For those of you not that into Judaism or Christianity, you should know that Jordan houses some of the most important monuments related to religion. You have probably heard about the Dead Sea and Petra or you plan to visit, but be prepared for few surprises in the kingdom. The whole region of the Middle East is actually rich in cultural, historical and religious locations! (For instance, did you know that in Syrian town of Maaloula they still use the Aramaic dialect that Jesus spoke!)

So, religious or not, be prepared for all those monuments Jordan houses, for you to visit.


A lovely detail on the streets of Madaba

The mosaic map

Not far from the capital Amman there is an old town cited in the Bible as Medba. The town of Madaba was attacked and destroyed around the 10th century BC by the Arameans and the Ammonites, but it was rebuilt shortly thereafter. The height of its splendor probably coincides with the early centuries of the Christian era where, under Byzantine dominion, it became a center of a flourishing school of mosaic workers. The mosaics found from the late 19th century on in the floors of churches and shops still are the principal attraction of the city.


In front of the St George Church

The most famous and the first to be discovered is the floor mosaic of the Greek Orthodox church of St George, dating to the times of Justinian, where a sort of geographic map of Palestine is depicted. It was made for the benefit of the pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. To be recognized in the fragments are the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho, as well as the river Jordan, the Lake of Tiberias and the Dead Sea.


The incredible mosaic map

They say that this church also houses one of the oldest frescoes in the world. It is more than 1,000 years old and that it was given back to this Orthodox temple a decade ago.


The 1,000-year-old fresco

If you have the time, try to visit one of the workshops where you will witness a mosaic in the making with various colors and motives. You will also notice that Madaba is a small, clean town with the specific atmosphere. There is a church on one hill while the Muslim minaret is to be seen on the other.


Typical shops in town

View of the promised land

Only 10 kilometers from Madaba there is one extremely important mountain when it comes to the Old Testament. Mount Nebo is 800 meters height and the astonishing view from here sweeps over the entire valley as far as the Dead Sea.


At the workshop in Madaba

According to the Bible, this is the very mountain God told Moses to climb so that he could see the promised land before dying, and it was here, they say, that Moses was then buried. A cross (also a snake-shaped stick) signs the spot chosen to commemorate his death. On the presumed site of his tomb a monastery was built and since 1933 the ruins are gradually brought to light.


The path towards Mount Nebo

There are the remains of the 6th century church and mosaics to be found on the mountain. The Chapel of the Virgin, located in the southern part of the church, dates to the 7th century. On the floor mosaic gazelles are depicted separated by plant motives and two bulls, illustrating a psalm in the Bible, the text of which is set above the panel.


Old monastery remains

You will come across tourists from all around the world who will try to get that same view „Moses once had from the mountain“. You might be asked by a group of local children to pose in the photo with them and there – somehow you become an attraction as well, whether you like it or not, the European one in the Arab world. The mountain itself looks like it could be on the Mediterranean shores with typical stone walls and plants.


Lovely flowers on Mount Nebo

This site was proclaimed by Pope John Paul II in 2000 as the pilgrimage place. That is when the stone monument dedicated to Moses is put here.


Monument erected after the pope’s visit

They say that there is the spring nearby, the one that burst from land at the very spot which was struck by Moses. It’s interesting that the spring is still rich in water, in the country with such shortage in water supplies.

Moses could see Jericho from here, the river Jordan and the place where Jesus will be baptized centuries later.


View from the Mount

Jordan river

The precise place where Jesus was baptized has long been a matter for conjecture. The biblical reference, a series of Byzantine and medieval texts, and numerous indications of pilgrims have established that Jesus was baptized at the furthest source of the river Jordan. Various factors contributed to the difficulty of identifying the spot precisely, the guide book I was reading said, where the place of baptism was named differently throughout texts. It was called Beth-Abara or Bethabara (the place of passage) as it was here that the prophet Elijah divided the waters and crossed the river before ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire. At the beginning of the 3rd century, Christian writers and pilgrims associated this region with both the ascension of Elijah and with the baptism of Christ.


Approaching the Jordan river site

Never the less, on the east bank of the Jordan river, just over half an hour from the capital Amman „Bethany beyond the Jordan“ has been excavated and restored. The new site was opened by Pope John Paul II and it is now believed to be the most probable place of baptism, that was open to tourist visits.


Bethany beyond the Jordan Baptism Site map

At least four churches and chapels have been identified among other remains of the settlement with sophisticated system of water collection and what is believed to be an ancient prayer room.


The actual site where Jesus was baptized

This area is restored and local guide will explain that the river itself doesn’t reach the very spot of the baptism any more, since its flow was redirected throughout centuries and its water level gradually decreased over time. That is why it doesn’t flow exactly through the spot where, according to Jordanians, Jesus was baptized by Saint John.


Strolling around the location

Still, the place is a huge attraction for pilgrims all over the world. There were few Russian churches around and I was able to see one lovely mosaic on the floor of the Greek church.


