Madaba Map: Jerusalem And Palestine

The Madaba map, dated to the second half of 6th century, is a map in the form of a pretty sizeable floor mosaic. It is known for being one of the oldest representations of the Holy Land and was found during the building of a church in 1884 in what once was the Byzantine region of Arabia. The map is made up of two significant parts: the coast of Palestine and Jerusalem and towns around it. However, because of the missing parts, it is difficult to conclude how big it originally was or which geographical locations that were represented. The map is not laid out as we would traditionally imagine maps to be presented, it is oriented towards the East rather than with north on top, and its strange cartography makes it an extraordinary example of a map.

The content of the map (although not geographically accurate) is exceptionally detailed and includes a large variety of regions, towns and locations. Furthermore, Jerusalem is executed in such a detailed way, to the point where physical locations are depicted very clearly in the map. However, it is essential to note that although it is detailed and remarkable, it is not particularly accurate. Jerusalem, which is partly the focal point of the map (the dead sea being at the centre of it), is visibly embellished with a wide variety of churches and other Christian monuments, which signifies the strong Christian presence in the city. The clear focus on Jerusalem highlights this importance since surrounding areas of the map are perhaps not as elaborated or meticulous.

The map gives a romanticised version of Jerusalem from most likely a Christian perspective. The focal point of the city’s urban arrangement in the map is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A lot of other churches are also represented very clearly whereas the Temple Mount is very much brushed over. This emphasises this idea that the map was created to glorify Christianity, as the erasing of Temple Mount could be interpreted as the triumph of Christianity over Judaism.

It is safe to assume that the map was created for the Christian population of Madaba, as seen by all the Christian motifs and imagery. It could be said that the purpose of the map was to enrich the spiritual experiences of those who went to visit it. By highlighting all these Christians sights, the visitors would see the importance of religion and link Jerusalem to Christianity and the Roman Empire. Furthermore, the map could be interpreted as some pilgrimage site, in the Holy Land, where travellers would go and visit.

Overall, the maps historical importance derives from both the distinctive cartography and longevity of the mosaic and also the cultural relevance that this mosaic (as well as many other mosaics) has to place the viewer in a particular mindset of a period of time (in this case the Christian experience in Jerusalem ca. 6th century) 

07 July 2022
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