Mosaics in Jordan

Mosaics are often found in byzantine churches
I recently learned firsthand that Jordan is a veritable treasure trove of mosaics. Most are believed to have been created between the 1st and 8th centuries, and many are still not fully excavated. Though these have been around for more than 1000 years, it's interesting to note that they lay relatively unknown until the late 20th century. The ones you can easily visit are in byzantine era churches. They depict life at the time- harvest, animals, and typical everyday life.  Sadly, if a face had been in the original mural, it was usually destroyed over the years due to a belief that faces should not be used in art. You can read more about the history of the mosaics at the mosaics of jordan website. At one time, it was apparent that these beautiful mosaics adorned walls and floors of many buildings. It must have been quite an extraordinary sight. When I travel to religious destinations, I like to see if the place has been listed on the Sacred Sites website, as I find the photos and stories to be brief but useful.  There are several places listed on this site in Jordan, and I'll use those links where appropriate.

If you enjoy art and want to see some of Jordan's mosaics, perhaps the best place to start is at Madaba, where I visited a couple churches. The most famous mosaic is probably the mosaic map at St. George's Church. The mosaic represents the biblical land from Egypt to Lebanon, including Sinai, Israel, Palestine, and Transjordan. Inside St. George's church, you can also see mosaics hanging on the walls.
St. George's Church, Madaba

Mosaics adorn the walls

The mural is on the floor in the section beyond the benches

The mosaic map showing the holy land
Church of the Apostles at Madaba houses a floor mosaic as well.  The church had been in ruins in 1902 when it was discovered, and was recently reconstructed to fit the mosaic.  It's interesting how they designed it from the ground up and exciting that projects like this exist to bring past history to life for visitors today. There are two chapels to the north. The western one is decorated with stags, sheep and gazelles. The second chapel is decorated with trees and animals. A third area has a grid with flowers, trees, flowers, fruit and birds. The mosaics were restored by the Madaba Mosaics School. This is a project funded by USAID (United States Agency for International Development).  I asked the caretaker if he would take some close-up photos for me since no one is allowed to walk freely inside the church, and he agreed.  We have him to thank for these photos.

Church of the Apostles


Mount Nebo is known as the place mentioned in Deuteronomy, where Moses looked across at Israel, the promised land. God said he would be unable to go there, and it is believed he died and was buried on the hill somewhere. The site has a modern church with a mosaic floor from a previous church. The floor is in really good condition, perhaps because another floor had been laid over it.
The structure protecting the mosaics at Mt. Nebo


This mosaic is unusual in that it shows people caring for the animals

The mosaic is nearly flawless even after so many years

Um er Rasas, one of the UNESCO sites in Jordan, has a number of mosaics on display among the jumble of buildings in the site. There are believed to be many more mosaic floors which have yet to be uncovered.  I felt the thrill of discovery an archaeologist must feel, when I pulled back one of the plastic coverings the guide had shown me, and underneath was a fantastic mosaic in nearly perfect condition.  The sand and plastic are being used to protect them from the elements until more excavation can be done.
You can find unexcavated mosaics at Um er Rasas

This shows the detail of a building that might have been common at the time

A covering protects the mosaics which are still a work in progress

The last place I visited was the Byzantine Church at Petra.  You have to go past the Treasury and up on a ridge to see the church, so it's a bit off the beaten path, but well worth the view.  The church is a work in progress.  It's quite possible that there are more buildings like this in the Petra area, because only about 20% of Petra has been excavated. Brown University has been doing some of the archeological work at Petra using high tech equipment. These experts believe, "Two thousand years ago, 30,000 people lived in this leading city with plastered cisterns, piped in water, sophisticated houses, baths, some 800 frescoed tombs, a theater cut out of the living rock, frescoed temples—a population of merchants, but those also who cultivated fruits and vines. In using modern technology, we are even more appreciative of the Nabataean technologies, which allowed them to adapt the desert to their needs." These are indeed exciting times to be uncovering these gems of the past.

The detail in the face makes this stand out

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