National stamp exhibition "Tabir 78"

  • Issue: April 1978
  • Designer: From the Madaba map
  • Sheet size: 112 x 77 mm

The Madaba mosaic map is the earliest representation of Eretz Israel yet discovered. Located in biblical Medeba -now the town of Madaba, east of the Jordan - it seems to have been laid some time between 560 and 565 CE, as part of the floor of a large Byzantine basilica.

Originally measuring about 24 by 6 metres and surrounded by a 75 centimetre wide scroll border, the Madaba map was orientated towards the church apse. It depicted the whole of biblical Palestine, reaching north to Hamat and Damascus, east to Rabbat Ammon and Petra, south to the Nile delta, and west to the Mediterranean. Jerusalem was its centre, the actual centre-point being the pillar shown immediately inside Damascus Gate - Jerusalem's northern gate - in Arabic, Bab el Amud, the Gate of the Pillar.

Drawn by a craftsman who knew the area well, and was familiar with both Old and New Testaments, this remarkable piece of work utilized no less than 2,300,000 tesserae in 16 different colours, and was skilfully fashioned to include the maximum amount of information.

Mountains are outlined in pastel-tinted cubes separated by black lines along the valleys, and water is indicated by blue and brown waves. Fish appear in the rivers, and ships on the Dead Sea, while palm trees symbolize the country's vegetation and deer and lions the animals of the land. Cities are marked by gates and battlements; smaller towns by an entry flanked by towers, and churches are distinguished by red roofs. Inscriptions - many of them quotations from the Bible - are generally written in black and legends of particular importance in red.

To make the picture more vivid, it was sketched as from a high point, rather like an aerial photograph, and emphasized walls, colonnaded streets, and the facades of public buildings. Various devices of perspective were employed to give a lively and attractive appearance, creating the first pictorial map ever found.

Following the Moslem conquest of this part of the world around 636 CE, the church apparently remained in use for perhaps a century, then it was abandoned and the Madaba pavement fell into oblivion. In 1884, when a new Greek Orthodox church was planned on the site, it was brought to the attention of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem, but no action was taken. During the process of construction much damage was done, and only in 18g6, with the building nearly completed, did scholars suddenly realize the implications of the map, and flocked to study and record it.

Despite the damage to the pavement, "Jerusalem" was left in its entirety, and many of its sixth century structures are still visible today. Among them are the Western Wall of the Temple enclosure; David's Tower, now part of the Citadel; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Basilica of the Nea, recently discovered in the Jewish Ouarter. Other places were also marked with their contemporary as well as their biblical names, making the Madaba map a true reflection of the Holy Land as it was during Byzantine times.

Disintegration gradually continued, and recently it was feared that the mosaic was in danger of obliteration. However, in 1966 a team of West German experts cleaned and reset this unique masterpiece, preserving it for future generations.

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National stamp exhibition "Tabir 78"