Jordan Discovery Day 6 – Madaba

Where and when: Madaba, Jordan – 5th Feb 2023

0800: Leave hotel and Petra. Today we are heading back to Amman with a few stops along the way.

0845: Visit to Shobak Castle.
The castle was built in 1115 AD by Baldwin I of Jerusalem, during his expedition to the area when he captured Aqaba on the Red Sea. Originally called ‘Krak de Montreal’ or ‘Mons Regalis’, it was named in honor of the king’s own contribution to its construction. The castle was besieged for 2 years by Sultan Saladin in 1187 AD, before it finally fell. In 1216 AD the castle came under the control of Malmuks of Egypt.

Shobak Castle in the distance

Today, the castle is mostly in ruins. The walk around the castle is still interesting and you can see the remaining ramparts, watch tower etc. It is also a good vantage point to see the surrounding area.

View from the castle

0945: Leave Shobak castle and drive to Madaba.

On the way desert scenery and many Wind Turbines.  Renewable energy contributes 20% of Jordan’s electricity needs. The remainder of the energy comes from Egypt.

Wind turbines in the desert

1015: On our way to Madaba. On the way we make a couple of short stops to see the Dana Nature reserve from a distance.

View of Dana Nature Reserve

We also see the World’s Smallest hotel – a VW Beetle converted into a “hotel” that fits 2 people.

World’s Smallest Hotel – in a VW Beetle

As we get closer to Madaba, the desert landscapes gradually becomes greener. Madaba is a city about 30km to the South-West of Amman. It is known for it’s Byzantine Mosaics, which are still handmade in the town today. Madaba is also famous for the Church of Saint George, which is home to the famous “Madaba Map”; the earliest known map of the Holy Land and the oldest known floor mosaic in history.

On the way to Madaba

1315: Arrived at Church of Saint George in Madaba.

Church of Saint George
Inside Saint George’s Church

The Madaba map here dates from 6th Century AD and depicts key sites of the Holy Land such as Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jordan River etc. The map was discovered during construction work in the late 1800s and unfortunataly parts of the map was damaged and destroyed before its significance was fully realised.

Madaba Map on the floor on Saint George’s Church
Madaba Map on the floor on Saint George’s Church

Recent archaeological studies at the sites depicted in the map show that it is indeed very accurate.  The map’s orientation is puzzling. At first glance, the map seems to be the wrong way around, with the Mediterranean to the south of Jerusalem and Egypt to the East. This is because rather than being North facing like most modern day maps, the Madaba Map faces East, which means the locations on the map align with the compass direction of their real counterparts.

A more modern day drawing of the Madaba map

1345: Lunch at small cafe outside the church. Unlike Petra, the prices here are very low, costing only 1 JD for a falafel wrap. The cafe owner is horrified to hear about the extortionate pricing charged at Petra, he insists on giving each of us a soft drink from the fridge for free.

1415: Leave Madaba.

1515: Back in Amman and the rest of the afternoonis free. Several of a group decide to go to the Al-Pasha Turkish bath. It is my first experience at a Turkish bath and it does not disappoint. For 25 JD you get a 1 hour experience which includes the staff moving you through sauna, steam room, jacuzzi (about 10 mins in each) followed by a massage and body scrub. Water, tea and juices are also included the price. I also paid 7JD extra for the foot care package to thank my feet for the 35,000+ steps yesterday. (Things to note:  Unlike in the UK, the body scrub and massages is done in the open area with the jacuzzi when we were there only women were present in the area (including staff), but some reviews indicated that this can sometimes be mixed sex with both male and female customers and staff present. If you are minded to go, I would suggest checking the arrangements on the day with the reception to make sure you are happy.

Al-Pasha Turkish Bathouse Lounge

1715: Explore downtown Amman and do some sourvernir shopping.

1945: Dinner at Hashems. This is a popular local restaurant, and bustling with many families, young professionals and tourists. The meal experience is unlike anything we have seen before. A fresh polythene table cloth is laid out for us on the table. Salads and large pitta breads are put on the table just as we sit down. Then we order a number of simple dishes from a menu – different types hummus, falafel, etc. The food is then eaten using the pitta breads as plates. It is a very efficient way to have a meal. As there is no cutlery and crockery (except for glasses and sharing plates) there is very little clearing of tables and washing up to do. It is very cost effective too, with each of us paying only 3 JD for the whole meal.

Dinner at Hashem’s

1930: Stop at Habibah sweets for a portion of Kanafeh. It is very popular at this time of the day with a steady stream of customers.

2000: Stop at Bekdash ice cream downtown. The staff here show us how traditional Arabic icecream is made. It has a very stretchy structure which makes it very different to other icecreams. It is served with lots of pistachios and tastest semi-sweet. The locals know how to really enjoy their Knafeh and Bekdash. They buy a slice of Knafeh from a few doors up and come into Bekdash for a dollop of Arabic ice cream on top. A perfect combination of hot and cold desserts, tasting sweet, salty, creamy and very comforting all at once. (I was too busy eating, so forgot to take photos. Sorry!)

2100: It’s been a long day, so we decide to head back to the hotel.

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