Sunday, November 25, 2012

International Adventures: A Visit to Mt. Nebo

The street I live on, one of the busiest in Madaba and only about 500 meters from what seems to be the busiest intersections in town, is know as Talal Street. Alternatively it is known as Mt. Nebo road, because if you proceed northwest out of town on the road after about 9 Km you arrive at Mt. Nebo. The trip takes about 15 minutes; for Moses it took 40 years.

Mt. Nebo is said to be the location where Moses got his glimpse of the Promised Land. He died there (or near enough to there) and Joshua led the people into the Promised Land. On a clear day, you can see Jericho across the Jordan Valley and the hills that lead up to Jerusalem.

The Franciscan Custos Pro Terra Sancta have been responsible for the monastery and churches at Mt. Nebo since the 1930s. They are, at present, involved in a very ambitious project to keep the old chuch and its amazing mosaic floors preserved.

At the entrance to the Mt. Nebo complex, there is a large sculpture that looks like a monument to the Old Testament to me. On most of those dark tiles are the names of the individuals and organizations that have contributed to the restoration work here and there are many.

Approximate translation of the Latin = One God, Father of All, Over all. This monument was put up during the Jubilee Year in 2000, the same year Diane and Tom took the Blessed Sacrament pilgrims to Rome for World Youth Day.

Faces of the Old Testament?
 And all the books of the Old Testament as well.

From this angle it looks like a big book.

Madaba was, in the period from about 500-700 A.D., a great center of mosaic art. All over town there are mosaic floors in churches, private houses, etc. The first known map of the Holy Land is preserved in a church in the center of Madaba. I can see the church from my bedroom window. That mosaic was done in about 600 more or less. The churches at Mt. Nebo were similarly decorated with mosaics and they are quite amazing. I'll show pictures momentarily.

Because they are building a structure to preserve the original church, it isn't possible to see the mosaics there, but they have put together a few exhibits. The first one you encounter is housed in a very large tent. The floor is probably 20 feet by 10 feet and is quite amazing both in overall concept and in detail. Here, take a look:

The detail in this floor is amazing. The colors and patterns in the borders, usually the least interesting part, are stunning.

The ability of those mosaicists was incredible.

When you leave the tent, you are at the entrance to a little museum where some really fine small mosaics, as well as a wide variety of other artifacts, are displayed. There is also a good amount of expository writing telling the story of Mt. Nebo through the ages.

A 1,250 year old inscription. When you work in stone, you are doing art for the ages!

The  mosaic above looks so regular, almost uninteresting, except for the marvelous use of color. When you take a closer look at it, though, it is quite amazing. All of those straight lines and patterns are composed from individual tesserae (the small chips of stone that compose a mosaic) that are anything but regular. The image below is now the wallpaper on my laptop.

 Not sure what this Greek inscription is all about, but the artistry of its composition is amazing. I loved the details in the corners.

From the museum, you walk outside and move out to the viewpoint that Moses had of the Promised Land.

The views above and below are looking to the northwest from the edge of Mt. Nebo. That's the hills of Israel and the West Bank in the distance.That area of green running through the middle is the Jordan River, which is neither deep nor wide.

Thankfully, they installed a plaque that gives some idea of what you are looking at and about how far away it is. Jerusalem is only 46 Km away; at night you can see its lights from here.

The road you see snaking down through the hills is the road Diane and I arrived on when we came to Madaba in April 2012. I wish I had my Roadster here!

When you turn around from the viewpoint you see a large cross in commemoration of Moses (the episode when he made a cross of a serpent to save the Israelites who had been bitten by deadly snakes).

As I said earlier, the Franciscan Custos is working on an ambitious project to preserve the original church and its mosaic floors. Here are some views of the project.

 Above is the west end of the church structure.

At the moment, you can just barely see the outline of what's left of the original chuch among all the scaffolding, fencing, etc.

  This is the southeast corner of the structure.

 A close up of the southeast corner.

The east end of the structure. I think it's going to look pretty cool when it is finished.

On March 20,2000, Pope John Paul II visited Mt. Nebo. At that time he planted an olive tree for the restoration of peace and it has been growing since then.
 That's what a well cared for 12 year old olive tree looks like. There are specimens that I have seen in Israel and the West Bank that are hundreds, if not over a thousand, of years old.

I have always loved stone work. Here in the Mediterranean lands, they have elevated stone work to high art. I was amazed to look at this column and it's base bas relief carved out of a solid block of stone.

Wood in this area is precious because trees don't grow anywhere near as large here as they do elsewhere in the world. As a result, they build with stone. Take a look at this round stone door.

Don't believe it was a door?  Take a look at a closeup of the plaque to the left.

Well, I had done the tour of Mt. Nebo. No mystical revelations or holy visions, but it was a nice place to go on a Friday, one of my two days off each week. I visited Mt. Nebo on November 10 and that's when all of these pictures were taken.

Time to leave and head back to Madaba. Lookiing east and a little south you can see the outskirts of Madaba on the hills in the distance.


Nardpants said...

I'm jealous of your background picture...hmmm...I think I'll search through my old images and do something similar. Also, I'm sure the Roadster wishes is was there too, despite the sand storms. However, Francis and I are making sure it gets exercise regularly. I drove to school with the top down and the heater blasting yesterday. It was delightful!

And now I need to get back to my regularly scheduled program of math readings.

Keep up the great work, Dad!

Kristin said...

This is amazing, Jim! It will take a long time to read through all the posts, but thank you so much for writing such an in-depth blog about your journey out there. Beautiful pictures, great stories.

These are the things that interest me. If any of them are of interest to you, great. Read along


About Me

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I'm currently 60 years old. I currently work as the learning management system specialist for American University of Madaba in Madaba, Jordan. I was originally certified as a high-school English teacher and taught school for 13 years (1 year of substituting, 1 year of 7th grade, 2 years of a combined 5th, 6th, 7th grade, 9 years of 8th grade). I've worked for hardware and software companies for the past 23 years doing training, training materials development, certification test development and other education related stuff. My wife and I have raised four children to adulthood; some of them live at home at the moment, but that won't last (they're too independent for that). We live at home with 2 Golden Retrievers, 2 black cats, a crazy cat, and, during the winter, 70,000 coho salmon.