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ATURE RESERVES

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Trekking in Jordan
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Two Bedouin friends and their camels

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Towns and Tourist Sites in Jordan
Madaba


Madaba from the south west

ALL THE PHOTOS ON THIS PAGE CAN BE ENLARGED

This is a very pleasant town about 30kms from Amman and less than this from the airport. Unless you are coming from Syria or Israel, it could be a good base for seeing Jordan. Good roads lead just about everywhere from Madaba, to the Kings' Highway, the Desert Highway towards the south, the Dead Sea, to Amman and its ring road to take you to Jerash and the Desert Castles. There are regular buses from Amman which leave from the Wahedat bus station, from the Ragadan bus station which is close to the Roman theatre and also from the Muhajireen station in the south/west. 

It is rapidly becoming a dormitory town for the outer city of Amman and is growing every day. The price of land is going sky high, and an imposing number of housing estates is being built nearby.

Don't let this make you forget its history, which is that of one of the oldest settled places in Jordan. Madaba is known as "the mosaic city" and is in fact the centre of a region that is very well supplied with mosaics dating from between 500 and 800AD which is well after Moslem rule was established in the area. A number of them have been removed to the Museum in Madaba for better preservation. This town has a much longer history than Amman for more information. More mosaics are regularly found in the town when any excavation of any kind is undertaken, and are displayed as far as possible in the Museum. Many of the better known mosaics are regularly copied for sale to tourists, either the complete mosaics or details of them. You might like to look at the page about the Madaba Mosaic School.

Most tourist groups come to Madaba especially to see the mosaic map of the Holy Land in St George's church. The mosaic is very interesting, but so is much of Madaba and it really is a pity that so many people just rush through.

See also a wonderful new iniative of the Madaba Tourist Association, described on their Facebook site : "The Kings' Way Portrait". This  is an ongoing mosaic project depicting the Kings' Way between Bosra and Aqaba, and all visitors are invited to place at least one mosaic piece in position. When completed it will measure 30x6 meters. This is to be found at La Storia complex, near to Mount Nebo - see the Mount Nebo page.

While you are near to Mount Nebo on no account miss visiting La Storia complx: a mixture of a history and a folk museum, it provides an incredible wealth of information on the history of the area. Thousands of ancient objects decorate the scenes which depict Bible stories like Moses being found in the bulrushes, and also typical scenes of Bedouin and artisans of earlier times.

Really and truly DO NOT MISS IT!!!

The old town of Madaba

What we call "the old town" dates mainly from "the Ottoman period" at the end of the nineteenth centure and the beginning of the twentieth. At this time, the Christian Bedouin who had settled in Madaba some thirty or forty years previously, had started to become traders and artisans, instead of making their living from their herds and flocks. They prospered and built churches and large houses for their families. If you look around you, you can see the juxtaposition of the old and the new just about everywhere!

The old site stretches in roughly a triangle from St George's church (the Church of the Map) to the Cathedral and to Tell Madaba which is still in course of excavation. It includes the Burnt Palace, the Archaeological Park and the Museum. The best map I have found of this area of Madaba is in the Lonely Planet Guide Book to Jordan, page 155 of the 2006 edition. I hope they won't mind my copying it here!

This map shows a suggested walk around the interesting sites of the Old Town. Here is the key to the numbers given (the map can be enlarged in a separate window). Several of the old houses are marked here, otherwise you might easily pass them by as you stroll along the streets.

1 : St George's church - Greek Orthodox - (in the centre of the map). This is the "Church of the Map".

2 : Haret J'doudna (restaurant and handcraft centre) in Talal Street

3 : Burnt Palace (Martyrs' Church)

4 : Archaeological Park

5 : Madaba Mosaic School - see separate page

6 : Madaba Visitors' Centre

7 : Beit Farah (built 1898-1904) - see below

8 : Saray, see photo below. Until recently this was the police station, but it has now been evacuated and will shortly be entirely remodeled to house the two museums.

9 : John the Baptist Catholic church. Perched on top of the hill, this is a landmark for miles around. See my remarks lower down

10 : Beit Shweikat (1916-1920) see photo below

11 : Beit Alamat (1913-1920) - a very impressive house, standing alone, unlike the others - see photo

12 : Madaba Museum - see below

13 : Beit Sawalha

14 : Tell Madaba : an important archaeological site, currently under excavation. The remains of a fortified wall can be seen

15 : The Church of the Apostles - see the page on Mosaics . This is a little way away from the other sites.

Y : Yussef Sawalha's shop

H : Hanna's silver shop

Beit Farah Beit Alamat
Beit Farah The Saray

Beit Alamat


T
he well known mosaic map of the Holy Land is in the Church of St George's, close to the centre of the town. It is almost opposite the hotel Moab Land, close to the Madaba Inn, and right alongside the office of the Tourist Police in Madaba, should you have any sort of problem. The Rough Guide gives a very full description and explanation of this mosaic which is far better than anything I could put here.

