Madaba and Mt Nebo is about 45min drive from Amman. If you are in a hurry, a half day visit to both sites should be sufficient but if you want a little more depth in understanding the historical and archaeological aspects, do put in a little more time and a good local tour guide will help greatly. I had a fantastic Jordanian lady guide and she gave very good explanation.
The Old Testament name for Madaba is Medeba. Stories of Moses and the Exodus, David’s war against the Moahbites, Isaiah’s oracle against Moab, and King Mesha of Moab’s rebellion against Israel mentioned Medeba. Medaba is also called “The City of Mosaics” with its anchor masterpiece found in the Orthodox Church of George, the 6th century AD mosaic map of Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This is the earliest religious map of the Holy Land that survived from antiquity! As the map is within the compound of a Greek Orthodox church, proper attire and silence have to be observed.
The intricacy of the mosaic to depict a map as an art form on the floor is quite amazing. It survived 15 centuries of history, even though partial, is a grand work of craftsmanship. Besides its art form, the historical understanding it contributes to studies in this region is undeniable.
If time allows, the Mosaic School is an interesting place to visit and you might find a piece of art that you want to bring home!
Just 10min drive from Madaba, you will arrive at Mt Nebo. Another name for Mt Nebo is Pisgah or Syagha (in Arabic).
And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mt Nebo, to the top of Pisgah which is the opposite of Jericho.” – Deuteronomy 34:1
While walking up to Mt Nebo, a statue greeted us from afar. It bore the face of an elderly, which I was told was Moses. After we walked past the statue, our guide got us to turn around and take a look at the same statue and this time it looked like part of a book! The book represents the Book of the Law that was given to Moses by God for the Israelites. I am very impressed by this statue and it was a good modern artwork to remind us about the significance of this site.
It was on Mt Nebo that God showed Moses the Promised Land which he was not allowed to enter. Moses died and was buried in Moab, “in the valley opposite of Beth-peor” but his tomb was never found. For this reason, Mt Nebo was a pilgrimage site and a small church was built there in the 4th century.
There is a directional signboard at the lookout point that tells us where each ancient city is located. Jerusalem was only 46km away and Jericho only 27km, the city which Joshua & the Israelites first conquered when they crossed into the Promised Land.
When at Mt Nebo, we cannot miss the Serpentine Cross, which is now an identity to Mt Nebo most people recognise immediately. This cross is a symbol of the bronze serpent which Moses erected in the dessert, according to God’s instructions, for the healing of a plague among the Israelites. All who looked at the serpent were healed. This same symbol is now used by the pharmaceutical industry.
When i was there the church at Mt Nebo was closed for renovation and the exhibits with write ups about the archeological work on Mt Nebo was housed in a tent made of camel hair. The camel hair was rough and very strong. The weaved fabric is used as covering. It keeps the interior of the tent cool during hot summers and warm in cold winters. This is my first time seeing a genuine camel hair woven tent. Very fascinating!
There is a fantastic lunch place called Talet Nebo Restuarant (Contact No: 05-3246700 / 05-3246701) within the precinct of Mt Nebo that has fantastic local fare. I personally love their humus and pita bread, and their lime sorbet drink is amazingly refreshing!!! I can’t remember the local name of the chicken dish but it is very fragrant and full of flavour. Totally worth a try!