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The Mosaics of Jordan: A photo gallery

The Mosaics of Jordan: A photo gallery

Baptistery of Moses
Mosaics of Jordan: Baptistery of Moses, Mount Nebo, Jordan. @Helen Miles Mosaics

In search of rare orchids: The Mosaics of Jordan

I would hazard a guess that being a lover of ancient mosaics is much like being a bird watcher or a seeker of rare orchids. You read books about them,  browse the internet in search of them, communicate with fellow obsessives about them and occasionally, if you’re lucky, you hack your way through the rain forest oblivious to ten-metre anacondas and bird-eating spiders in your determination to find them. Then, drenched in sweat and covered in leeches, you arrive, and the whole world becomes still as you gaze at the thing you know so well but have never known at all.

mosaic of bird and urn
Mosaics of Jordan: Church of the Apostles, Madaba. @Helen Miles Mosaics

Fortunately, there aren’t many ancient mosaics in the rain forest but that doesn’t mean that getting to see them in situ is always an easy matter. Work, family, money, practicalities and responsibilities all assemble in serried ranks to block your way as surely as lianas and buttress roots. But I got lucky. Our middle son was spending his year abroad studying in Amman so the mosaics of Jordan were finally in my sights*. Moreover, the middle son is the one with an appetite for ancient ruins that (almost) exceeds my own and a tolerance for mosaic hunting that goes beyond filial duty.

leaping dog mosaic
Leaping dog from unlabelled border mosaic, Jerash Museum. @Helen Miles Mosaics
Leaf and grapes border mosaic
Border detail, Baptistery of Moses, Mount Nebo. @Helen Miles Mosaics

Nevertheless the visit was to be short – our son had classes to go to and we had left the two other boys at home so this wasn’t intended to be a full blown holiday. Just four days to see him and to take in the mosaics of Jordan. It was a tall order but nothing was going to hold me back. Agenda: book a car, set the alarm, gulp down some thick Arabic coffee and humous-smeared flat bread and hit the road. The mosaics of Jordan here I come.

Forgive me, dear reader. Once again you find me galloping full tilt towards the ticket offices of ancient mosaic sites, hair dishevelled, clothes akimbo, my hollered goodbye to the tiny figures left far behind me lost in the wind. When it comes to visiting ancient mosaics I am like one of those rotund gymkhana ponies, ears pricked, tail swishing , charging forward as if nothing could stop me. But then comes the first fence, the first mosaic, and I screech to a halt. My progress from that point on becomes painfully slow. The tiny figures soon catch up and move on, eventually idling away their time at a neaby cafe as I dally and linger.

mosaic representation of the sea
Representation of the sea, Church of the Apostles, Madaba. @Helen Miles Mosaics

All I intend to do here is give you an idea of the mosaic wonders that are in store if you ever manage to get to Jordan yourself. This post is not aiming to be comprehensive or learned – the topic is too vast and diverse to be distilled down and anyway it seems foolish to separate out the mosaics from this small, newly created kingdom when of course the ancient and Byzantine-era mosaics I was looking at were created when the human geography of the area was entirely different and the mosaics which decorated the churches, palaces and public buildings were part of much larger empires. To look at the mosaics of Jordan, one also has to look at those of Israel, Palestine and Syria at the very least to see how styles and influences crossed, merged and were reinvented throughout the region.

During our brief time I managed to see the mosaics still on site at the sprawling ancient city of Jerash, an hour’s drive from Jordan’s capital; the small but exquisite early 6th century church of Petra whose floors were only saved from the hammers of the iconoclasts by an earthquake in 600AD which buried them; the extraordinary Baptistry of Moses at Mount Nebo (around 530AD) which qualifies as one of my rare orchids;  the 6th century Church of Lot and Procopius, discovered by chance by a Bedu grandmother as she racked the family hearth; the famous and tantalisingly fragmented early Byzantine Map of Madaba in the town of the same name; the eclectic collection of the Madaba Archeological Park and, last but not least, with the custodian breathing down my neck and telling me that closing time had been and gone, the Church of the Apostles, also dating to the 6th century.

