Madaba, Jordan, sits astride the ancient path known as the King’s Highway. The city itself sprawls this way and that from the slopes of an ancient tell. The highest point of the city is topped by a church dedicated to the Martyrdom of John the Baptist. For some, the memory of John is reason enough for a visit. My focus, however, is the bell tower. The tower is visible for miles and miles around. Obviously if one could climb it, it would be the best place from which to get the “big picture” of the region. But is it possible?
I walk into the church, past (some very sober) paintings of John the Baptist looking up at the axe of the executioner. There, in the quiet shadows, I find a man sweeping the floor. I ask if it is possible to climb the bell tower? No problem. He unlocks a door, points up and smiles. Up and up and up I go, squeezing through the bells on a metal scaffold. I know there is going to be a mass in less than one hour; I can’t help but think of (1) Quasimodo, (2) swinging steel, and (3) the bells of Notre Dame!
Once between and above the bells, I crawl out of the tower onto the ledge that circles the tower exterior. It has a protective rail, but the walkway/ledge is barely a foot and a half wide. I grimace and crawl on all fours. It takes a minute to relax. Breath deep. Feel the wind. Take it in. It is a beautiful view if you look out; just don’t look down!
I sit and contemplate those who have passed this way: Israelites leaving the desert. Spice traders. Crusaders in retreat. The pilgrim hojjaj. Their tracks are covered with asphalt and concrete, but they are here nonetheless. Look northeast toward Amman.
And south, following the path of the King’s Highway toward Libb, Dhiban, the Wadi Mujib and beyond. Beautiful!