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Tour Jerusalem with a 1,500-Year-Old Map!

Let's tour Jerusalem using a 1,500-year-old Byzantine map!

Our adventure begins in the Jordanian town of Madaba, a stone's throw from Biblical Mount Nebo where during his final hours, Moses gazed from the lofty summit upon the Promised Land that sadly he never would enter with the Children of Israel.

Madaba of the late 19th century harbored a small Greek Orthodox Christian community which received permission to erect a new church. However, there was one catch – the new church had to be built where an earlier church once stood. Excavations began in 1884 and soon revealed the incredible mosaic floor that adorned the older structure.

The unearthed treasure is a 6th century mosaic map of the Middle East! It is oriented to the east (north is to the left) and shows an area from the mountains of Lebanon to the Nile Delta. Some 150 Holy Land towns and villages are labeled in Greek, a useful guide for religious pilgrims who had yet to discover the convenience of Google Maps and TripAdvisor.

The crown jewel of the Madaba mosaic is a detailed street map of Jerusalem from the year 550 (give or take), an age when the Holy Land was firmly under Byzantine Christian rule. Jerusalem is depicted far out of proportion to its physical size though highly consistent with its spiritual and religious centrality.

Immediately discernible from our bird's eye perch above the Holy City is the pillared Cardo, the magnificent thoroughfare and main shopping street that bisected the city on a north-south axis.

On the Cardo's northern end near today's Damascus Gate, there was a piazza with a free standing pillar that is clearly seen in the Madaba map. To this day, Arabs refer to the Damascus gate as Bab al-'Amud – the Gate of the Pillar!

In the middle of the Cardo – upside down with a gold dome – is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Once entered from the Cardo, the Holy Sepulchre is Christianity's holiest site where according to tradition Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected.

During the Byzantine era, the Cardo was extended to connect the Holy Sepulchre to the immense Nea Church, found after nearly 1,400 years beneath the parking lot of the Jewish Quarter!

Let's tour the Old City of Jerusalem together using the Madaba map - we'll walk the Cardo, stand at the arch of the Roman gate, see where the Nea Church once stood and visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre!

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