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The Roman Sites of North Tunisia

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Introduction

We visited Tunisia in Spring 2012, just after the Jasmine Revolution.

This trip report just concentrates on the Roman sites we visited in the northern part of Tunisia and complements the trip report covering the north of Tunisia. A separate report covers the south of Tunisia

Tunisia was regarded as the bread basket of the Roman Empire, and Roman remains can be found all over the north of the country. Most sites have never been properly excavated and little is known about them.

The guide books feature the main sites but there are many other places scattered around the countryside which don’t get a mention in the books and there may be little or no information on the web. Some may be marked on maps, others we discovered by chance. Most have no guardian and you can wander round freely, with just a few sheep for company.

Typical of many of these unmarked Roman remains is this monumental arch standing near the road on a drive between Elles Tombs and Maktar.

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List of Roman sites covered in this report
#2 Abthungi
#3 Ain Tounga
#4 & #5 Bulla Regia
#6 Chemtou
#7 Dougga
#8 & #9 El Jem
#10 Gightis
#11 & #12 Haidra
#13 & #14 Maktar
#15 & #16 Sufetula
#17 Thuburbo Majus
#18 Zaghouan
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Abthugni - an undiscovered site

Abthugni (or Abthugnos) is a good example of an undiscovered Roman site, which we visited from Ksar Ezzit. In conversation we had mentioned we had enjoyed visiting the different Roman sites earlier in the trip, so they offered to show us some around the area, before visiting Zaghouan (#18).

The ruins are about 56 miles south of Tunis near the modern village of Henchir es-Souar. This is one of a small series of settlements built above the road on the spring line. This is a very fertile area dominated by the foothills of the Djebel Zaghdoud. There are few houses scattered across the landscape and a small school next to the Roman ruins, which we shared with a flock of sheep and their shepherd.

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The city was founded in the C3rd BC. It became a major settlement and was of sufficient importance to become a bishopric in the C4th until the C7th with the arrival of the Islamic armies.

The site is dominated by the capitol building reached up a flight of steps from the forum.

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It isn’t possible to identify the function of the other remains.

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We shared the site with a flock of sheep and their shepherd.

The site was partially excavated in the C19th. In 2019, the ruins became part of an archaeological project which will help preserve them and hopefully find out more about the site.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Aïn Tounga - Ignored by the guide books and with few tourists

Aïn Tounga receives few visitors. The remains are unsigned along a rough track behind the small settlement of Aïn Tounga. There is no ticket office and the site hasn’t been excavated, although there is a guardian, who was delighted to see visitors and accompanied us showing us the main sites. They are in a delightful setting among the olive trees with goats and sheep grazing.

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The remains of an impressive C6th Byzantine fortress stand to nearly its full height with corner towers. Inside is a mass of overgrown masonry.

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Behind the fortress are the ruins of the Roman town of Thignica scattered over the hillside. A large archway leads to the market area lined with shops along the roadway. The walls are standing 3’ high in places. We could see the remains of wells and cisterns and evidence of underground living rooms.

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There isn’t a lot left of the capitol building.

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There are the remains of a large theatre with semicircular walls still standing, but little left inside.

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There is a second temple complex next to what is described as the summer baths.

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Apart from a woman looking after a few sheep, we had the site to ourselves and really enjoyed wandering around. It is well worthwhile finding.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Bulla Regia - don’t miss the underground houses

Bulla Regia is in a lovely setting in a very fertile wheat growing area surrounded by mountains.

The area has been settled since the C5th BC when Carthage began to develop the Medjerda valley as a wheat growing area. After the fall of Carthage, it became the capital of one of the Numidian Kingdoms which was tolerated by Rome. It became part of the Roman Empire in C1st AD. The present remains date from the C2-3rd.

It was a prosperous city as it provided wheat, grains, grapes and olives to the rest of the Empire. Italian agriculture was devastated by the Second Punic War and social uprisings during the last years of the Republic and relied on its African colonies to meet the demand for wheat and olive oil as it was only 3-5 sailing days from Rome’s main port of Ostia. This part of Tunisia had fairly reliable winter rains, mild frost free springs and plenty of summer sun. There are the remains of a Byzantine Fort and the town was abandoned in C7th after the Arab conquest.

