The ruins of Um Al-Rassas lie near the
Kings' Highway, 30 kilometers south east of Madaba, in a barren desert,
no longer the lush fertile terrain it was during the Roman rule, as
described by the Jewish historian of the time, Josephus. The biblical
name of this town, Kastron Mepha'at, is mentioned in Joshua 13:18 and in
The Roman fortress, originally a Nabatean city, is a square walled town
with very high walls supported by towers. A 15-meter tower stands in the
middle and has generated a much speculation on the purpose it served.
Some think it was a watch tower, but the fact that it had no stairs
leading down from the domed room at the very top and had carved crosses
on the walls supports the theory that it was home for a monk, a practice
common throughout the Middle East in the 5th century.
The area in and around Um Al-Rassas abounds with churches that have the
most magnificent works of mosaics. Inside the town walls are the ruins
of four churches, while there are 12 churches outside it. The two most
important are Byzantine churches of the 6th and 7th centuries that seem
to have been used well into the Islamic period. Both have complete and
well-preserved mosaic floors going back to the 6th century.
Some of the mosaics show the names of the main cities of the period from
both the east and the west banks of the Jordan. They include Hagia Polis
(Jerusalem), Neapolis (Nablus), Gaza, Philadelphia (Amman).