem for permission to reproduce Bagatti's text very extensively.

General Bibliography

Madaba Map web links

Suggestions or informations coming from our readers are welcomed, and will be put online in a special page dedicated to a forum on the Madaba Map.
By using the e-mai link above you might be able to send us your personal contribution directly (otherwise please e-mail to: specifying in the Subject field: "Madaba Map (Eugenio Alliata)"

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Created Tuesday, December 19, 2000 at 18:29:46
by Eugenio Alliata ofm in collaboration with Stefano de Luca ofm
Webmaster: John Abela ofm - Space by courtesy of Christus Rex
© copyright - Studium Biblicum Franciscanum - Jerusalem 2000