The "Holy City" of Jerusalem
the central figure of the whole composotion
The vignette of the Holy City, carried out by the anonymous mosaicist of Madaba, is at the heart of the Map. The detailed definition of the town plan, centered on the road network and the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher evidences immediately the importance and centrality Jerusalem had reached, by the VI century in christian imagery.
The formula used to represent the city with its many sided walls seen from a bird's eye view was inherited from hellenistic-roman landscape painting and map-making. In this vignette it manages to represent a realistic-symbolic expression as the idealization and simplification of reality.
The main road
of the city of Jerusalem
The main road (the colonnaded north-south cardo) and the western side of the city is dominated by the "Divine Work", as described by Eusebius of Caesarea, built by Emperor Constantine over the Tomb of Christ. We know that this sanctuary was made up of the Anasthasis or a domed circular building situated over the tomb, an internal courtyard, porticoed on three sides, having at its centre the Rock of Calvary and the Basilica or Martyrion with facade and propylaea. The mosaicist, projected this building in a west to east direction. He synthesized the crown of dome of the Anasthasis using yellow tesserae, the courtyard with one row of black tesserae and the Basilica with a drooping roof. Much importance is given to the facade consisting of a triangular pediment and three doors preceeded by the propylaea The facade is shown in a projection towards the interior, an 'exploded' view, as seen by the viewer which is typical of these geographic representations.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
on the colonnaded main road
The main street, with its colonnade and portico on either side crosses the vignette, starting, on the north side from a plaza inside the North Gate (Gate of Damascus) in which is raised a votive column. In Arabic the gate is still known as Bab al-'Amud, The Gate of the Column!
From the same plaza of the column starts yet another porticoed street which crosses the street coming in from the Eastern Gate. A secondary street, shown with two lines of tesserae, one yellow and the other white enters into the city from a minor gate to the south of the basilica of the Holy sepulcher.
Based on available documentation an attempt has been made to identify some if not most of the 36 buildings which are represented. The buildings are shown with drooping roofs and are placed in relation to the main road network of the city. One must not forget that what we have is a cartographic plan and not a topographic map of the Holy City. There are enough clues to help us identify the two basilicas near the end of the southern end of the main street as being the Basilica of Holy Zion to the west and the Nea Theotokos Church to the east. The latter Basilica was built by Emperor Justinian and was dedicated in 543. This is a very important point of reference which helps us date the mosaic to the middle of the VI century.
The two captions, placed outside the city walls, Gethsemane on the north east and Aceldama to the south west, both mentioned in the Gospel, indicate the two valleys that surround the city. Both valleys are rich in biblical memories.
© Michele Piccirillo
Studium Biblicum Franciscanum,
Mount Nebo - Jordan