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The ruins are laid out on terraces on the steep slopes of Djebel Rebia (647m) overlooking the plain. Only 25%of the site has been excavated. It is unique as buildings were partially constructed underground as a protection against the fierce heat of the sun in the summer and cold winters. Many of the underground houses are well preserved and still have mosaics in situ. Seven have been excavated.

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There is a small ticket office with museum and cafe across the road from the site. To the left of the entrance is a row of massive cisterns which fed the Memmian Baths.

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The baths are massive with walls standing to nearly their full height and a splendid portico to the north. The rooms along the east and west walls were gymnasia. There is a changing room with Frigidarium (cold bath) in the middle of the building. In the south east corner is the Cauldarium (Hot bath) with a small steam bath off. There is little left inside the building apart from the walls.

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The road from the Memmian baths leads to the Treasure House, so called because a cache of C7th Byzantine coins was found here. It is the first of the underground houses. Access to the underground rooms was shut when we visited to protect the mosaics and we had to admire them from above. We could see the pipes which were used in the construction of the walls to increase insulation.

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Cont....
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Bulla Regia continued...

Beyond this along the road are the remains of two small C6th Christian Basilicas. One still has the remains of a baptistry with some nice mosaics around it.

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The road leads to the main residential area.

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The House of Fishing is the oldest house.

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The House of the New Hunt is huge with a large courtyard with pillars and baths at ground floor level. Steps to the underground rooms were also closed off as the mosaics were being restored.

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We then got picked up by an old man who was hovering around the site and took us to the House of Amphitrite at the edge of the excavated site and showed us the way down into the underground courtyard with pillars There are three main rooms with two smaller chambers. The mosaics had been dampened to show off the colours of the tesserae. One had a beautiful head of Neptune in the centre and another showed Venus flanked by two centaurs. Below are two figures described as Cupid both riding a dolphin. One is holding a mirror. Below different sorts of fishes are swimming in the sea. With the eye of faith the remains of plaster can be seen on the walls.

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On the way back to the forum we passed the Nymphaeum which provided the water for the town. The spring is still in use today and there is a large pool which is popular with the local youths for swimming. Where the spring crosses the road, local women were busy washing clothes.

Apart from the large paved square, there is little left of the Forum area and only the foundations of the Capitol survive. Beyond are the remains of the theatre but again little survives of this apart from the outside walls and tiered seating.

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A well worthwhile visit.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Chemtou Roman Quarries

Chemtou was the source of the golden pink veined marble prized throughout Roman World.

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The industry supported a sizeable town with a large forced labour camp to the north east and there is a picture in the museum showing the town with the quarries scattered over the hills.

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The river was deemed to be an unsuitable water source so an aqueduct brought in water from the north. A few remaining pillars can still be seen.

There were up to 20,000 men working in the quarries. Many were convicted criminals who had the choice of being thrown to the animals in the amphitheatre, working in the quarries or working in the mines. Working in the mines gave slightly better odds of survival. There was a large settlement of old soldiers who oversaw the work and helped keep order.

Blocks cut to standard sizes were marked with name of reigning emperor, the proconsul for Africa, quarry supervisor and a reference number.

Originally the blocks were hauled on rollers to Oued Medjerda and floated downstream across Tunisia to the port of Utica on barges. The river began to silt up making transport difficult, so the first recorded road was built under Hadrian to Tabarka and the marble shipped out from there. The quarries worked until the Arab invasion in the C7th. There was some reworking during C19th.


The quarries are now huge gashes in the hillside. The road to the museum runs through them and gives good views of the pinkish orange cliffs. There is little left of the settlement. A few remaining pillars from the aqueduct can be seen along the road to Chentou.

There are the remains of the paved street which took Marble to the Oued.

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There are remains of buttresses and some arches of the bridge across the Oued.

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Next to the bridge are the remains of the water turbines which were used to grind grain. The water channels can still be seen.

