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Excursion to Jordan: day four (May 12, 2004)

Today we visit the Moabite Mishor
with the sites of Tell Hesban, Madaba, and Mount Nebo (I)


Tell Hesban, which is identified with Heshbon of the OT (Num 21:21-31). The Barrien Springs' Andrews University excavations have brought to light the site's occupational history from Iron Age I to the Mameluke Period.

The archaeological site of Heshbon (Hesban)

1: Moat (Iron Age I)
2: Cistern (Iron Age I)
3: Hellenistic Wall
4: Roman Stairs and Plaza
5: Byzantine Church
6: Roman Temple
7: Mameluke Towers
8: Mameluke Governor's Palace

In the foreground, remains of the Iron Age II Period, whereas in the background are stairs to the Roman temple. The upper part of the hill is allmost completely taken up by the Acropolis Church, whose floors were richly decorated with mosaics.

View of the Byzantine Acropolis Church dated to the 5th century.


The city of Madaba, 30 km south of Amman, has always been an important site of the Mishor (el-Qura) in the biblical times (Nm 21:30; Gs 13:9.16; 1 Macc 9:36). Nowadays, Madaba is an administrative center of remarkable size. Its importance comes mainly from its historical heritage and archaeological riches.

Section of a mosaic floor exhibited in the Madaba Archaeological Park. It was discovered in the nearby village of Ma'in and includes the vignettes of the cities of Esboun (Heshbon) and Gadoron (Gadora of Peraea).

The Madaba Archaeological park established in 1995
1: Paved street
2: Church of the Virgin Mary
3: Hippolytus Hall
4: Basilica of the prophet Elijah and Elianus' crypt

The Madaba Archeological Park was born after a project by Father M. Piccirillo and includes an interesting cluster of ancient edifices, traditional Arab houses, and a Byzantine decumanus.

Detail of a mosaic floor from Ma'in. The iconoclastic conflict (8th cent. A.D.) left traces in the obliteration of a biblical scene (still pointed out in the Greek inscription: the lion shall eat straw like the ox, Is 65:25) and its later substitution by floral motifs.

Mosaic floor decoration in the Church of the Virgin Mary. The Greek inscription reads: If you want to look at Mary, virginal Mother of God, and to Christ which she generated, Universal King, only Son of the Only God, purify your mind, flesh and works! May you (O Virgin Mary) purify with your prayers the people of God.

The paved street in the center of the Madaba Archaeological Park is part of the columnaded decumanus maximus of the ancient town.

The western panel of the floor mosaic of the Hippolytus' Hall. It was discovered in 1905 by Suleiman Sunna’ while building his home. Inside a diagonal grid of squares, there are nilotic motifs: flowers and plants which alternate with aquatic birds. The most famous motif consists of a seagull with extended wings gliding over the water (in the center).

The SBF group visits the Mosaic School of Madaba, envisioned by the Franciscan Father Michele Piccirillo and established in 1991 with the Jordanian, American, Italian, and Canadian governments' technical and financial support.

The modern Mosaic School aims to perpetuate an ancient tradition of workmanship peculiar to the town of Madaba. In Art History books the "School of Madaba" is known as specialized in producing magnificent mosaics during the Byzantine Period (5th-7th cent. A.D.). The new Mosaic School of Madaba already had given its contribution to the restoration of many ancient mosaics and is renown because of the quality of its accomplishments.

The Church of St. George at Madaba where the famous Madaba Mosaic Map was discovered in 1896 by the Greek deacon Cleofas Kikylidis.

Our group examines the Madaba Mosaic Map. It is a representation of the Holy Land based on the theological and geographical canons of the Byzantine epoch. It also reveals a profound knowledge of the Biblical Lands, portrayed through a colorful composition made out of scenes, plans, names, and biblical quotations. The geographic frame is established through the depiction of the River Jordan and of the Dead Sea as well as of the Egyptian Nile.

The towns and Holy Places are designated by vignettes of different size and color, reaching a total of about 150 place-names. Most of the biblical sites are found also in Eusebius' Onomasticon, a literary work which the authors of the Map seem to have used as a guideline. To the city of Jerusalem is given a central place in the map with the use of its extended title (Hagia Polis Ierousalem) and the detailed depiction of its main monuments.

Mosaic floor in the house of Farid el-Masri (5,37x3,58 m). The square composition consists of four trees laden with fruit and placed in each of the corners. At the center, the top-most branches of the trees meet a medallion on which there is an image of a man (Adam). In the space between the trees, there are figures of rams, hares, birds and a lion facing a zebu. It may be a representation of the Biblical paradise hinted in Is 65:25.

A reliquary (marble box with relics of a martyr) from the Byzantine Period preserved in the Madaba Archaeological Museum.

Church of the Apostles. The church was built in 578 A.D.: At the time of the most pious and most holy bishop Sergius, was completed the holy place of the Apostles, the 12th indiction, the year 473 (era of the Arabian Province).

Central medallion in the mosaic floor of the Church of the Apostles where it is visible the representation of the Sea (Thalassa, in Greek). This masterpiece was signed by Salamanios, as stated by the dedicatory inscription: O Lord God who has made the heavens and the earth, give life to Anastasius, to Thomas and Theodora. [This is the work] of Salamanios the mosaicist.

Click on the photos to enlarge.

External Links

Heshbon - Hesban Excavations (Andrews University)

Madaba the town in history (FAI)

Madaba Archaeological Park and Mosaic School (FAI)

The Madaba Mosaic Map: an important historic document (FAI)

The Madaba Mosaic Map: 100 years since its discovery (FAI)

Madaba Map (BiblePlaces)

Madaba Map website. A virtual travel through the Holy Places (SBF)

 SBF main, Indice

Biblical Excursions

Biblical World



Umm el-Jimal



W. Kharrar




M. Nebo




Umm er-Rasas





Archaeological Museum

Iraq el-Amir

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