 

Turn to the left when you come out of the churchyard, and you are quickly at the junction of the two streets Talal Street and Hussein bin Ali Street. I enjoy wandering down Talal Street, much more commercial than the other, and full of activity. Perhaps a bit too full, the Madaba Tourist Association is studying a plan to forbid traffic here and turn it and Hussein bin Ali Street into pedestrian areas. I have to admit admit that I can see their point!
 


However much I like Talal Street, it would certainly be easier to appreciate it without quite so many cars and trucks (all of them in a hurry!) and while the clothes shops and others add to the bustle, I could certainly do without the butchers' shops which would be banished to the food market - no doubt to the great inconvenience of the neighbouring housewives. I rather hope they will not all be replaced by pavement coffee shops.
 


 

I am not quite so enthusiastic about the plan to standardize the shop signs - it seems a pity to risk losing the colours and originality of many of them! They greatly contribute to provide the atmosphere of an Arab town. I should regret them, and rather hope this part of the plan won't go through!

 

If you take the left hand fork after St George's Church, you are in Hussein bin Ali Street, which is much more touristic and contains a great many souvenir shops. This seems a good place to add a note about souvenirs in Madaba. If you are with a guide or a group, you will certainly be steered away from these shops. You might be told that they are expensive, or that the goods offered are of poor quality. Almost always this is not true! A better reason lies in the fact that the large "Handicraft Centre" contained in a hangar on the road to Mount Nebo, offers huge commissions to guides and to drivers, so you will certainly be taken there! While the goods offered are perfectly respectable, these commissions come in the end from your pocket. Just don't be pushed into bypassing the shops in the town without having a look at them! In fact the commission paid by this shop is outright ripping off, and I strongly advise you NOT to buy there without having checked the price of similar articles in the town. I have heard of a painted ostrich egg sold for 350JD at the Handicraft Centre when the identical article of similar quality was on sale elsewhere for 180JD. The extra charge was largely, but not entirely, due to the commission paid.
 


I
n particular I should like to draw your attention to Yussef Sawalha's shop on the right hand side at the beginning of Hussein bin Ali Street. This is marked on the map with a Y. It might look like an ordinary souvenir shop, but in fact Yussef specialises in the sale of hand embroidered goods, going so far as to buy the materials and commission the articles from the local women, and he keeps a sharp eye on the quality of the embroidery. The prices are rather cheap for hand made dresses, scarves, cushion covers and what have you, and it is most certainly worth your stopping there for a look! There are some charming dresses for small girls....

 

He also sells a number of belly dancing dresses - he told me that many of them are bought by Arab girls to wear on their wedding night. Imagination has plenty to work on with this information!

 

Right opposite to his shop you will find an small but excellent magazine and bookshop. There is a good selection of current magazines in a number of languages and a smaller section of paper backs. This is Ziad's Bookshop. If you are like me who has difficulty in passing by any bookshop you will easily spend 10 or 15 minutes looking through it.

 

A little bit further down you will come to the "carpet area" where there are several carpet workshops. Unlike the Bedouin weavers, these are men, working on upright looms, and the carpets are quite different. Here is a selection spread in the sun, both to improve the natural colours and to attract the tourists! You are welcome in any of the workshop, even if you just want to look and take a photograph or two. Madaba is known as an important centre for hand woven carpets.

I should like to mention also Hanna (also called Abu Khalil) an artisan silver worker. He learned the craft from his father and his grandfather and has been working in silver since he was eight years old. He never went to school. He has some beautiful objects for sale, which are not expensive at all for hand made silver jewellery. A necklace of silver facets, interspersed with turquoise beads costs 35JD. Necklaces of much the same design have tourmaline and lapis lazuli beads. He has also a selection of trinkets and charms which can be hung on a bracelet or a pendant. These cost between 4JD and 10JD only, which is near incredible for a hand made silver object. He can copy any object you show him. His shop is only now being upgraded from the original workshop that served his father; you can find it on Hussein bin Ali Street, not far from Yussef's shop, marked on the map with a H, near to the junction with Prince Hassan Street. A lot of his work is sold at the Souk Jarra in Amman - see the web-page on Amman. His mobile phone number is 0777.259.964.

Museums in Madaba

Apart from the Archaeological Park (some less usual photos shown above) which is the mosaic museum in Madaba and which I have talked about on the page about Mosaics, there are two others, the Folk Museum and the Archaeological Museum. These two museums are side by side with one entrance (shown on the left below). It is a very pleasant peaceful place with a sunny patio where one can sit and look out over the town. The old houses contain the museum pieces.

On the left when one enters the gateway, you can see some of the history of Madaba, as shown in the Beit al Twal. This house was inhabited up to the nineteen sixties, and gives an idea of some of the ways the houses were used.  There is a beautiful mosaic in the middle of the floor, which was formerly the chapel of the house.