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Very little of the site has been excavated and it is overgrown with vegetation. You can see assorted bits of masonry standing up around the site but it is not always easy to work out what they are. A farm track leads to the hillside surrounded by ruined walls.

One of the largest buildings left standing is the theatre. The outside walls and underground arches supporting the tiers are still visible but the seats have gone. The steps to the stage are still visible.

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The remains of the municipal baths can be seen on the hillside.

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There is a large museum on the site. Labels are in Arabic, French and German although there is a leaflet in English which gives information about the history of the site and has a map of the museum and site. The first room contains information about the Numidians who settled here before the Romans. There is some information about farming and way of life as well as a display of coins.

Another room has a display of Chemtou marble with examples of the different colours and patterns. There is information about quarrying and a model showing how the stones were lifted.

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The final room has a display about the Roman colony which includes a lot of carved tomb stones and a working model of the water turbines.

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Chemtou is near to the Algerian Border and a long way from the major Roman sites of Thuburbo Majus, Dougga and El Jem. Few tourists make it this far but it can be combined with a trip to Bulla Regis. It was interesting to see the quarries but I wouldn’t rank it as one of most important sites on our itinerary and it can be missed out.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Dougga - a massive site which gets a lot of visitors

Dougga is built on top of a hill and dominates the fertile valley below.

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It is a World Heritage Site and has been described as the best preserved small town in Northern Africa. It has had a long history of settlement from the C4th BC when it was under the control of Carthage. By the C2nd it was the regional economic and administration centre for the area. Families continued to live among the ruins until the 1950s when they were relocated. There is still a small farm in the north eastern part of the site near the Ain Mizeb cisterns.

To do justice to the site you need to allow 3-4 hours. We didn’t have a lot of time to visit, so decided to concentrate on the theatre, cisterns and capitol areas. Being close to Tunis it does get busy with tourists and gets many coach tours. These move through fairly quickly so if you have the time to let them move through, you can avoid the worst of the crowds.

There is a large car park beside he ticket office, toilets, small reception area with basic cafe and shop selling a selection of dog eared postcards and a few books.

We started off with the theatre which is the first building you see as you enter the site. It is a massive structure with a semi circle of 19 tiers of seats rising above the stage. These have been cut into the slope of the hill to increase stability. At the base of the seats is the semicircular orchestra with the stage above. The massive columns at the back of the stage survive and make for dramatic photographs. The theatre has been extensively restored and is used for performances during the summer months.

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We lost the crowds as we followed the farm track up through the olives to the Aïn Mizeb cisterns near the farm. These were the main water supply for the town. The area was rather untidy as it was being used for general storage by the farm. Two cisterns were barricaded off.

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We then dropped down a path through olive trees underplanted with wheat, past the remains of a small temple, to Arch of Severus Alexander and Aïn el Hamman cisterns which had lost their roof. This meant you could see the internal structure. There were separate compartments which restricted the loss of water if one part was damaged. It also meant cleaning and repairs could be carried out without loss of water supply.

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Near by are the impressive ruins of the Temple of Juno Caelestis with columns and the remains of a semicircular row of columns behind.

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Apart from a group of Tunisian women and children picnicking we were the only tourists in this part of the site. The children were fascinated by the sight of foreign tourists and there was much calling of ‘bon soir, hello…’ They wanted to know our names and told us theirs.

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The capitol is a splendid building on a raised platform reached by a steep flight of steps. The walls still stand 10m high and were built using large upright stones to provide strength and support with smaller stones between them; a style know as Opus Africanum. The columns support the portico with a much eroded carving of Antonius Pius being carried off by and eagle.

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There is little left of the forum as the stones were robbed for the construction of a C6th Byzantine fort, but only traces of this are left. Place de la Rose des Vents is a large paved area which was built as an extension to the forum. Adjacent to it is the market area with the remains of stalls.

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Place de la Rose des Vents is a large paved area which was built as an extension to the forum. Adjacent to it is the market area with the remains of stalls.

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The rest of the town drops away from the forum and is a mass of remains of walls of houses with walls standing 3-4’ high and streets.

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At the bottom of the site is the Libyo-Punic Mausoleum which looked a long way below and a steep climb back up in the afternoon heat.

