Madaba, a christian city in the desert

I believe the statistics say that around 6% of Jordanians are Christian. This might not seem like a lot, but we’re talking a couple hundred thousand people in a very small Muslim country. If you plan to make a pilgrimage to the ancient Holy Land, then Madaba is NOT to be missed!

Madaba is a medium-sized city of roughly 60,000 residents. It has been a  Christian city since the days of Constantine. It is most famous for the church of St. George, a still-functioning Greek Orthodox church with beautiful byzantine mosaics decorating the interior. Most impressive is the floor, with a mosaic map of the Holy Land… the OLDEST map of the Holy Land still surviving! The tickets were about 1 JD when i went. You buy the ticket in the gift shop. I didn’t understand this, and there wasn’t a guard on duty when I went, so I accidentally got in without one, but found the gift shop when I finished and bought an ex post facto ticket to support the church.

Just to the side of the church is the tourist district! Lots of lovely shops selling all sorts of trinkets, including Petra labeled gifts. Although they might be cheaper than those you can get IN Petra, this still seems a little silly to me. But BEWARE, lots of shops in Jordan sell illegally acquired antiquities!! DO NOT BUY ILLEGAL ANTIQUITIES!! They will get confiscated in customs, you could be slapped with a fine, but most of all, it encourages GRAVE ROBBERY and LOOTING! This is a huge headache for archaeologists and the Department of Antiquities. It ruins the scientific integrity of the site. DO NOT buy ancient coins, pottery (pieces or whole) that looks really old, etc. If it is a legitimate antique rather than an “antiquity” it should come with papers. “Antiquities” belong in a museum or a lab, and are not legally allowed to be sold. Please don’t support grave robbery!!

Another note to be careful of… Madaba is an unusual city by Jordan standards. It is a relatively large city that is rapidly expanding. Traditional Bedouin families are migrating into the city (diluting the Christian population to around 40% these days) but many of them are traditional pastoralists all of a sudden settling into a fairly large, fairly modern, very touristy city. Culture clash is an ongoing issue here. If you are a woman traveling alone, I recommend sticking with touristy tracks and not hanging out alone at night. Use basic safety sense. In all honesty, the most you probably will get is a creepy stare or, in extreme situations, you might come across a young man trying his luck with the women of MTV by brushing your arm or touching your hand. He won’t likely know what to do more than this, but understand that touching like this is FORBIDDEN in these parts. If any man comes too close for comfort, try to walk away or walk into a local shop. If he touches you, give him an angry look, turn around and go the other way.


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