This morning we made an early start as Firas kindly gave us a lift to Tabarboor bus station and saw us onto a bus to Madaba on his way to work. No pictures of today,for the time being, as I stupidly left my SD card adapter at Hanan’s. Getting out of the city was very slow and the bus stopped frequently to both drop off and pick up passengers, but it made for interesting people watching. What the guide book said was a 30 minute journey took more like an hour but it was very straightforward and we were still in Madaba by 9am. Amman seems to sprawl endlessly but, in the more sparsley populated area before Madaba, we saw some tented settlements – some looked like classic ‘Bedouin’ tents, but others were marked out as belonging to UNHCR – Syrian refugees, I presume.
We rambled around the old part of Madaba for a while, struggling to find anywhere open for a sit down coffee before 10am. We’d decided to head first for the Greek Orthodox St George’s Church, which has the famous Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land from around 550 AD on its floor. Of course, though, today is Palm Sunday so the church was busy doing what churches are supposed to do on Palm Sunday morning! The enormous congregation were attired in their Sunday best and seemed to be wandering in and out of the service at will with no sign of close of play, so we decided to head for the Archaeological Park first.
This turned out to be well worth seeing, not least because it also meant we inadvertently wandered into the workshops of the Madaba Institute for Mosaic Art and Restoration, where a gaggle of friendly girls learning the trade were keen to show us what they were doing. The oldest mosaic in the park is from Herod’s first century BC palace at Mukawir but there are many later and more impressive ones built on the park site. Early 6th century Byzantine mosaics based on Greek mythology were buried under the floor of a seventh century church, whose floor mosaics were then redesigned in the eighth century in an Islamic-style geometric design. One of the funniest things is a piece from Ma’in where an ox has been ‘mosaiced out’ by a tree in the eight century, when there was an edict against portraying living things – thought to be a slippery slope towards polytheism.
After the Archaeological Park we returned to St George’s, which was intermittently busy with tour parties but quiet enough between times to get a good look at the map – none seemed to linger long. The church also has a fine series of later mosaic pictures on the walls, depicting biblical scenes. Madaba has a long Christian heritage – for many years they were the majority population but it looks to be much more mixed now. We had tasty hummus and felafel for lunch in a cafe opposite the church, sitting outside this time to avoid the hubble-bubble smoke.
We decided where we’d like to eat this evening and booked a table, as it sounded popular, then set off in pursuit of our hotel. My map reading skills meant we headed for the restaurant numbered five on our guide book map rather than the hotel numbered five, on precisely the opposite side of the old town (should have noticed there were two different coloured numbers…) but fortunately we were both glad to stretch our legs after lunch! Mosaic City hotel seems very grand for what we paid for it – tourists are currently in rather short supply in Jordan. We’d decided to treat ourselves to single rooms after sharing at Hanan’s and, for the princely sum of around 35 dinars B&B, have each ended up with a comfortable en suite double with a balcony!
After a bit of a rest we headed off in search of the Catholic Church which stands over the old acropolis and houses the gloriously-named ‘Shrine of the Beheading of John the Baptist’. The crypt of this church turned out to be very interesting. As well as a stone replica of the Baptist’s head, it houses a very deep well from Moabite times (complete with a bucket on rope so we could try it for ourselves) along with a replica of Ruth’s tent, complete with serious-looking Arabic coffee making apparatus. Eat your hearts out Gill and Martyn! The current church is early 20th century but stands on much more ancient remains. We climbed the narrow bell tower for excellent views across Madaba and over the Jordan valley, where we plan to head tomorrow.
Dinner at Haret Jdoudna turned out to be excellent, though I have eaten far too much – again. We shared a selection of mezze dishes between us and Pat talked me into sharing two more, after our first round, which was a bad idea! Dinner was washed down with some Jordanian ‘Mount Nebo’ Chardonnay, which was not bad at all. I’m missing my running. Am planning to get out tomorrow morning and hoping that, if I go early enough, no one will be offended by my shorts!

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