Dougga is a most impressive site and fully deserves its World Heritage status. It does need plenty of time to explore. We had copies of the plan and details of the walking tour from Lonely Planet and found they gave enough information to explore the site by ourselves. Guides are available but after listening to one of them, they are probably not worth paying for.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
El Jem - The Amphitheatre

El Jem with its amazing Amphitheatre and first rate Museum displaying mosaics found in the area is a ‘must see’ on all tourist itineraries and rightly so. The ticket covers entry to both. Allow at least 90 minutes each and don’t miss the remains of the older amphitheatres across the road from the museum.

By the C3rd the Roman city of Thysdrus was the richest city in North America at the centre of a network of roads distributing goods between the coast and the interior. It was an important centre for manufacture and export of olive oil. The remains of the amphitheatre reflect this wealth and status. It was the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman World. It was a major undertaking to build as the stone quarries were 30km away. Although some of the stone was robbed for building and part of the walls destroyed in 1850 when the forces of the Bey put down a rebellion against rebels based in the amphitheatre, it remains an impressive building.

We knew it was big but didn’t realise just how big. It dominates the whole of the town. It had a capacity of 43,000 which was more than the total population of El Jem and people from the surrounding area would travel to watch the games.

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Av Habib Bourguiba, the main street in El Jem leads to the Amphitheatre. The 10’ high metal railing surrounding the site pale into insignificance.

The ticket office is a wooden hut and there are a few tourist shops inside the perimeter fence. There was a sign advertising audioguides in different languages but when we asked about them the ticket office just said ‘closed’.

The outside of the amphitheatre is made of two separate walls linked by rough arches.

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Much of the original rough masonry between the two which would have supported the tiers of seats has gone.

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There are two big ceremonial entrances with smaller entrances giving access to the different areas of seating. Part still stands to five tiers of arches round the outside.

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Steps lead down into the underground passageways with chambers where gladiators, charioteers, animals and victims waited their turn.

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Two sloping passages from the basement allowed gladiators and animals to be brought into the galleries below the arena. The square holes in the arena beside the central passage way contained and elaborate system of lifts which hoisted the animals in cages into the arena which could be opened safely using pulleys from below.

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Two tiers of seats have been reconstructed where the outer walls were destroyed in 1850. These are accessed by walkways through the walls and stairs.

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The lowest seats nearest the action were for the elite and were separated by upright slabs of marble from the seats above.

The seats around the rest of the arena no longer exist although it is possible to walk along the arched passageways through the walls which gave access to the seats. There are remains of the rough masonry which supported the different tiers. It is possible to see the small triangular marks left in the huge stone blocks by the clamps used to lift the stones into place. Steps inside the walls climb up to the different levels. There are good views out through the outer archways across El Jem.

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Near the museum are the remains of two older amphitheatres which are unsigned and forgotten. In 2012 there was a lot of building work going on in the area around them and piles of rubble had been dumped in the arena area. The older one was carved out of the side of a hill and it is still possible to see the remains of the seats in places. The masonry of the second one can still be seen, built over the remains of the first.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
El Jem - The Archaeological Museum

The Museum to the south of the town is housed in a splendid new building round two courtyards with rooms off. There are good toilets in the ticket area and a few rather tatty postcards for sale. The museum isn’t as large as the Bardo Museum in Tunis. All the mosaics have been found in the local area and rank equal with those on display in the Bardo. The picture mosaics are displayed on the walls of the courtyard and in the rooms.

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Some of these are huge and many are intact. On the floor are geometric design mosaics. Labels in Arabic, English and French give basic information about the pictures shown on the mosaics and their age.

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Many concentrate on scenes in the arena and Dionyses is a popular figure in many of them.

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There are a couple of plans showing the development of Roman Houses and display cases with samples of pottery, oil lamps etc.

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Part of a Roman villa has been reconstruction with a peristyle with a pool, water cistern, well and a huge dining room with columns and arches dividing it into three areas. It made you realise just how large some of the villas were.

