After a few days in Amman and Jerash in the north it was time to wind our way down south of the country to the famed Petra and beyond to the Red Sea. While many quick tours or self drivers might use the Desert Highway which is alot more direct and quicker to Wadi Musa/Petra we ambled slowly down the Kings Highway, a road that has been used for thousands of years by the people of past times. This road is steeped in history – from Christians to Israelites, to Nabateans, Romans and Crusaders. The first main points of interest just south of Amman is Mt Nebo and Madaba, home to early Christianity.
Mt Nebo is where it is said that Moses saw the Promised Land. As someone who was raised in a Catholic household and did the whole Catholic schooling and church lessons, being here was somewhat a surreal experience. All those stories about the holy land, names like Jericho and Canaan and Moses and Jesus… it all happened around here. Even though today I wouldn’t call myself a Catholic (or anything really) I still got goosebumps knowing that I was in such a historical place. Early Christianity sprung up from around this very spot! That’s pretty special indeed no matter who you are or what you believe in. Anyway the site of Mt Nebo is a great place to see over the Promised Land from where Moses stood. There is also a fantastic little church called the Moses Memorial Chuch on the site, inside it houses fantastic mosaics that are beautiful in detail. Overlooking the sweeping views towards Israel you will find a sculpture that shows Jesus suffering on the cross entwined by a serpent that Moses had collected in the desert. There is also an olive tree nearby planted from Pope John Paul II in the year 2000.
Just down the road from Mt Nebo, on the road towards Madaba we stopped by a modern day mosaic workshop. The workers who created the mosaics for sale were special needs or disabled, thus people who might not be able to get a ‘typical’ job were being employed. We got to see the young people carefully create their masterpieces with tiny pieces of “tesserae”. It’s fiddly work, and you need the patience of a saint in my opinion! Anyway the shop next door had amazing (but expensive!) pieces, all created next door in the workshop. As part of the charity, Queen Rania’s foundation pays for the shipping of any piece that a foreigner buys and needs shipped back home. Someone in our group bought a large heavy table, an absolutely beautiful souvenir from Jordan! 4 weeks later it arrived in perfect condition to Australia! All paid for by Queen Rania foundation, and thus helping to pay these young people and their skills. I thought this was a wonderful initiative to help give something back to the community.
After our visit to Mt Nebo we went on to Madaba, a city famous for it’s Byzantine era mosaics. Madaba is home to one of the largest Christian communities in Jordan, so there are quite a few churches in this town! The most famous of these is St George’s. In 1884, the local Christian community set about building a new Greek Orthodox church on the site of a Byzantine church. It was here that a mosaic map was discovered that blew everyone away not only for its artistry (it was made of over 2 million terrasae [small coloured stone]) but because of it’s details of the Holy Land at the time it was made. The map is one of the oldest maps of the Holy Land, said to be created in the 6th century. It’s most famous for it’s detail of Jerusalem – buildings made after 570 in Jerusalem are not shown hence why it is known to be made before that time. What excited archaeologists and historians most about the map is the incredible detail of Byzantine Jerusalem, showing such features as the Damascus Gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Tower of David. As a whole, the map showed an area from Lebanon all the way down to the Nile Delta, and from the Med to the Eastern Desert. Not much is known as to who actually built the map, but the mosaic artists were probably local Christians from Madaba, as the writing is in Greek and pilgrims who would have gone towards the Holy Land may have used the map for guidance. Before entering the church you can see a full size replica in the ticket office, which is definitely easier to see key features and familiar places.
For anyone with a religious background then Mt Nebo and Madaba are definitely a must visit. Having said that though, even if you are not religious at all, you cannot help but feel just how historical this region is to the whole world. It definitely feels like our thought systems, morals, values and beliefs originated from the people who plied this land many years before us.