What interested me the most in the Folk Museum were the wax figures wearing traditional dress from the Madaba region, and from other parts of northern Jordan. There is also a good deal of jewellery and many decorative and embroidered accessories.

The couple shown  here on the left is dressed in the traditional Madaba style. A friend of mine remembers his grandmother dressed like this. This woman is a Christian : you can see that she has left her hair braids uncovered, unlike a Muslim woman. In her left hand she is holding a spindle - she works with the goats, spins the wool and weaves the thread. The silver necklace chokers shown below must have been very heavy to wear - as was the silver cross, also a symbol of the Christian heritage in Madaba. The woman on the right is wearing the costume of Kerak.

The Archaeological Museum is growing rapidly with the objects discovered by the many groups who come to excavate each summer in the region. There are many very important sites nearby and some very interesting things have been found.

As I said above, the Museums will be housed in the Saray on the hill above the town (see the photo higher up). The police moved out from the building very recently and it will be completely renovated. At the moment the Saray is in a horribly dilapidated condition, with wires hanging from every corner, but one can still see what a beautiful house it was - and hopefully will be again.  The entrance has a plaque beside it, indicating that the building dates from several hundred years ago. I am sorry to be so imprecise, but the Islamic dating appears strange and is almost certainly incorrect.

The entrance hall is dominated by an archway giving on to an staircase and an ornamental rail, which was surely not installed by the police, and a delicate upper window, lighting the hallway. I did in fact try to take a photo of this hallway a couple of years ago, but was chased away by a severe young man - apparently I was violating security rules... Well, I got the photo in the end, even if I had to take it through the locked doorway - the broken glass made it easier!

On this hill is also the Church of St John the Baptist, the Roman Catholic church of Madaba and often called the Cathedral. This church is largely neglected by visitors, unsurprisingly since it is usually locked, but it has some beautiful wall paintings. There are regular services every evening at 7pm and on Sundays and all faiths are welcome. This church is visible for many kilometers around and is always a sign that one is approaching Madaba.

On the left of the church entrance is another piece of the history of Madaba. The ground floor here is the first house built by Ibrahim al Twal, the patriarch of the al Twal family today, and the great great grandfather of (among others) the managers of the Mariam and Salomeh Hotels. You can read his story on the Mariam Hotel website www.mariamhotel.com/ where it is reproduced from a book written in 1904. Reading between the lines, Ibrahim seems to have been something of a brigand in his youth, but settled down wonderfully in his old age.

This was the site of the former Turkish Citadel.

Recently a whole series of cellars have been discovered beneath it. Now cleared of the rubble which filled them when the church was built on the site of the Turkish Citadel, they lead right through to the other side of the hill, past the cisterns which supplied the Citadel with water. There is talk of using them in some way to open them to the public; I hope very much that this will be done. They are quite fascinating to visit! As you can see they are cleaned and swept out now, but it must have been a tremendous task to do this. There are seven or eight of them in line, running right through the hilltop to finish under the Saray. This is not a crypt, they were never used for burials.

Restaurants

There is a very good restaurant in Madaba, one of the best in Jordan and with possibly the pleasantest decor. Here is a photo of the outside, where it is decorated with flags. "Haret J'doudna" is situated in the "old town" on Talal Street, in one of Madaba's old houses, and the tables are on different levels around a central stairway. The courtyard is a wonderfully shaded place to sit with a cold drink during the day, and there is a carpark at the back. There is a gallery of handcraft shops on the ground floor. By Western standards the restaurant prices are very reasonable (mostly around 8-12JD without drinks), but if you don't want to pay for a "proper" meal or if you are in a hurry, try the Ayola Coffee Shop, almost opposite the "church with the map". They offer a good choice of excellent sandwiches and fresh fruit juice and are not only cheap, but very clean.

Where to stay

Madaba is getting more and popular with people seeking to avoid Amman. A number of new hotels are being built, including a large one just opposite St George's Church in the centre of the town. This is the "Madaba Inn", a three star hotel. Address : PO Box 715, Madaba, Jordan. Phone +962.5.325.9003 website www.madabainn.com This is at the moment the largest hotel (and the most expensive) in Madaba.

There are also a couple of smaller hotels which have been warmly recommended to me. The Black Iris Hotel is closer to the middle of town, on the Al-Mouhafada Circle, phone 05.325.0171 email sawalha22@hotmail.com and the Salome Hotel is immediately next door to the Mariam. Their phone number is 05.324.8606, email address salomeh@wanadoo.jo website www.salomehotel.com. In fact the Salome Hotel is probably a strong candidate for the title of the best one star hotel in Jordan. Be sure to look at the collection of old photos of Madaba displayed in their lobby. A new hotel is the Mosaic City Hotel, see http://www.mosaiccityhotel.com/ phone +962 5 3251313 email customerservice@mosaiccityhotel.com

As of April 2013 the only four star hotel in Madaba is the Best Western Grand Hotel. Situated close to several other hotels, it has a goood bar and restaurant, a swimming pool, a gymnasium and large bedrooms. See Facebook. Bookings should be made throoughth eir website at www.grandhotelmadaba.com - please do NOT use bookings.com which is likely to send you to another hotel altogether!