bird mosaic
Bird detail. Outdoor mosaic, unlabelled, Baptistery of Moses, Mount Nebo. @Helen Miles Mosaics

Please take these photo galleries as my memento of those galloping days and this picture of a pensive camel on a hill above Al Deir in Petra as proof that I did occasionally look up despite all appearances to the contrary.

camel on a hill
Camel and clouds, Petra. @Helen Miles Mosaics

The Mosaics of Jordan: Jerash

ruins of Jerash
Ruins of Jerash. @Helen Miles Mosaics

 

The Mosaics of Jordan: Petra.

rock tombs at Petra
Petra, rock tombs. @Helen Miles Mosaics

 

The Mosaics of Jordan: The Baptistry of Moses, Mount Nebo.

The Mosaics of Jordan: Church of Lot and Procopius, Madaba.

Ducks and fish mosaic
Detail of Nilotic border, Church of Lot and Procopius, Madaba. @Helen Miles Mosaics

The Mosaics of Jordan: Map of Madaba

mosaic studio and shop
Mosaic studio and shop, Madaba. @Helen Miles Mosaics

The Mosaics of Jordan: The Madaba Archaeological Museum.

The Mosaics of Jordan: The Church of the Apostles, Madaba.

*Those of you who are on your toes will be aware that Jordan is just a hop and a skip away from Israel. Surely it would be a scandal to come so far and not nip over the border to see that country’s mosaics too? I’m glad you agree. Upcoming blog post: The Mosaics of Israel.

15 Comments

  1. Tara Mattson

    Just wonderful! Thank you for so many pictures. Perhaps you should plan a mosaic class in Jordan? But give me a couple of years to save up for it. 🙂

    1. Helga

      I am currently travelling for 2 weeks through Jordan viewing Mosaics. Excellent school of Mosaics in Madaba. Huge premises but was told courses only for Jordanians.

  2. Edna Van Dorsten

    Thank you. Whenever I travel, I, too, seek out mosaics. I am book marking this article for its locations list.

  3. Thank you so much for this, I’m going to Jordan tomorrow and have been a lifelong lover of mosaics, restoring them, making them but mostly just speechlessly gazing.

  4. Timothy Rowland

    In 2005 I traveled to Isreal with some friends who were Archeologists. In The Garden Tomb where many believe Christ was laid is where the Archeology dig took place. The group of 51 people who met for the dig came from around the world. I myself was a bystander and didn’t taking part in the dig itself. I had alot of time on my hands and did alot of walking taking everything in the Old city and Jerusalem itself. I walked the complete sircumfrance of the Old City by myself. During the month of August when I was there a group who had been to the far east several times before knew alot of different people who lived in Isreal. This group of people had set up a trip into Jordan for 4 days. They asked me if I would like to be part of the trip I jumped at the invitation. All accommodations were taken care of. The cost was $340$ U.S. On the first day to the border we stayed at the base of Masada. Next morning we drove to Elat and walked into Jordan and were met by a man who lived In Madaba. He would be our Guide. We traveled to Wadi Run, Madaba, Jerash, Petra, Mt. Nebo, and Aman. When we were on Mt. NEBO i purchased a mosaic Tapestry/ Rug of the most prestine mosaic on the floor of the Church which is probably the most photographed among all the mosaics. I purchased it for $1000 U.S. and had it shipped home. The Size is 5×7. The mosaic was weaved by hand by one person on a loom. The artist who weaved it labored 340 hours to the finish of it. The material was wool, if it had been done in silk no telling the cost. The entre trip to Isreal and that part of the world was very surreal to say the least. If you ever have the opportunity to travel don’t pass it by!

    1. Thanks for this Timothy and apologies for the late reply. Your trip to Israel and Jordan sounds amazing. I have been to both places and loved them – the mosaics were simply extraordinary and well worth the effort to see them.

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