Making Mosaics in Madaba, Jordan

I adore mosaics. Any time during my travels that I found there is a mosaic nearby, I go see it. This ancient form of art dating back to the 3rd Century B.C. sure can’t be found anywhere in my modern-day home country of the United States, but happily I see mosaics frequently amidst the thousands-of-years-old sights of the Middle East.

While traveling through Jordan earlier this year, I stopped in the Christian town of Madaba, located near the Dead Sea, south of the capital city of Amman. This town of approximately 50,000 is home to mosaics from the Byzantine and Umayyad periods, including the famous Madaba Mosaic Map, which covers part of the floor of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George.

Portion of the Madaba Mosaic Map

The mosaic map originally consisted of over 2 million pieces and measured at 94 square meters. Fire, water and other ravages of time destroyed most of it, and although still quite large today, only about 25 percent of it remains. That’s the way it goes with ancient art and other sights, isn’t it?

Seeing the Madaba Mosaic Map was a highlight of my time in Jordan. But making an impromptu stop at the Madaba Art and Handicraft Center afterwards was an amazing treat. Here I saw mosaics in the making and learned a little about the process.

In a very general nutshell, mosaics are created by first breaking colored stone or ceramic into tiny, flat pieces.

Small rocks ready to be made into mosaics in Jordan

You then draw a design on a hard, flat surface.

A partially-complete mosaic

You glue the tiny pieces onto the hard surface and let them dry. At the mosaic center I visited, an extra step is taken to ensure a gorgeous product. The tiny bits of rock or ceramic are glued upside down onto a piece of cloth rather than onto the hard surface itself.

Man at a table in Madaba gluing a mosaic into place

A partially complete mosaic

After the pieces dry, the arrangement is flipped over and glued as one piece onto its final surface, where it will look beautiful forever. Voila! An incredible mosaic is born.

A mosaic at the Madaba Arts and Handicraft Center

Of course the process must be quite a lot more challenging than I’ve made it sound, but since I’ve never made a mosaic myself, this is what I know. Perhaps some day in the future one of these modern mosaics will be as famous as the ancient mosaics located in the Middle East today!

My trip to Jordan was sponsored by the Jordan Tourism Board, but all opinions are honestly my own.

14 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Gray says:

    Awesome! I’ve always wondered how mosaics were made. Kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but what if you don’t have a piece of stone that’s the right shape and size, you know? It’s got to take some crazy-mad talent to do this. How long does the whole process take?
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  2. Sabina says:

    Gray, I’m glad you liked this post. I’m sure the time it takes to create mosaics varies with each piece’s size and intricacy. Even the smaller ones, though, allowing time for the glue to dry and the pieces to set, must take many days at least.

  3. Felix says:

    Incredibly beautiful. Love to have one in my home.

  4. I love mosaics! That tree one is so beautiful, I can only imagine how many hours of work must have gone into its creation. Would love to take a workshop and experience in it one day.
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  5. truus says:

    Hello, I am Dutch ans I make mosaics myself. I can tell you it takes a long time.. For the pieces to be that small they cut them with special pliers. First they make the big stones smallers with a special chisel and hamer and then they use the pliers.. then the glue is also special.. because the cloth they use to glue it on has to come off again after they applied it to the surface it is staying on.. I’ve been to Masada and it is really astonishing to see what they make. It is an really old way to make the mosaic. They probably made the map the same way.. It’s the indirect method.. nowdays they glue the mosaic direct on the surface.. Most off the time.. but some people still use and prefer the “old”way.. Either way is good.. it’s just what you prefer.. But real beautifull!

  6. Sabina says:

    Aren’t they, Felix? I would too, actually.

  7. Sabina says:

    Aren’t they awesome, Ayelet? A workshop is an excellent idea. I might just do that myself.

  8. Sabina says:

    Hi Truus – thanks for commenting. I figured it would take a long time but didn’t quite realize all that is involved in the process. It’s interesting that you make mosaics yourself!

  9. Louella says:

    Yes, many days, and sometimes many weeks! If you don’t have the right size pieces they cut them with tile nippers or a hammer and hardie! And with stained glass they cut them with a glass cutter, its all quite fascinating, and I have to say, addicting! I know, I started making them about 4 years ago, I still love it deeply! Thanks for the article. Louella

  10. Louella says:

    Every little piece is touched, shaped and placed by the mosaic artist! Alot goes into a mosaic, It takes time, but the rewards are great, so many many pieces making up one whole! Its not hard to do, there are many books you can read the directions in and make one yourself! I promise you can do it and make something really neat, but one word of warning, its ADDICTING! Louella

  11. Steve says:

    That’s a shame that only 25% of the mosaic remains. It really bothers me when something from the past gets lost probably forever. Oh well, perhaps we should be grateful that something still remains at all though.

    I have to say that I didn’t realize so much went into the process of making a mosaic. That might be because I haven’t thought about it that much though. Seems like it would take a long time to make sure everything is down just right. It really is an interesting art form.
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  12. Sabina says:

    Steve, that’s true – it’s always a shame when the past is permanently lost. Mosaic making is quite complex, I’ve since learned from comments on this post. I only learned a bit about it while in Jordan.

  13. Sabina says:

    Hi Louella – thanks for letting me know. I think mosaic making would be quite challenging, but still fun.

  14. Sabina says:

    Louella, you must have a lot of patience. Those pieces you work with are so small! Take care and happy mosaic making :)

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