This same advice is to be applied to the Mariam Hotel below : any attempt to book rooms with them through bookings.com will send you to another hotel, since the Mariam has no contract with them.

The jewel of this website remains the Mariam Hotel (mh@go.com.jo), run by the same family as the Caravan hotel in Amman. The Mariam is a two star hotel, unpretentious, but scrupulously clean and comfortable and with a lovely family atmosphere. Its website is at www.mariamhotel.com which also gives some idea of the history of the town and of possible excursions to  places nearby. Charl al Twal, the owner/manager is very helpful if you need advice or help in getting around, he keeps well up to date with all changes for tourists in Jordan. Be sure to give him my regards. The Mariam is the largest and most comfortable hotel in Madaba at the moment, the others like the Madaba Hotel or the Black Iris are also perfectly clean and acceptable, and slightly cheaper than the Mariam. Charl can arrange to pick guests up at the airport at any time of day (or night), usual price is 14JD - rather a good deal compared to taxis from Amman. The phone number of the Mariam is 05.325.1529, fax 05.325.1530.

The Mariam now has a large swimming pool and a poolside bar and restaurant. This is a very attractive place to relax, and means that you do not now need to go out for dinner. The hotel offers satellite TV in the rooms and even WIFI, so those with laptops can check email while sitting beside the pool and drinking a beer.

If you are interested in horse riding, the Mariam can arrange this through the local Noor Stables. Their premises are very attractive, their Arabian horses are magnificent. The owner is a former manager of the Royal Stud. You can ride for an hour or two, for a half day or a full day (or several days) as you wish.

There is also an interesting excursion possible from the hotel to Wadi Jadid not far away which is filled with dolmens and menhirs. There must be more than 20 still in a good state of preservation and the remains of a number of others which were probably knocked down by an earthquake, perhaps as many as a hundred altogether. A fascinating trip, but you will need to take plenty of water with you, you will be in the sun for most of the time.

"Charly" has also undertaken the organisation of the bus that takes the Kings' Highway to Petra every day that three passengers are available to take it. It leaves at 10am, stops for an hour at Kerak, and fifteen minutes at Wadi Mujib and the fare per person is 14JD. It should normally arrive in Petra around 3 or 4pm and will drop you off wherever you want. It is a good idea to make a prior reservation for this bus. If there are not enough passengers, your only alternative is to take a taxi - see below. Unfortunately, for various reasons this bus doesn't do the trip in the other direction. Call Charl at the Mariam for any more details.

There is more! Charl has negotiated special rates for the Mariam Hotel with several Madaba taxi drivers. Here are the prices you would pay for some of the excursions available (unless otherwise stated with an hour's stop at each site named. If you want to stay longer, then you will have to see with the driver). There are a number of other possibilities - please see the website of the Mariam Hotel for details and for up to date prices (I do my best to keep up with things, but I might have missed a change of price).

Please note that the prices are for the car ONLY, and admission to the various sites is not included. I do repeat however, that these prices are only offered to the Mariam Hotel and you are unlikely to be able to negotiate yourself for these rates. Most of the other hotels would add on a commission for themselves.

Pick up airport to Madaba 14JD  
Madaba to the airport 12JD by day or by night
Madaba to the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo 26JD one hour at each site
Mount Nebo, Bethany, Dead Sea, Dead Sea Panorama (Sunset) and Hamamat Ma'in 42JD a full day tour, minimum 3 people (each hour waiting will be charged 3JD)
Madaba to the Desert Castles 45JD

one hour at each site (see note on the FAQ page)

Madaba to Jerash, Ajloun and Um Qais 65JD full day trip
Madaba to Wadi Mujib Reserve 45JD the driver will wait for 4 hours
Madaba to Petra via the Kings' Highway (per person, at least 3 people) 18JD with a quick stop at Wadi Mujib and an hour at Kerak
Madaba to Petra via the Desert Highway 55JD One way trip
Madaba to Aqaba via Wadi Araba and the Dead Sea Highway 68JD One way trip
From the airport to Petra via the Desert Highway 60JD One way trip

Please see my note under "deadsea.htm" for transport from Madaba to the Dead Sea, passing by Mount Nebo.

You might like also to check the page on "An itinerary for a short visit to Jordan" for an easy way to visit the Dead Sea and Mount Nebo before taking the Kings' Highway bus.

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