Umm ar-Rasas



Location: South- East of Madaba      Map


Description of Umm ar- Rasas


Umm ar- Rasas is an ancient archeological site in the Amman Governorate in Jordan. It is one of the oldest cities in the region. It even was mentioned in the Old and New Testament. Umm ar- Rasas is particularly famous for Byzantine Christian churches that were built here in the late Antiquity/ Medieval Period. Due to its importance Umm ar- Rasas was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004. Umm ar- Rasas was found by the Roman legions in the first century AD to control important trading routes between land of Levant and Arabic Peninsula. Their traditional square shaped fortress is still visible today, although most of military defenses were quarried or damaged by the natural elements. Umm ar- Rasas reached its height during the Late Roman and Byzantine periods in the 5th- 7th centuries AD. Most of its twelfth Christian churches date back to this time.



One of the most significant and best preserved Christian churches in Umm ar- Rasas is a church of Saint Stephen. It was constructed in 785 AD in the North- East corner of the city. While columns and walls were largely removed by local residents and reused in the construction of other buildings, mosaic that covers the floor of the church was left virtually untouched. Today it is the largest ancient mosaic ever found in Jordan.


One of the panels portray scenes of hunting and fishing as well as animals and plants. Several panels depicts various important cities found in the region including Areopolis (Ar- Rab), Belomunta (Ma'an), Caesarea, Jerusalem (marked as a "Holy City"), Madaba, Esbounta (Heshbon), Karak, Nablus, Philadelphia (Amman), Gaza, Alexandria and many others. In total there are names of 8 cities in modern day Israel, 10 cities in Jordan and another 10 in Egypt. Walls were also covered by intricate panels with mosaics that were partially preserved. Eastern part of Saint Stephen Church housed a memorial dedicated to prophet Moses.


Umm ar- Rasas was conquered by the Muslim armies around 636 AD. Although Christians were allowed to stay in the city, their numbers began to dwindle. Eventually they left the city and Christian churches were abandoned. Stones that made up their structure were quarried for other purposes.


Tower of Umm ar- Rasas stands less than 2 km from the city walls of the city. It is hard to say what was the purpose of the building, but it was most likely used to send signals to defenders back in home town. At a height of 15 meters it is visible for kilometers in all directions. One peculiar aspect of the tower is that it had no doors or visible internal staircase. The purpose of the tower, how was it accessed and why was it build here is still somewhat of a mystery. Today it became a home to flocks of birds that nest here.