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The town of Madaba, located 30 kilometers southwest of Amman, is most famous for its exquisite 6th-century mosaics. Its history dates back at least 3500 years, however. Madaba, which was known in the Bible as the Moabite town of Medaba, is mentioned in the Old Testament account of Moses and the Exodus (Numbers 21: 30). David also vanquished an Ammonite and Aramean coalition near Madaba (I Chronicles 19: 7). His victory was short-lived, however, as in the mid-ninth century BC the Moabite King Mesha freed the city from the control of the Israelites (2 Kings 3). Mesha, whose capital was the ancient city of Dibon (now called Dhiban, and located just north of Wadi Mujib), recorded his victories on the famous Mesha Stele, an inscribed stone set up in about 850 BC. The rich farmlands around Madaba were coveted and fought over by the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Israelites and other local kingdoms.
The Ammonites had conquered Madaba by 165 BC, but it was taken from them by Hyrcanus I around 110 BC. His son HyrcanusII later gave the city to the Nabateans in exchange for their help in recovering Jerusalem from Aristobulus II. Near the beginning of the second century AD, Trajan ousted the Nabateans from Madaba, and the city gradually became a Roman provincial town with the usual colonnaded streets and impressive public buildings.
The Byzantine era saw Madaba enter its most affluent era. Grand buildings and a reservoir were constructed, while in the sixth century AD bishops were assigned to the city and a number of religious structures were erected. The importance of Madaba as a Byzantine ecclesiastical center is demonstrated by the wealth of elaborate mosaics scattered throughout the town.
After the Persian invasion of 614 AD and a devastating earthquake in the year 747, the town was gradually abandoned. Madaba then lay virtually untouched until it was resettled in the late 19th century by Christians from Karak. The city’s greatest treasures, its mosaics, were uncovered then when these migrants were digging foundations for their houses.
Madaba’s most famous mosaic is located in the Church of St. George in the middle of town. The Mosaic Map of Palestine represents the Holy Land and its surrounding regions. Clearly visible on the map are al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, Nablus, al-Khalil (Hebron), Ariha (Jericho), Egypt and the Nile River, Turkey and Lebanon. The mosaic was made around 560 AD, originally composed of over 2.3 million pieces, and measured a staggering 25 by 5 meters.
It is thought that 11,500 man-hours would have been required to lay the entire mosaic.

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