Mid-morning on day five of our road trip we began our drive up the windy route through the hills toward the historical city of Madaba, where I (Albert) served as a Peace Corps Volunteer. With the Dead Sea receding in the distance behind us, my excitement grew. I had been looking forward to returning to Madaba since I left nearly 8 years ago. This return though was put on a brief hold when we stopped at the Dead Sea Panoramic Complex to take in the sweeping views of the sea and the valley below and also to visit the museum. It cost 2 JD per person to enter.
I had visited the complex during my service as part of a Tourism Awareness Program I developed to teach youth about the role tourism plays in their community. They devote the museum to telling the history of the Dead Sea and importantly highlights the continuous reduction in the sea’s water level, an alarming 3 ft. per year.
Having spent two years living in Madaba and working on tourism projects I was fairly familiar with the city’s hotel options. We ended up choosing a small family-run hotel in the city center, the Mosaic City Hotel, which opened across the street from where I lived towards the end of my service.
I knew a USAID grant had supported the project, but what I didn’t know was that the family started off with a few rooms on one floor, while they lived on another and slowly expanded as their business grew. The hotel now covers three floors, has a kitchen and dining room, and a shop selling Dead Sea and other Jordan-made products. The hotel and its rooms are simple, clean and tastefully decorated. The breakfast selection was superb, and they made the experience complete with the sound of Fairuz gently wafting through the dining room while we ate. For those unaware, Fairuz is a Lebanese singer with a beautiful voice whose music is traditionally listened to in the morning. If you’re going to Madaba, we definitely recommend staying here.
Madaba’s is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Jordan with Mt. Nebo (Moses sighting of the promised land), Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan (Jesus’ baptism site), Wadi Mujib, Umm ar-Rasas (UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Mukawir (the site of John’s the Baptist’s imprisonment and beheading), all within easy reach. The city itself contains several landmarks that should not be overlooked, including St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church and the Archaeological Park. St. George’s contains a mosaic from the sixth century and the Archaeological Park displays the excavated ruins of several Byzantine churches and two spectacular mosaics.
If you couldn’t tell from above or weren’t aware, Madaba is known for its mosaics. Back as Peace Corps Volunteer, I could only afford one piece, which I gave to my brother- and sister-in-law as a wedding present. This time we could afford one of our own which hangs in our living room. Madaba has its own mosaic school where students learn the artwork.
Apart from the numerous shawarma and falafel restaurants, Madaba also has a great selection of upscale restaurants. During my time there I became good friends with one of the most important business leaders of Madaba’s tourism industry and our visit would not be complete without spending an evening with Mr. Bassam Twal at his restaurant, Dana. It was here I spent many nights planning my Tourism Awareness Programs, drafting speeches and eating sajia, which we were served that night among many other amazing dishes. We had to have some St. George’s, which as you may recall is one of Jordan’s top wineries and happens to be from Madaba and the final Carak Ale we hadn’t yet tried, the Pale Ale. It was a wonderful opportunity to taste the foods we had been missing and catch up with a great friend. If you’re in Madaba, be sure to check out Dana Restaurant near to Apostles Church.
After this nostalgic visit, the following day Carrie and I dropped our car at the airport and boarded a plane to Beirut. Check out our guide to Beirut, Lebanon below.
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