Mosaics Of Jordan

The mosaics of Jordan cover the period from the Ist century B.C. to the VIIIth century A.D. Only two mosaic floors, however, have been found from the first four centuries of this period. Furthermore, we have no clearly dated IVth century mosaics and there are few from the early Vth century.

The main part of this work will, therefore, deal with a tradition of mosaic-making from the second half of the Vth century through the VIIIth century. These mosaics of Jordan provide valuable historical and artistic evidence of the classical renaissance which flowered in the VIth century at the time of the Emperor Justinian. Its cultural and ideological roots were in the classical tradition of the Hellenistic-Roman period. The themes and decorative motifs used in both sacred and secular buildings continued in the mosaics of the churches, mosques and palaces of the Umayyad epoch, the last works of an uninterrupted tradition.


Most of the mosaic floors excavated in Jordan are north of Wadi Mujib-Arnon. In 1990, the Church of St. Lot at Ghor Al-Safy was discovered. In addition, excavation began in 1992 of a church with mosaics at Petra located by K. Russell of the American Center of Oriental Research. They provide the only evidence so far that a continuation of archaeological research will in the future reveal the south to be as rich in mosaics as the north.


Exploration Of  Madaba

When the explorers of the Survey of Eastern Palestine arrived at Madaba on October 27, 1881, they were witnesses to the rebirth of the city in modern times, and also to the discovery of its historic antiquities. Less than a year earlier, in December 1880, several Christian bedouin families from Kerak had come to this spot and, guided by their priests from the Latin patriarchate in Jerusalem, had established themselves on land ceded to them by the Ottoman authorities at the request of the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem. Despite opposition from local tribes, the newcomers installed themselves among the ruins of the ancient city and immediately set about building more permanent houses, using stones they found scattered about the site. The use of ancient building material was of grave concern to the archaeologists of the Survey but it is to this re-occupation of Madaba that we owe the greater part of the mosaic discoveries here presented.


The clergy told the pioneers of the importance of the mosaics uncovered as they built their houses, and most of them took care to preserve the mosaics. The readiness of the pastors to send information to experts in Jerusalem ensured that most of the discoveries became known. Among them are the mosaics found in the houses of the Sunna', the 'Ajilat, the Ma'aya', the Karadsheh and the Batjaly in the northern quarter of the city; the Salayta in the eastern quarter; and the Ghishan, the Masarweh the Twal and the Qsar in the southern quarter. It is thanks to those families that many of the mosaics of Madaba have been preserved. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities each built a church and a monastery-the Catholics on the acropolis to the south and the Orthodox on a plain to the north on the ruins of an ancient church. There the visiting orientalists and early archaeologists could receive assistance with their research.

In 1887, Fr. Z. Biever, the Roman Catholic missionary at Madaba, sent to Jerusalem a transcription of the first Greek mosaic inscription found in Madaba; the inscription identified the building from which it came as the Church of the Virgin. Prior to 1890, he sent a transcription from another mosaic to the Assumptionist Fr. J Germer-Durand. The two toponyms in it were copied from inside the northern wall of an ancient church and were later identified as being part of the Madaba Map.

An engineer, G. Schumacher, who stayed at Madaba as a guest of Fr. Biever in October 1891, drew the first general plan of the ruins. His study, published in 1895, included a schematic plan showing the ancient church in which the Madaba Map would later be discovered, as well as the so-called cathedral complex and the Church of the Virgin. He took the first known photograph of a Madaba mosaic-the Mosaic of the Paradise found in the house of Farid aL-Masri; the mosaic is still in situ in the Madaba Archaeological Museum. In 1892, Fr. P.-M. Sejourne, a Dominican, spent time in Madaba and published a preliminary review of the discoveries in the first issue of the Revue Biblique. An historical introduction, based on Biblical, Graeco-Roman and Byzantine literary sources, preceded his description of the most important monuments, mosaics and inscriptions. He photographed the mosaic floor of the Church of the Virgin despite poor light in the room, thus providing a secure basis for reading the inscriptions. The sketch of the Mosaic of the Reclining Woman resulted from another of his photographs, also taken under difficult conditions.

