Sunday, July 5, 2015

Madaba Map

Discovered in a church in Madaba, Jordan, in 1884, the Madaba Map is the oldest surviving cartographic depiction of the Holy Land. Created in the form of a mosaic it dates to somewhere between A.D. 560-565 and originally showed an area that stretched from southern Syria to central Egypt. By the time it was discovered much of the map was already gone, however its remains include a detailed depiction of Jerusalem. "The bird's-eye view shows an oval-shaped walled city in the very center of the map with six gates and twenty-one towers, the colonnaded main thoroughfare … and thirty-six other identifiable public buildings, churches and monasteries," writes Jerome Mandel in an article published in the book "Trade, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages: An Encyclopedia" (Routledge, 2000). At the time it was created the Byzantine Empire ruled the Holy Land. 

On the sixth-century mosaic map of Palestine that paved the floor of a church in Madaba in Transjordan, Jerusalem holds a dominant position (Avi-Yonah 1954: 50-60, plate 7, nos 52-3). The colonnaded main street of Hadrian's Aelia Capitolina, the cardo maximus, is clearly visible, running southwards from what is now the Damascus Gate in the direction of Mount Zion, which lay outside the southern city wall until changes brought to the line of the city wall at the time of the Empress Eudocia in the middle of the fifth century. In a distinguished central position on the west side of this street, breaking the colonnade, are the steps leading to the propylea of Constantine's basilica; its three doorways are clearly visible. The complex of buildings on Golgotha is the largest edifice depicted, and is clearly meant to be seen as the focal point of the city, culminating in the domed rotunda which by that date covered the Holy Sepulchre. The steps leading directly to the main entrance of the basilica off the street recall Eusebius' description of its fronting onto the main thoroughfare. 

The deliberate emphasis on the central position of the Constantinian buildings at Jerusalem on the Madaba map reflects the importance of the Constantinian foundations. If Jerusalem was for the Christians the centre of the world, then the centre of Jerusalem itself could only be the place of Christ's death and resurrection. By contrast with the church of the `Upper Room' where the Jerusalem community had worshipped down the ages, tucked away outside the city on Mount Zion, Constantine's Holy Sepulchre was on the site of the Hadrianic temenos, alongside the forum and near the central crossroads, approached by an impressive flight of steps from the main thoroughfare; the new Christian monuments, and no longer the pagan temples, were the highlights of the city. 

Thus fourth-century Jerusalem saw Christianity symbolically transported from its place outside the walls to the very heart of the city. Roman Aelia was now the Christian Jerusalem. It was Constantine's creation of the `new Jerusalem' of Rev 21:2 - `And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband' - which lay at the heart of the Holy Land's emergence as a goal of pilgrimage in the fourth century (Hunt 1982).

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