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Outside the museum are the excavated remains of Roman villas arranged along streets. Some still have the remains of mosaics. Footprints guide you to the site but then stop. Low wires restrict access to the site and there are no labels.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Gightis - an undiscovered Roman site and a real gem

The little know Roman site of Ghightis is a few miles south of Jorj on the Gulf of Bou Grara. This is another place ignored by the guide books and I had seen it marked on the Rough Guide map. There is little information on the web. It was one of the highlights of the holiday. It was a glorious day with bright blue skies and Gulf of Bou Grara glinting in the sunshine. We had the site to ourselves as we wandered among the wild flowers discovering the different parts of it.

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When we visited in 2012, quite a bit of money had been spent by the government on the site in the last couple of years. The site was fenced off from the road and there was a modern building housing the ticket office with good toilets. A small building opposite was supposed to be a cafe, but had a kettle but not much else. There were some attractive framed photographs of Tunisia on the walls.

As there was no sign of the guardian we wandered in. It is an amazing site. Some parts have been excavated with some restoration. It covers a huge area and we kept finding isolated bits of ruins scattered around the landscape. There are a few labels in Arabic, French and English.

Being near the coast with fertile soils there was a good growth of low maritime vegetation when we visited with a lot of yellow dandelion type flowers and white ‘Mesembryanthemum crystallinum’ growing over bare rocks.

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There are lovely views down to the sandy beach with palm trees. Groups of women were collecting cockles out at sea.

There are the ruins of the baths and palaestra complex near the main entrance. It is difficult to make out what the different parts are but it did have good drains.

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Ahead is the forum, a large paved area with the remains of the Capitol temple at one end, reached by a flight of stairs but not much else left. Climb these for views of the site.

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Buildings round the other three sides include the treasury and several other temples/sanctuaries.

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Against the forum to the south are the remains of other buildings (?houses) with the remains of the central bathhouse beyond. Again it is difficult to work out the layout. There are the remains of mosaics and a cistern. Beyond this bits of unlabelled masonry could be seen appearing from the undergrowth.

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On the side opposite the capitol are the remains of an archway (with the stones of the top of the arch lying on the ground behind it) and a paved road leading to the beach. Beyond the arch there are the remains of another temple.

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The area had been settled by the Phoenicians and became busy Roman port exporting gold, ivory and slaves delivered by trans Saharan caravans. We walked down towards the beach but couldn’t see any remains of the port. Apparently a partially submerged row of stones marks the site of the jetty.

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This is a well worthwhile visit. It is a beautiful place and a good spot to drop out. Guardian said he got very few visitors and was lucky to get one a month. This is a great pity.
 
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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Haïdra - another little visited Roman site

Haïdra is well off the tourist beat and is a short distance from the Algerian border with ruins scattered across arid scenery. This is the start of the desert. The guide books described it as a ’lonely site and minimally excavated’. This is now out of date as work is being done to stabilise and restore parts of the ruins. The walls separating the stalls in the market area had been rebuilt in 2012 and still looked stark and new as they had not yet had time to weather into the scenery.

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This is an old Berber settlement on the trade route between Algeria and Tunisia. It was settled by the Romans in 75AD to suppress a rebellion by the Numidians. The Arch of Septimus Severus at the start of the town survives from this period. When the legions left the area was settle by veterans and the town grew as it became an important trading centre until the arrival of the Arabs in the C7th.

The site is dominated by the huge Byzantine Fort which was built in the C6th and is claimed to be the largest in Africa. Its walls still stand 15m high and there are defensive towers built along the walls. There are several gateways into the fort.

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Inside is a jumbled mass of stones with the remains of a chapel and church on one of the side walls.

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We drove down to the river to take pictures of the fort and then returned to park on the main street as our driver was worried about leaving us alone as the local kids could be intimidating. Later we did walk down to one of the gateways by ourselves but realised a group of local kids loitering around the fort were approaching us. We weren’t sure how menacing they were but decided to retreat.

Cont....
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Haidra continued...

Just down from the fort is the ‘building with windows’. All that is left is a wall with windows… Beyond are the remains of the cisterns.