Greek Orthodox church

The controversial riverside

In the area of the river Jordan which stretches from the Al Kharrar wadi to Gharabah wadi some 21 site have been identified, stopping points on the great pilgrim route that in the early years of Christianity led from Jerusalem through Jordan to Mount Nebo.


Beautiful mosaic on the church floor

Still, when you finally come to the Jordan river you have heard so much about, being always in the news headlines because of the West Bank that belongs to Israel and the other one that is on the Jordanian territory, you expect to see one grand and mighty water surface, imposing enough to create such a conflict on this planet of ours. But then you find it to be quite the opposite! One small narrow river that seems like it can be crossed in just a few steps.


Narrow Jordan river

Anyway, you realize where you are when you notice the Israeli flag only few meters away, on the other side. If I remember well, there are two official crossings over the Jordan river. But standing here, you cannot help but wonder if there are Israeli soldiers there in the bushes right now, watching this group of tourists, over the river that decreases more and more each year and therefore diminishes the natural border between the two countries.


The full Jordan SERIES


20 comments on “Jordan: MOUNT NEBO AND JORDAN RIVER (5)

  1. So much history! I’d particularly love to see the floor mosaic of the map in person. It’s just incredible that these ancient artifacts have survived after all these years. I’ll have to agree with you on the Jordan River, it’s much smaller than I had envisioned it looking. Thanks for your experience visiting the historical sites at Mount Nebo. I’ve never been to Jordan and really hope to visit some day!

    1. The mosaic map is a genuine work of art, so many beautiful details with inscriptions one can still read and recognize. I’m sure you’d love it!
      Being a bit of a history buff, I really enjoyed visiting these places. 🙂

  2. We visited all of these places when we went to Jordan about six years ago. Absolutely loved Madaba and we just had to buy a beautiful mosaic for our home. At Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan there is a platform where you walk to go down and bless yourself with the water from the river. There are most certainly soldiers protecting the border and an official border at that spot. I wouldn’t be trying to wade across.

  3. It was a trip down the memory lane reading your post. I remember standing in front of the mosaic floor map and the guide narrating us the story or standing on Mount Nebo – watching the exhibition and looking down at the valley. My biggest regret is not going to the river and visiting the UNESCO World Heritage SIte there.

    We saw lots of crafts in practice in the streets of Madaba – What a lovely little town.

  4. We are not religious but find the actual history of this region fascinating. We would love to visit Jordan and experience the culture and visit these sites in person.

  5. I thought Jordan was an amazing country and I am feeling that I missed out by not visiting the Jordan river or Mount Nebo. I loved the mosaic in Madaba so its a shame I didn’t get to see that lovely small one in the Greek church. I wonder if if it is worth visiting from the Israeli side instead.

    1. I’m not sure that it would be possible to visit from the Israeli side, since the crossings between the two countries are pretty far if I’m not mistaken. But then again, who knows, I didn’t try to visit that way, it might be doable after all. 🙂

  6. I really want to visit the Middle East for its cultural, historical and religious connections – Israel is my main point of focus, but Jordan is becoming higher and higher on my list the more I read about it. Stuff like the mosaics in Madaba would really fascinate me. And with some of the oldest frescoes in the world, this is the type of stuff you travel to see! The view from Mount Nebo sounds incredible, and like a very spiritual place. I genuinely had no idea that Jordan had so many sites of such religious significance dotted throughout its landscape!

    1. I was astonished by the fact that those are now the genuine holy sites, true stops on the pilgrimage route.
      Not being that religious, I can only imagine what it would be like for someone who truly believes to stand on the same spot Moses did. It sounds incredible! 🙂

  7. Interesting read about Jesus, Jordan, Israelis, those that I used to read a bible story book when I was a kid. Given the fact that I’m Catholic, I’ve always been interested and fascinated with all these things that happened in the past. I’d really love to see Jordan and everything that comes with it.

  8. Nice post about some lesser wonders in Jordan! I ‘ve visited all the sites that you mention and it was funny to see some Russians on their underwear simulating a kind of baptism in Jordan’s brown waters. A pity that the river does not flow along the spot where Jesus was baptized anymore

    1. Do you think that they might have been baptized there? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if that’s possible, but it does sound like a thing to allow and organize in order to attract more people to the site. Even though mass tourism might damage the place.
      But just imagine – being able to be baptized at the same place Jesus once was!

  9. I am not really inclined to any religions but I like discovering the history behind them. Each of them shows a rich culture and creativity. I mean, come on! Look at the mosaic map! More than the beliefs, I think they show talents and skills! Jordan is one of my dream destination and that’s one thing I love about it – diversity of things to explore. It is known for housing beautiful landscapes but it offers more than that. I can;t wait to go there!

    1. You’re so right, the Madaba mosaic is fascinating. It’s huge and very special having in mind that it served as a map to pilgrims once. You don’t have to be one to appreciate it’s historic value, right! 🙂

    2. Same here. I’m neutral but can appreciate the art and architecture that was inspired by religion. Danijela, thank you for your well written post!

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