Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a)

Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a)

Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a)
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4.0
214 reviews
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FDM
Birmingham, AL57 contributions
May 2023
On a 4-day trip to Jordan with another American couple, our amazing guide, Dr. Sami Alhasanat of Jordan Inspiration Tours, took us on a short detour to Umm-Ar-Rasas. And we are so glad he did. This is the site of a huge complex of 5th century Byzantine churches located just off the King's Highway in central Jordan. It is currently an active archaeological excavation and a UNESCO world heritage site. The mosaics on the floors of St Stephen's church are exquisite. We strongly recommend a visit to this hidden gem.
Written 21 May 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

CasaRoscoe
Ottawa, Canada236 contributions
Mar 2023 • Couples
Um er-Rasis is a site once occupied by the Romans, and later by Christian and Islamic communities, but now a ruin with little else nearby. It is a sprawling UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with church ruins and numerous arches, but its most spectacular aspect are the mosaics of the 8th Century Church of St. Stephen. A protective shelter, open on all four sides, has been built over the extremely well-preserved mosaics, and sophisticated metal walkways allow them to be seen from above.
Written 23 March 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

LegalRover
Jordan6,319 contributions
Aug 2022
Umm ar-Rasas (also known as Kastrom / Kastron Mefa’a) is a UNESCO site about 30 km (~19 miles) south of Madaba along the King’s Hwy (Route 35). It is home to stunning mosaics depicting images from the Byzantine era. The Roman military used the site as a strategic military post. In the 5th century, it was settled by Christian pilgrims which explains the predominance of churches. Later, the area was conquered by Muslim armies, and most of the structures were either destroyed or remodeled. On initial glance, the area looks like piles of rock. It wasn’t until 1986 that excavation of the site began with at least 80-85% not completed. There are many churches and dwellings that still need to be excavated. The biggest draw to this site is the mosaics in the covered shelter of the Church of Saint Stephen, the Lions Church 3 arches, and the fact this site houses the largest intact mosaic in Jordan, to date (they are still excavating!) If you walk off the marked path into one of the structures that looks like it may have been a church or dwelling, you need to be careful that you do not step on an uncovered mosaic.

As you are walking at the start of the dirt path, you will find the Islamic Cemetery to your right. The two times I have been, the fence was not open so we were unable to walk inside to look at the grave sites. Continue walking and you can get closer to several of the marked sites: Priest Wa’il Church, Tabula Church, and Madkhar Reliquary Church. The latter is very large and just looks like piles of rocks with a few arches interspersed throughout the rock-bounded area. You will also pass by the Villa, Peacock Chapel, Twins Church, and Lions Church. Be careful because the remains of some of these structures are underground. You will see holes that signify the top of the structure (wide enough for a body to fall through); site staff attempt to mark these holes with large rocks around them. You can either look down into the hole or walk around so that you can go inside (the “entrance” isn’t marked and not easily seen from the path). Also, if you get up close to the remaining walls of the structures, you will find some blankets on the ground covered in sand. Unbelievably enough, these are to protect the mosaics that are readily exposed to the elements. If you peel back the blanket, you will see the mosaic. It is best to stay on the designated trail so as not to do any damage. You will then walk by Church of Saint Paul which has the infamous arches you see on location websites.

The Church of Saint Stephen dates to 785. Saint Stephen Complex is a roof-enclosed area that protects the uncovered mosaics that were in the church. The mosaics are remarkable; intricately detailed. There are catwalks so that you can view the mosaics from different angles. The broad nave is framed by mosaic panels showing cities like Jerusalem, Nablus, Asqalan, and Gaza. On the far side you have seven Transjordanian cities: Kastron/Kastrom Mefa’a, Philadelphia, Madaba, Hesban, Ma’in, Rabba, and Karak. You have lots of scenes of fishermen and marine life as well as wildlife (animals, fruits, trees). An important note: many of the images were defaced by iconoclasts. It is debated whether this occurred as a result of an internal Christian reform or if it was forced upon them by the Muslims during the Islamic Period. Discovery of these mosaics depicting daily life gave archeologists proof that this site is the biblical city of Kastrom / Kastron Mefa’a.

While there has been a lot of progress uncovering these mosaics, there is at lot more that needs to be done on the Umm ar-Rasas site as a whole. Other than the Saint Stephen Complex, it requires a lot of imagination to get a sense of how the area must have looked. It took about 36 years to get this far. I speculate it will be about another 20-35 years for the entire area to be uncovered. According the guy at the Visitors Center, UNESCO ran out of money which is why the excavation efforts stopped a number of years ago.

The Saint Stephen Complex may seem like the finale, but wait, there’s more! About 1 km away from the ruins, there is a stylite tower (Burj Sam’an) that is about 15 m high (~43 feet). You can walk to this structure but most people drive. Archaeologists say the structure is solid with no internal staircase but it is odd how there is a room at the top with windows on all 4 sides. Some historians say it served as a platform for Christian ascetics living in isolation at the top as well as an altar for a call to prayer (how did they get up there????) Actually, they would be pulled up in a basket but then that begs the question “how did the first person get up there?” It is believed at one point, there was a church at the foot of the tower with cisterns and a building close by, believed to house pilgrims. These no longer exist.