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Across the road from the Fort are the impressive remains of the Basilica of Melleus which is the largest church on the site built in the C4th. There are still several pillars standing and carved stones lying on the floor. There are inscriptions on some of the paving stones.

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There is little left of the Capitol building behind it, just the steps and one pillar is left standing.

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Next to it the market area has been partially restored.

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Behind are the remains of the baths. There are quite extensive remains but they are not in good condition.

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What is described as the ‘building with troughs’ is a short walk beyond. It is a huge building with a courtyard with pillars and a series of stone troughs, with a hole at the back, on a ledge below the arches. Their function is unknown and there is a suggestion they could have been used to store grain.

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Behind is a square stone Vandal’s Chapel with a few carved slabs lying on the floor. This is important as it is one of the few buildings from the Vandal era to survive.


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The arch of Severus marks the start of the town and the remains of the paved road running through it are still visible. It had originally been a splendid carved structure but was covered by massive Byzantine masonry when a defensive wall was built round the town. Part of this has now been removed to expose the Roman work.

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Below it near the river stand the remains of the porticoed mausoleum which is built in the style of a small temple with four columns supporting the roof.

This site is very much off the tourist beat and a long way from anywhere. You have to want to come here. It is very much one for the Roman buffs as, apart from the Byzantine Fort, there is nothing you won’t have seen elsewhere. It can be done as day trip from El Kef, Sbeitla or Maktar.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Maktar - a delightful site that gets few visitors

Maktar is a large sprawling settlement with a lot of big new houses being built. Arriving from the west, we drove past the remains of the aqueduct bringing water to the town which has a few arches intact.

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Nearby is a square mausoleum with a decorative carving standing in the middle of a bare rather scruffy area.

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The remains of the Roman settlement of Maktar is on a huge site on the outskirts of the town. It was a C2nd BC Numidian settlement that controlled the trade routes. After the fall of Carthage there was an influx of refugees as the town was outside the borders of Imperial Rome. It was later annexed by Rome and the Punic and Roman population coexisted peacefully. In the C2nd AD the citizens were granted Roman citizenship and it became the richest town in the district. It was later fortified during the Byzantine times and finally destroyed in the C11th.

There is a huge triumphal arch outside the town.

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A new building houses the ticket office and a small museum which was closed when we visited. There are several carved tombstones erected outside it.

Behind are the remains of the amphitheatre. This has double circular walls made of small stones with two large entrances opposite each other and smaller entrances between which would have given access to the seats which are no longer there.

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A well made Roman road leads up to the main site. It has a paved surface with a large covered drain running down the centre. It is surrounded by stone walls.

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Cont....
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Maktar continued...

Trajan’s Arch dominates the forum area which is a large paved area with the remains of column bases.

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Behind Trajan’s arch are the remains of later Byzantine fortifications, with the Basilica of Hildeguns, a C5th Vandal church. .

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A series of buildings run down to the massive southern baths which were built at the peak of the town’s prosperity and are some of the best preserved in Tunisia. The walls stand 10m high in places and they still have a lot of mosaics left in situ.

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The Schola Juvenum is in a pleasant shady spot surrounded by trees. It still has a lot of standing columns and was a meeting place for well born youths to meet socially and learn to be good citizens.

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Next to it is what is described as a clover leaf quadrilobe building which has a series of small troughs. It has been suggested this could have been the treasury for the Schola.

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Beyond this set of buildings is a megalithic tomb, similar to those at Elles.

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Uphill from them are the remains of the northern baths with columns and arches. The site is difficult to decipher as part of it was converted into a church in the C5-6th.

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When we visited at the end of March the site was covered with orange marigolds and yellow ragwort and looked really attractive. There were a couple of women cutting the vegetation using hand sickles for animal feed.

Makthar is off the usual tourist beat and probably only visited by people travelling between Kairouan and El Kef. It could be done as a day trip from Kairouan. It gets few visitors and apart from the women cutting fodder and some people recording the mosaics in the southern baths we had the site to ourselves. It is worth making the effort to visit if you enjoy Roman remains.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Sufetula- One of the most dramatic capitol buildings in Tunisia and a beautiful baptistry

The ruins of the Roman town of Sufetula are about Ikm to the north of the uninteresting modern town of Sbleïtla.