The year 1897 marked the discovery and publication of the Madaba Map, an international event which drew the attention of scholars from all over the world to Madaba. The sections of the Map which remained in situ in the newly constructed Greek Orthodox church were published in Greek by Deacon C. Kikylides in March 1897. In the same month, a more detailed article, by Frs. M.-J Lagrange and H. Vincent, appeared in the Revue Biblique, and later that year, Fr. Germer-Durand

published a booklet of his photographs of the Map. Also in 1897, the Church of the Prophet Elias and its Crypt of Saint Elianus, the Bacchic scene in the house of the Twal family, and a number of other mosaics were found. Madaba's reputation was thus established.

The real discoverer of the antiquities of Madaba and the mentor of those who came to study them was Fr. G. Manfredi, Roman Catholic pastor there from 1891 until his premature death in 1904. In April 1902, he uncovered the dedicatory inscription of the Church of the Apostles; later that year, in the same church, he found a mosaic with a representation of the Sea in the central medallion. The specialists who supported his field work were the Dominicans of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem. Besides Frs. Sejourne, Lagrange and Vincent, Frs. F.-M. Abel and M.-R. Savignac also came to Madaba to study the mosaics; their work served as a starting point for later interpretations. In 1896, Fr. A. Musil came to the city as a guest of Fr. Manfredi and surveyed the surrounding region; the first volume of his work gives an account of the mosaic floors of Madaba.

In 1903, A. Pauloski and N. K. Kluge collaborated on a substantive article in Russian about the antiquities of the city, illustrated with photographs of the mosaics. The same photographs were used by Archimandrite M. Metaxakis in his series of articles, published between 1905 and 1907, which gave new details about the mosaics of Madaba. In one of these articles he published the first photographs of the western part of the Hippolytus Hall which had been discovered in 1905. In 1911, Fr. Savignac photographed the inscription in the medallion of a floor mosaic found in an

area north of the apse of the cathedral.

Archaeologists from the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem began work at Mount

Nebo in 1933 and thus were on hand to give advice about the mosaics of the Madaba region to the pastors, the local people and the Department of Antiquities. The continuing discoveries made by the Franciscans at Mount Nebo encouraged further research into the nearby Madaba mosaics. As a result, several studies were made by Frs. S. Saller and B. Bagatti, and published in 1949. These include the west hall of the chapel which belonged to the Twal family, with its mosaic of a ram near a tree, of which Fr. Abel had published a sketch in 1934, and the mosaic showing a tree which was in the house of the 'Alamat family. The work of Frs. Saller and Bagatti was of major importance as it was the first bibliographical survey of the monuments with mosaics in the Transjordan.

In 1960, in the course of road building in the southern part of Madaba, the Mosaic of Achilles was found, with the adjoining Mosaic of Heracles; also the Hall of the Seasons was found at the Qsar house. An expedition from the German Evangelical Institute, directed by U. Lux, excavated the Church of al-Khadir in 1966 and the Church of the Apostles in 1967. In the following year, the Department of Antiquities, under the direction of H. Qandil, excavated part of the west courtyard of the cathedral complex. The Chapel of St. Theodore was also uncovered. In 1972, the Department excavated the church in the courtyard of the Salayta family. In the following year excavations took place under the direction of B. Van Elderen and M. Russan in the cathedral, along the Roman road, and in the area of the Church of the Prophet Elias.

The Department resumed work at the cathedral in Madaba in 1979, under the direction of the

author. At the end of the second season, in 1980, work was interrupted by a gratuitous act of vandalism which prevented any further research and destroyed the two superimposed baptistry chapels on the north side of the courtyard. Some of the mosaics were removed to the Archaeological Museum. In 1980, barrel-vaulted shops with mosaic floors were discovered on the western slope of the acropolis of Madaba. Two years later, the eastern half of the Hippolytus Hall was located by the author under the floor of the vestibule of the Church of the Virgin. The continuation in 1985 of the work in the narthex of this church brought to light two intercolumnar panels of the Hippolytus Hall. At the same time, excavations north of the Roman road near the Church of alKhadir revealed a mansion which had been destroyed by fire, now known as the Burnt Palace.­

