I’ll admit it: the city’s not for everyone. And occasionally we all need a break from the noise, smell, and people to be out somewhere where we can actually see some grass and be reminded that there are other living things on the earth besides humans. If you’re looking to get out of Amman for the day and explore a little bit of the surrounding area there’s no better place to start than Madaba.
Madaba is a small town about an hour outside of the city by car. It’s known as the city of mosaics after the beautifully crafted ancient works that dot the cityscape and church floors. Madaba is also near to the fabled Mount Nebo where Moses supposedly died before the Israelites descended into the Promised Land, or what we now know as Palestine and Israel. For relatively little cost, Madaba is a destination not to be missed as a rural retreat.
HOW TO GET THERE
Coming from Amman, Madaba is extremely easy to get to. There’s a bus that leaves from the North Bus Station (Mujamma’ Al Shamali) about once every hour on weekends and weekdays. The bus is extremely cheap at only 90 piasters and will take you all the way to the bus station in Madaba which isn’t far from the major sites.
The only problem is that the bus will typically not leave until it is mostly full and will stop frequently on the way to pick up other people until all the seats are filled. So departure times aren’t always reliable and neither are arrival times. But it’s cheap and easy so it’s definitely worth it. If you prefer a more personal form of transport, you can haggle with one of the many taxi drivers hanging around the station. A reasonable price is around 25 JD depending on the kind of deal you cut with the driver. If you need him to take you around the city it’ll cost a little more but it should stay around 25-30 JD.
This is a quaint little church located about a 15 minute walk from the bus station. It’s a Greek Orthodox home of an altar commemorating the biblical story of the death of John the Baptist in ancient times.
The entrance is free for students but only a dinar for non-students. The church is small, but home to many attractions. Below the foundation of the church there is a well which is still in use today that has water you can still drink out of. There are also many ancient mosaics partially or fully restored, as well as a model of a typical Bedouin tent complete with coffee making supplies. After crawling through the tunnels below the church, the chapel itself opens up to wide vaulted ceilings and beautiful reliefs of angels and saints on the walls.
The bell tower is climbable as well and offers views over the entire city and beyond. If you really end up getting lucky you’ll run into one of the tour guides in the church and they’ll take you around the church free of charge.
Located closer to the city center, the Church of the Holy Land Map is again a small Greek Orthodox chapel. This time, entry is just 1 JD for everyone. There’s a small exhibit off the right of the church detailing the ancient history of the region and a small gift shop.
The church itself is very small and has a roped off section on the right side. This is where things get interesting. Inside the roped off area is an ancient mosaic detailing the cities and geography of the Holy Land from biblical times. The map is probably not the most accurate but is still a breathtaking piece of art.
Mount Nebo is the alleged location where Moses died before the Israelites descended into the Holy Land. Although there’s no exact location where Moses was rumored to have died, there is still plenty to see. The mountain offers panoramic views of the surrounding area and on clear days it’s possible to see Jericho, the Dead Sea, and the mountains of Palestine and Israel.
There’s a small museum that’s free of charge and tent where current renovations to mosaics are being conducted. Entry however, is not free. It’s about 1 JD per person. Mount Nebo is a good distance from the city (about 10-20 min by car) so it’s better to cut a deal with a taxi driver to get there if you don’t have your own car. A good price is about 10 dinars but the charge may vary based on the driver and his generosity.
After all of that sight-seeing, it’s probably best to get some food. A nearby restaurant called Haret Jdoudna is there just for that purpose. It’s a restaurant fashioned out of the ruins of older buildings and specializing in quality food for its patrons. It’s slightly pricey but the meal is well worth it. Humanity Can Wait guarantees it. The link to the restaurant website is below.