Madaba Map

The Madaba Map (also known as the Madaba Mosaic Map) is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba Map is the oldest surviving original cartographic depiction of the Holy Land and especially Jerusalem. It dates to the 6th century AD.


The Madaba Mosaic Map depicts Jerusalem with the Nea Church, which was dedicated on the 20th of November, 542 AD. Buildings erected in Jerusalem after 570 AD are absent from the depiction, thus limiting the date range of its creation to the period between 542 and 570 AD. The mosaic was made by unknown artists, probably for the Christian community of Madaba, which was the seat of a bishop at that time. In 614, Madaba was conquered by the Persian empire. In the 8th century AD, the Muslim Umayyad rulers had some figural motifs removed from the mosaic. In 746, Madaba was largely destroyed by an earthquake and subsequently abandoned. The mosaic was rediscovered in 1894, during the construction of a new Greek Orthodox church on the site of its ancient predecessor. In the following decades, large portions of the mosaic map were damaged by fires, activities in the new church and by the effects of moisture. In December 1964, the Volkswagen Foundation gave the Deutscher Verein für die Erforschung Palästinas ("German Society for the exploration of Palestine") 90,000 DM to save the mosaic. In 1965, the archaeologists Heinz Cüppers and Herbert Donner undertook the restoration and conservation of the remaining parts of the mosaic.


The floor mosaic is located in the apse of the church of Saint George at Madaba. It is not oriented northwards, like modern maps, but faces east towards the altar in such a fashion that the position of places on the map coincides with the actual compass directions. Originally, it measured 21 by 7 m and contained over two million tesserae. Its current dimensions are 16 by 5 m.

Topographic representation

The mosaic map depicts an area from Lebanon in the north to the Nile Delta in the south, and from the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Eastern Desert. Among other features, it depicts the Dead Sea with two fishing boats, a variety of bridges linking the banks of the Jordan, fish swimming in the river and receding from the Dead Sea; a lion (rendered nearly unrecognisable by the insertion of random tesserae during a period of iconoclasm) hunting a gazelle in the Moab desert, palm-ringed Jericho, Bethlehem and other biblical-Christian sites. The map may partially have served to facilitate pilgrims' orientation in the Holy Land. All landscape units are labelled with explanations in Greek. A combination of folding perspective and aerial view depicts about 150 towns and villages, all of them labelled.

The largest and most detailed element of the topographic depiction is Jerusalem, at the centre of the map. The mosaic clearly shows a number of significant structures in the Old City of Jerusalem: the Damascus Gate, the Lions' Gate, the Golden Gate, the Zion Gate, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Tower of David and the Cardo Maximus. The recognisable depiction of the urban topography makes the mosaic a key source on Byzantine Jerusalem. Also unique are the detailed depictions of cities such as Neapolis, Askalon, Gaza, Pelusium and Charachmoba, all of them nearly detailed enough to be described as street maps.

Scientific significance

The Mosaic Map of Madaba is the oldest known geographic floor mosaic in art history. It is of major use for the localisation and verification of biblical sites. Study of the map played a major role in answering the question of the topographical location of Askalon (Asqalan on the map). In 1967, excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem revealed the Nea Church and the Cardo Maximus in the very locations suggested by the Madaba Map.

Copies of the Madaba Map

A copy of the Madaba Mosaic Map is in the collection of the Archaeological Institute at Göttingen University. It was produced during the conservation work at Madaba in 1965 by archaeologists of the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier. A further copy, produced by students of the Madaba Mosaic School is in the foyer of the Akademisches Kunstmuseum at Bonn.



  • Herbert Donner: The Mosaic Map of Madaba. Kok Pharos Publishing House, Kampen 1992, ISBN 90-390-0011-5
  • Herbert Donner, Heinz Cüppers: Die Mosaikkarte von Madeba. Abhandlungen des Deutschen Palästinavereins 5, Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 1977 ISBN 3-447-01866-6
  • Michael Avi-Yonah: The Madaba mosaic map. Israel Exploration Society, Jerusalem 1954
  • Michele Piccirillo: Chiese e mosaici di Madaba. Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Collectio maior 34, Jerusalem 1989 (Arabische Edition: Madaba. Kana'is wa fusayfasa', Jerusalem 1993)
  • Kenneth Nebenzahl: Maps of the Holy Land, images of Terra Sancta through two millennia. Abbeville Press, New York 1986, ISBN 0-89659-658-3
  • Adolf Jacoby: Das geographische Mosaik von Madaba, Die älteste Karte des Heiligen Landes. Dieterich’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Leipzig 1905


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