Exploration At Mount Nebo

The first mosaic on Mount Nebo was discovered in 1913, at the village of Khirbat al-Mukhayyat, on the southern summit of this mountain which has two peaks with buildings of the Byzantine period, Mukhayyat and Siyagha. When archaeologists of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum of Jerusalem began excavations in July 1933, Frs. Saller and Bagatti found mosaics in the Memorial of Moses and in rooms of the monastery which had surrounded this sanctuary on the summit of Siyagha. In the same period additional mosaics were excavated in Khirbat al-Mukhayyat. They were published by Frs. Saller and Bagatti in 1949. In 1962, a small monastery was excavated nearby, on the west bank of Wadi 'Afrit. When Fr. V. Corbo started to restore the mosaic floors in the baptistry chapel and in the southern aisle of the Memorial of Moses in 1967, he discovered a second and then a third floor underneath. Work continued three years later in the Theotokos Chapel. In 1976, I work was resumed under the direction of the author. Below the north diakonikon of the Basilica of Moses, excavators discovered a diakonikon-baptistry, the fine mosaic floor of which, according to the inscription, had been created by the mosaicists Soel, Kaium, and Elias.

Work began in the 'Uyun Musa Valley below Mount Nebo in 1984, and in the following years the Church of Kajanus was discovered, with its two-level mosaic floor, as well as the Church of the Deacon Thomas. The hermitage of Abbot Procapis was excavated on the western slope of Siyagha in 1985; in 1986, excavations at Khirbat al-Mukhayyat uncovered the lower mosaic in the Chapel of the Priest John, part of the Church .of Amos and Kassius



Central Jordan – Madaba Area

While a resident of the nearby village of Ma'in was building a new house on the highest point of the acropolis in 1934, he found the remains of a church with mosaics. This was studied in 1937 by Frs. R. de Vaux and M.-R. Savignac. In the same village, in 1972, the Department of Antiquities, under the direction of M. Russan and A. Musa, uncovered a small monastic complex, al-Dayr, whose church is decorated with mosaics. Work was resumed at Ma'in in 1977 with the excavation of the central church. Three years later, while digging foundations for the new municipal building in the village, workmen unearthed a mosaic from a probation (privately-owned public bath).

In 1936, Fr. Savignac published a photograph of a chapel at jamyl, east of Dhiban, which showed traces of mosaics. Further traces of mosaics were recently seen in two other ecclesiastical buildings there. During his survey in 1942, N. Glueck saw mosaic floors in several places, including one at Dayr al-Riyashi in Wadi Mujib. Outside the village of Kufayr Abu Sarbut, now known as Khattabiyah, excavations in 1960 uncovered mosaic floors in the Church of the Holy Fathers. In 1972, the Department of Antiquities excavated the Church of John and Elias in the center of the village and, in 1988, work began on the mosque-church at the eastern entrance to the village.

During excavations by the Hesban Expedition at Tell Hesban in 1968-76, traces of mosaics were found in a church on the acropolis and in a second building on the eastern slope of the tell. In 1978, J. I. Lawlor excavated parts of the north church. In the village of Massuh, east of Hesban, a church was unearthed in 1970. When work there was resumed by the Department of Antiquities in 1979, under the direction of the author, the removal of the upper mosaic floor made it possible to excavate the lower Vth century mosaic.

A mosaic floor was discovered in 1977 under a house in Faysaliyah on the road to Mount Nebo.

In 1979, small sections of a mosaic floor were found in the apodyterium of the baths at the Herodian fortress of Machaerus by the Franciscan Biblical Institute. Near the fortress, in the village of Mukawir, a church with mosaics was excavated in 1990 by G. Eskandar and H. Yasir. In 1984, part of a church in Nitl, near Madaba, was excavated by archaeologists from Mount Nebo. Two years later, work began under the direction of the author and T. Attiyat at Umm al-Rasas. To date, mosaics have been excavated in the northern quarter of the town in the Church of Bishop Sergius, the Church of the Priest Wa'il, the Chapel of the Peacocks, the Church of the Lions and the Church of St. Stephen. Inside the walls of Umm al-Rasas, a Swiss team from the Max van Berchem Foundation excavated the twin Churches of the Rivers and of the Palm Tree.