More Jordan links
I love this particular place, a few miles out from Madaba on the new road to the Dead Sea. It has a most beautiful view, even in a country where beautiful views are frequent, looking out over the Jordan Valley. On a good day, one can see as far as Jerusalem, some 45kms away. Early in the morning is the best time for this. The very first time that I came to Jordan, I slipped away from the group I was with (not for the first or the last time, incidentally), and looked down, almost vertically, to where far below, a young boy was leading a flock of goats, and playing on what I now know to be called the "shababa". At the time, it was just a shepherd's pipe, sounding plaintively in the silence.
Unfortunately, the new road linking Madaba to the Dead Sea passes Mount Nebo, and the sight of the road and the sounds of the traffic straining to climb the hill do nothing nowadays to recall the Biblical landscape that I remember.
The church, administered by the Franciscan order, was much restored and repaired for the Pope's visit in 2000. There is now an impressive paved path from the main road. But the peaceful atmosphere of the church is still there. The site of the church and the viewpoint is open from 9am until 4pm.
Several fine mosaics have been found in the church (see the Photo Gallery - Mount Nebo page).
You will find a good restaurant nearby (the "Syagha Restaurant"), several souvenir shops with gorgeous hand blown glass "bubbles" which make lovely Christmas tree decorations, and a number of handicraft centres along the road.
I visited the Arts River Handicraft Centre, about 6kms from Madaba, which employs handicapped girls to make them; during the morning and early afternoon you can see them working there, usually from their wheel chairs. The prices in this centre are entirely honest and you can buy in confidence. Most of the work is excellent, the poorer pieces are sold more cheaply which seems reasonable. Many of these girls, who are well paid by Jordanian standards, have become principal bread-winners for their families with the corresponding increase in self-respect and prestige.
Besides the mosaics, there is a huge range of other handcraft products, nearly all of them made in Jordan. Some of them are fascinating: I loved the little models of scenes of Bedouin life. The joint Managers are Khalid Samawi +962.777.784.252 and Samer al Twal, phone +962.777.767.694
While you are at Mount Nebo, it would be a grave mistake not to visit La Storia Tourism Complex : an wonderful mixture of a folk museum, a history museum and a handicrafts centre. The different tableaux include mannequins of the artisans at work. You can see more at https://www.facebook.com/LaStoria.Nebo/timeline
I admit I was sceptical before visiting it ("another folk museum!") but La Storia is much much more. The pains taken are quite incredible, the views are fascinating (I stood mesmerised for at least five minutes before the Parting of the Red Sea), the objects on display are often rare - I am thinking of the women's camel litter which I have never seen anywhere - and the mannequine were made by somebody with a sense of humour.
ABSOLUTELY DO NOT MISS VISITING LA STORIA!!!! The entrance fee is 3JD, which is nothing compared to most entrance fees in Jordan.
The Complex is in a beautiful place with a magnificent view over the valley of the Dead Sea, just before you arrive at the Church of Mount Nebo and close to the handicraft centres that i have mentioned above. Besides the handicrafts here and the folk museum, there are also a series of tableaux of the history of the Middle East, from the descending of the Ten Commandmentsl to the Arab Revolt and the establishment of the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan.
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 also to be found at La Storia complex
Nearly all visitors join enthusiastically in the making of this mosaic, which, when completed, will be presented to the Town of Madaba. All hands are welcome and the Royal Family has also been called upon to help out when they visited the complex.
Khirbet al Mukhayat is roughly between Madaba and Mount Nebo on a side road; it was originally the village near to the large Byzantine monastery of which the present Mount Nebo church is part of the basilica. The church is shown on the map as "Siyagha". If you are coming from Madaba you should turn to the left at al Faisaliya (named after Sheikh Faisal bin Jazi).
It is a tiny place nowadays, not even to be called a hamlet, and the road at the end is very rough and exposed which discourages any tourist coaches. It turns into a track before it arrives at the top of the hill at site of the "Martyrs' Church" of Saints Lot and Procupius where there are a couple of beautiful mosaics. In the valley below there are the remains of several other churches. The late, much regretted Father Picirillo had plans for their restoration; I am afraid this is not likely to happen any time soon now.
The remains of the chapel might be locked: the guardian lives in a small house alongside and will probably arrive in a hurry when he hears a car. If not, it is perfectly correct to knock and ask if you can visit.
One of the mosaics was placed above the other one which was completely covered and unknown until the newer one was removed for restoring. The figures on the older mosaic have thus escaped the iconoclasts. These mosaics are very attractive.
Here you have the four best known mosaics from Khirbet al Mukhayat : On the left the one from the Church of Saint Lot and St Procupius, beside it the one from Baptistry; the two on the right are from the Church of Preacher John. You will see that first three are of generally similar styles. The later one from the Church of Preacher John is quite different.
People looking for something out of the way, can't do better than to spend half an hour at this site. It is seldom visited by tourists and gives you an idea of the landscape south of Madaba stretching to the canyon country and to Wadi Mujib. It is stark and beautiful, and usually very windy! People who know France might be reminded of the Caussse country there.