Copyright 1998 by James E. Lancaster, Ph.D.

Late in the 19th century, during excavation and reconstruction of a Byzantine church in Madaba, Jordan, the oldest extant map of the Holy Land was found in the mosaic floor of the church. Prominent in the mosaic, which has been dated to the middle of the 6th century AD, is a detailed map of the Holy City of Jerusalem at it appeared at the height of the Byzantine period (325-638 AD).

The Madaba Map of Jerusalem*

Running across the center of the Madaba Map of Jerusalem, as it is now known, is the Cardo, the main street of Roman and Byzantine Jerusalem. At the north end of the Cardo (left on the map) is a gate and plaza constructed in the 2nd century by the Roman emperor Hadrian. A statue of the emperor himself once sat atop the column depicted on the map (in black). At the south (right) end of the Cardo were two large churches--the Church of Holy Sion and the New Church of St. Mary or Nea Church. The latter was probably the largest Christian church ever built in Jerusalem covering roughly the area of a modern football field. These churches are shown as large red-roofed buildings on the map.

Two other large churches are also shown. At the upper left, just below the Greek letters ICI, is the Church of the Sheep Pool, built over the pool with the five porticoes mentioned in the 5th chapter of the Book of John. A little to the right of the church is a street ending at the Sheep Gate.

The jewel of Byzantine Jerusalem was the Church of the Resurrection, or, as it is known today, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is depicted at the center of the Madaba Map just below the Cardo. Shown upside down on the map are the steps, a three-door entrance to a red-roofed basilica, and a separate domed structure.

Parts of the Byzantine Cardo were excavated by archaeologists working in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem in the mid-1970s and a short section has been reconstructed. Partial remains of Hadrian's Gate have been excavated beneath today’s Damascus Gate. The two main north-south streets of today's Old City, El-Wad Road and Suq Khan Ez-Zeit, still split just inside the Damascus Gates as shown on the map, and follow the lines of the two ancient streets.

Two sections of the Nea Church foundation walls have been excavated in the Jewish Quarter and parts of the foundation of the Church of Holy Sion are visible from inside the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion. Some remains of the Church of the Sheep Pool can be seen in the excavations of the Pool of Bethesda next to St. Anne’s Church in the Muslim Quarter. And finally, parts of the foundation and lower walls of the Church of the Resurrection can still be seen in today’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

All of these archaeological remnants of Byzantine Jerusalem, along with archaeological remains dating back to the middle of the second millenium BC, plus churches, mosques and other buildings from the post-Byzantine periods, can be seen on a visit to the Old City.

You are invited to take a virtual tour of Jerusalem by visiting my Exploring the Holy Land web page. You'll find 19th Century views of Jerusalem, you can take a virtual walk through Hezekiah's Tunnel, you can explore the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and much more. Stop by for a visit.

* Madaba Map courtesy Franciscan Cyberspot

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