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The Madaba Mosaic Map


 Madaba Mosaic Map Fragment

The next map in our series of ancient maps is a remarkable map made with mosaic tesserae, the Madaba Mosaic Map, dating to 560 (circa) CE. Part of a floor mosaic in a Byzantine church located in the ancient Jordanian city of Madaba, the map is one the earliest known floor maps made of tesserae. Though much of it has been lost, its remains constitute one of the most significant early maps of the Holy Land.

The original was large scale, with its size estimated to have been about twenty by fifty feet. The mosaic is located in the apse of the church of Saint George at Madaba. Facing eastward towards the altar, it is positioned such that regions and places indicated on the map coincide with their actual compass readings. Jerusalem is at its centre, and the map stretches from Lebanon in the north to the Nile in the south. It includes the eastern end of the Mediterranean, with Palestine, the Sinai Region, and parts of Egypt and Arabia all depicted. 

The map is remarkable for its highly detailed topography. Many references to biblical Christian sites are shown, including Jericho surrounded by palm trees, Bethlehem and Jerusalem to name a few. It depicts rivers, mountains and deserts, villages and cities, and has more than 150 inscriptions that describe them. In the fragment shown above, fish are shown swimming between the banks of the Jordan river and the prow of a ship is seen sailing on open water.

The map’s description of sixth century Jerusalem has proven to be remarkably accurate, with archeological sites found according to their depiction on the map. The map describes in detail the Old City of Jerusalem: the Damascus Gate, the Lions' Gate, the Golden Gate, the Zion Gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the New Church of the Theotokos, the Tower of David and the Cardo Maximus.

Madaba Mosaic Map Jerusalem

Some relatively recent archaeological discoveries in Jerusalem include locating the Nea Church and the Cardo Maximus in the places depicted on the map. In 2010 excavations revealed a road depicted in the map which further confirmed the accuracy of the map’s depiction of the main entrance to the city through a large gate which opened onto a wide central street. Near the Jaffa Gate, large paving stones were found at a depth of four meters below the surface, proving that the road existed. 

Some of the other ancient cities featured in the map include Neapolis, Askalon, Gaza, Pelusium and Charachmoba, all of which are shown in such detail as to be usable as street maps for the ancient districts of these cities.

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