Madaba: what to see, how to get there, and other useful information

Madaba is, for many, one of the most pleasant surprises in Jordan and a must-visit destination for those traveling with a Christian religious interest. Its proximity to Amman, its airport, and other points of interest in the country, such as the Dead Sea, make it a common stop on our Jordanian itineraries. On this page, we’ll tell you what to see in Madaba and provide other useful information, including its geographic location and how to get here.

Table of Contents

Where is Madaba and what is it like?

Madaba is the main city of the Madaba Governorate. It is located in the Jordanian Highlands at an altitude of 760 meters above sea level, but it is very close to Amman, just 40 km away from the capital, making it easily accessible by road. It has a population of just over 120,000 inhabitants, making it one of the top 10 most populous cities in Jordan.

mapa madaba Madaba

A bit of history

Archaeological evidence indicates that the territory of Madaba was inhabited since the Bronze Age, and it was initially a frontier settlement, disputed between the Moabites (descendants of Lot, from his incestuous relationship with his daughters), the Israelites, and the Ammonites (settled in the territory of present-day Amman).

A few centuries before the change of era, the Nabateans took control of the territory, but from 105 AD, it fell under the influence of the Roman Empire, which turned it into a prosperous provincial city.

However, it was the Byzantines, their successors, who truly gave it a significant role, especially in religious terms. Proof of this is that its bishop participated in the Council of Chalcedon in 451, indicating that Madaba was a city of reference in the early centuries of Christianity. During that time, numerous churches were built, adorned with beautiful mosaics.

Around 632, it was conquered by the Arabs, although Byzantine forces had managed to resist other attacks, such as the famous Battle of Mutah. But the city did not have much time to flourish: in the following century, it was struck by a devastating earthquake that caused it to be abandoned for over a millennium.

It was not until the late 19th century when it was repopulated, mainly by Christians from Karak, who were in conflict with Muslims from that city. The construction work they carried out resulted in many of the currently known mosaics coming to light, especially the one of the map of the Church of St. George. After that, interest in Madaba spread to the West, where numerous archaeological excavation projects were organized.

Today, Madaba is a city with a Muslim majority, but the percentage of Christian inhabitants is the highest in the country, estimated to be over 35% of the population according to some estimates, with modern churches serving their faithful. This reflects that Madaba has always had a strong tradition of religious tolerance, of which its inhabitants are proud. Additionally, this allows for a significant portion of its economic and cultural activity to be related to Christianity, as evidenced by the prestigious Institute of Mosaic Art and Restoration.

que ver en madaba Madaba

What to see in Madaba

Undoubtedly, the most important thing to see in Madaba are its mosaics, most of which are preserved in situ in their original places. But there are also other interesting spaces related to them, which provide context and deserve a visit if you are going to spend a full day here. Here is a list of the main places to see in Madaba:

  • Church of St. George and its mosaic map: Despite the modest appearance of the current 19th-century temple (Greek Orthodox worship), its interior houses an authentic relic, which is the mosaic map of the Holy Land, the oldest preserved mosaic of great historiographical value, as it provides abundant information about the region. For this reason, and for its beauty, it is one of the main monuments to see in Madaba.
  • Church of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist: Another recent temple, in this case Catholic worship, but with a more imposing appearance due to its rich facade, which uses ancient stone ashlars. Although perhaps the most interesting part is underground: in its vaulted basement, there is a museum site with a Moabite-era well.
  • Church of the Apostles: Externally, it does not seem to announce the fascinating richness of its interior, which is a mosaic from the mid-6th century depicting the twelve apostles and marine creatures, with extraordinary detail and preservation that resembles a carpet.
  • Archaeological Park I: It is one of the two archaeological parks in the city, and inside it, the Church of the Virgin Mary is preserved, built in the 6th century, with its corresponding mosaic. Even older, there is another mosaic at the entrance of the complex, from the 1st century BC, and it is one of the oldest mosaics preserved in Jordan.
  • Archaeological Park II: In this other archaeological park, near the previous one, the main feature is a luxurious mansion, with mosaics that, in this case, have non-religious themes (hunting scenes). It also includes the Church of the Martyrs and an ancient Roman road.
  • Madaba Museum: A small museum built to house, of course, other mosaics of great interest, but in this case with a slightly more daring and “profane” theme: for example, one of Ariadne in a sensual dance and another of a naked satyr.
  • Dar Al Saraya: Although there are not many elegant palaces to see in Madaba, this can be considered one of the most attractive ones, from the early 20th century, built in the last years of Turkish domination of the city.
  • Visitor Center: This is a 19th-century palace restored for informational purposes for visitors coming to the city, but it can also be considered an interesting place to see in Madaba for its cozy atmosphere.

How to get to Madaba

One of the great advantages of Madaba for tourists is its proximity to Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport, the main gateway for international travelers. It is only 15 km away, which can be covered by car in just 20 minutes. Therefore, it is possible to visit Madaba as soon as you arrive in the country, without the need to go to other cities first.

However, the most common way to get to Madaba is from Amman, the capital of Jordan, which is 40 km away and can be reached by car, taxi, minibus, and bus (JETT tourist service, which also includes the sacred sites of Mount Nebo and Bethany Beyond the Jordan).

Minibuses, however, can be inconvenient as they do not have a strict schedule (they only depart when they are full) and the JETT tourist service does not operate every day. Therefore, having a private vehicle will be the most convenient solution.

Madaba is also not far from the Dead Sea (30 km), so it is possible to organize a visit to Madaba on the way to that tourist destination, right after landing in the country, as it is on the way from Queen Alia International Airport.

Here is a list of alternative distances and durations from Madaba:

  • Amman: 40 km, 40 minutes
  • Mount Nebo: 10 km, 15 minutes
  • Bethany Beyond the Jordan: 40 km, 1 hour
  • Dead Sea (Swemeh): 30 km, 40 minutes
  • Jerash: 80 km, 1 hour and 15 minutes
  • Shobak: 190 km, 2 hours and 15 minutes
  • Wadi Musa (Petra): 215 km, 2 hours and 45 minutes
  • Wadi Rum: 275 km, 3 hours and 30 minutes
  • Aqaba: 300 km, 3 hours and 45 minutes

Other Useful Information

Given that there are many travelers who come here daily, there are several places where you can get more information about what to see in Madaba. First, the aforementioned Visitors Center, with informative panels, an introductory video about the city, and brochures for tourists.

The other informative space in Madaba is the office of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, where they provide materials to travelers and explain ongoing archaeological and restoration projects.

Plan your trip to Madaba

Disfruta de Madaba
Enjoy experiences
Cambia tu moneda unicamente Espana Madaba
Change your currency (Spain only)
Vuelos muy baratos Madaba
Very cheap flights
Alquila tu coche Madaba
Rent your car
Contrata Wifi o telefono Madaba
Hire Wifi or phone
Quieres una tarjeta Madaba
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