To get to Umm ar-Rasas you can drive south from Madaba on Kings Hwy (Route 35) until Dhiban where a sign will lead you east to Umm ar-Rasas about 16 km away. If you are approaching from the south heading north, simply arrive in Dhiban from Route 35 and turn right. The turn off to Umm ar-Rasas is well-signposted. https://goo.gl/maps/p5VYiTMj5UpZ7jD17 The entire drive is about 49 km and takes just over one hour, depending from where in Madaba you start. You will need to drive slower than usual because there are lots of small towns / settlements along the road.

If you are interested in public transportation, we were told by a local supermarket owner that local buses run a few times daily from Madaba to Umm ar-Rasas via Nitil. I can’t confirm if this is still the case, but sharing if anyone is interested in looking into it further. JETT bus does not go to Umm ar-Rasas.

The fee at the Visitors Center is 2 JD for non-Jordanians. On the couple of occasions I visited I didn’t pay – we were the only ones there and were just waived through by the ranger who was hanging out outside the VC. We were not approached by anyone but there were a couple of men sitting just outside the VC gate near the parking lot. They looked like tour guides. If you can hire one, I would recommend it unless you read up on the site like we did before visiting. I do not remember the winter hours but the summer hours are 8 AM to 6 PM. With so much history and beautiful mosaics, it is a shame you won’t find many travelers visiting Umm ar-Rasas – very likely to have the place to yourself.
Written 20 January 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Madalyn H
Huddersfield, UK1,902 contributions
Nov 2022
An interesting site with both Roman and Byzantine ruins. Little has been excavated and signage is very scant. Exploring is great fun - but you need some appreciation/context to what you may be seeing.
Written 24 November 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

GeneralShamu
New York City, NY1,114 contributions
Sept 2022
Very interesting ruins but sadly not yet restored enough to fully appreciate it. Definitely worth visiting but don't expect to be able to find a guide or anything to explain anything to you (at least when we were there there was no one, granted we arrived ~16:00).
Written 7 October 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

annewa2017
Sunny Isles Beach, FL119 contributions
May 2022
This was an unexpected stop on our tour of Jordan and worth every second. The ruins are spread over a wide area and there is a nice amount of walking to get to the church, where there are fabulous mosaics. There is no shade until you get to the church so be mindful of when you visit. The paths are marked my rugged.
Written 25 June 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Marjolein A
Rotterdam, The Netherlands1,433 contributions
May 2022 • Couples
Small but nicely developed site. Did a very good job with the construction so you can see the tile floors. Worth a visit when on the road
Written 23 May 2022
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Jordan Travel Mates
Amman, Jordan8 contributions
Dec 2021 • Business
Um Al-Rasas was discovered recently, it is a very important place to show the world the truth about the past.. The place is not yet worked but the small part discovered will amazes you the tremendous amount of mosaic still covered with sand is much more than what was cleared
I think this place will be more important than Jarash..
Written 16 December 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

abroadwithashley
Minneapolis, MN1,444 contributions
Dec 2020
A UNESCO site that we really loved visiting. Most of the site is still unexcavated, so you can live out your Indian Jones dream by digging out ancient mosaics in many of the ancient churches that are still semi-buried. One church IS fully unearthed and the mosaics that were buried there are some of the most immense and intricate we have ever seen. It’s impossible to miss them as they are housed under the only modern structure on site. Throughout our time at the site, we kept wishing that more of it was excavated, but money is short right now, and hopefully in the future they’ll be able to pull back time to see what other wonders Umm Ar-Rasas holds. We can’t wait.
Written 25 January 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Linda Y
Frisco, TX5,665 contributions
Jan 2020
Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, Um er-Rasas is about 35 minutes south of Madaba. This ancient site dates to the 3rd century and spans six centuries of Roman, Byzantine, and early Islamic history. There is a Visitor Center with facilities and a small pamphlet that describes the site. Once you get past the Visitor Center, you’ll be greeted by a field of ruins, overgrown and in many places covered with trash, but complete with identifying signs. Unfortunately, it appears that excavating and maintaining the site is a low priority, astonishing for a UNESCO site. The saving grace is the mosaic floor of the Church of St Stephen dating to 785 and considered one of the largest in Jordan. The church is in ruins, but thankfully the structure is covered, and the mosaics are visible via an elevated walkway. There are other mosaics scattered throughout the site; unprotected so who knows how long they will last. I visited with a guide and it was like a treasure hunt to see what we could find. The Byzantine (Stylite) Tower is visible in the distance; too far of a walk so we drove. Admission to Um er-Rasas is included in the Jordan Pass. There are other Jordanian sites that have mosaics in better condition, but if you have a few hours to spare and like exploring, you’ll enjoy a stop here. Wear sturdy shoes and be prepared to walk. By the way, we were the only ones (I doubt the tour buses stop here).
Written 31 March 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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Um er-Rasas (Kastrom Mefa'a), Madaba

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