amman: madaba

After our second ridiculous breakfast, we took a taxi to a public bus. Tourists are "supposed to" book a tour or a taxi to the sights outside of Amman, but when we travel, we usually just take the local bus. Egypt was the exception to this, because it really wasn't possible there.

We went 30-40 minutes south of Amman, to a town called Madaba, which has many Byzantine-era mosaics. The big draw, which we were keen to see, is on the floor of a Greek Orthodox church -- a mosaic map of the region, dating from the 6th Century. It is really interesting, depicting some biblical locations, some geographic locations, animals, plants, and names of towns (in Greek). The best and most famous section is a map of Jerusalem. The mosaic is the oldest surviving map of the so-called Holy Land.

Just now looking online to confirm some facts, I notice that the map described on Wikipedia does not bear a strong resemblance to what I saw today. The entry makes the map sound more detailed and precise than it is. But for me it is more of a work of art with social significance than a historic document.

We skipped the Madaba Archaeological Museum (on the Jordan Pass) and some other Christian-themed sites, and instead hunted down mosaics all over town. We saw these at two Madaba Archaeological Parks (Jordan Pass again) and another church on the other side of the town. One of the Arch Parks has a huge mosaic that was found in a private home (and expropriated), which you view from a gallery above. This contains elements from the Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic eras, each adding on to what was already there.

In an otherwise empty building called Church of the Apostles (Jordan Pass), we saw a huge floor mosaic depicting parts of a Greek tragedy, along with animals, plants, and a personification of the ocean, surrounded by fish and dolphins.

We were looking at it from a gallery when the guy from the ticket booth appeared, and called us to step around and under the barrier. We picked our way around, trying to step only on patches of concrete, but at times Ticket Booth Guy was walking on the mosaic, and we had to take a step or two on it as well. Allan and I both hurried over it, as if that somehow made it better!

Ticket Booth Guy also dusted off one small portion of the mosaic. To our amazement, under the dust, the colours were vibrant. There is very little colour left on any of the town's surviving mosaics (except the map). At one time, these mosaics would have been full of blues, reds, and golds.

We bought a couple of shwarmas for lunch and ate them on a bench in front of the map church. We were joking that if anyone asked what we were doing there, we'd say we were waiting for our group. Then when we finished eating, we would say, oh right, I just remembered, we don't have a group, bye now! Of course no one bothered us.

Finding our way back to the hotel was a bit interesting. We found the bus terminal, but none of the buses are marked, there are no signs, and there's no schedule. Buses leave when they're full. We asked around a bit, found the bus, took it as far into Amman as we dared, then got out and hailed a taxi.

Both trips, to Madaba and return, the drivers smoked and talked on their cell phones almost the entire trip. On the way there, we think the driver called ahead, then pulled over to a fruit stand to pick up a bag of oranges. On the way back, the driver never broke 50 kms/hr (30 mph), even on the highway. Buses stop on exit ramps and busy shoulders to drop off or pick up passengers. Passengers descend the bus stairs directly into traffic.

After Petra, the big sights around here are often related to religious pilgrimages, for all three area religions, but especially for Christians. Mount Nebo is nearby, said to be the place where Moses was granted a view of the Holy Land. In Madaba we skipped the site where John the Baptist supposedly was beheaded.

* * * *

So this is it. Tomorrow, after one last ridiculous breakfast, we go to the airport, fly to Cairo, then spend a long day and night in the Cairo airport. Our flight takes off at 1:45 a.m., nonstop to Toronto.

We've been seeing Diego on the Dogtopia webcam almost every day. It's wonderful to see him. Dogtopia emailed to ask if they could increase his food -- he was looking too thin from all the exercise! He's having so much fun, I think he might be depressed when he comes home.

Photos from Madaba are here.

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