This was a wealthy Roman town getting its wealth from olives. It was built up on a grid pattern suggesting it was not built on an earlier settlement. The Byzantines made it their regional capital and military stronghold and a lot of Byzantine work remains. It is one of the best preserved sites in Tunisia as the buildings were not robbed for building stones.

There is a large parking area surrounded by cafes and tatty tourist shops. The ticket office is a desk in a large bare building selling a few postcards and books and basic loos. The museum, in a modern building beyond, was locked the day we visited.

The well preserved C3rd Arch of Diocletian, marks the southern entrance of the town and is the first building you see as you drive to the site. It is a short walk back from the entrance along a well made paved road.

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There is a small Byzantine fort beside it.

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Further down the paved road towards the main town site are the remains of two more Byzantine forts on either side main roadway. They are constructed of massive stone blocks with an outside stone stairway.

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Next is a building with two olive presses and a Byzantine church with the ruins of a small bath house behind.

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The remains of walls of houses line either side of the road.

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Cont....
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Sufetula continued...

There are the remains of a massive cistern on the road opposite the great baths.

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These are one of the more impressive buildings on the site, reached down steps from the street.

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The pillars of the Palaestra still stand and hypocausts can still be seen under the floors.

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There are several areas of mosaics. The mosaics were still damp from rain earlier in the day with their colours looking bright. So often the mosaics are dry and dusty which leaves the colours looking drab.

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The theatre is at the edge of the site above the Oued and the seats have been restored. Although not as extensive as the theatre at Dougga it is still one of the best preserved in Tunisia.

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We left the Capitol and forum area for later as they had been taken over by a group of Chinese tourists busy taking photos of themselves. We headed to the other Basilicas to avoid them.

First is Church of St Severus on the main road to the forum which is C4th and still has standing pillars.

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The Basilica of Bellator is smaller with an attached chapel and the remains of a mosaic in the baptistry. Again it is C4th but thought to have been built on an earlier site. The pillar in the centre of the baptistry is the remains of a reliquary column. Relics would have been been placed in the hollow at the top of the column. It is thought these might have been those of Jucundus, a Catholic bishop martyred by the Vandals.

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Next to it is the Basilica of St Vitalis which is C6th and the largest building in the complex with five naves and two apses. It has a beautiful mosaic baptistry dedicated to Vitilis and Cordella. The mosaic border round it is decorated with Christian crosses. This must rank as one of the highlights of the site. There was another large plunge pool with mosaics beyond.

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We continued along the road past the remains of houses, fountain, temple and scant remains of the arch of Septimus Severus, to the much restored Roman bridge across the oued which is still in use. It was difficult to see because of prickly pear and the fence around Sufetula meant we couldn’t walk onto it.

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It was then back to the forum which we had to ourselves. It is built on a slight rise in the middle of the town and is a large paved area with the remains of pillar bases and bits of carved porticos lying around.It is entered through the Arch of Antonius Pius. Behind the forum are the remains of later Byzantine fortifications.

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The three massive temples of the Capitol dominate the site. The Temple to Minerva is the best preserved and still has columns supporting the portico. A narrow passageway separates the Temple buildings and there are underground rooms off it. Steps lead up to The Temple of Minerva and The Temple of Juno and there would have been a bridge over the passageway to give access to the Temple of Jupiter. There is now a modern concrete bridge from Temple of Juno. There is not much left of the inside of the temples. Minerva and Juno have an apse, Jupiter a flat wall. These are definitely best seen from the outside

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This is one of the best preserved Roman Sites in Tunisia. It gets fewer visitors than Thuburbo Majus and Dougga because it is further from the Tourist resorts. We had taken copy of the plan of the site from Lonely Planet and found we didn’t need a guide to the site.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Thuburbo Majus - Close to Tunis and on most ‘must see’ lists

Thuburbo Majus is close to Tunis and a 'must see' for most visitors. Coach tours don’t spend long at the site, so if you are by yourselves it is possible to avoid them and head for the less busy areas of the site.

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It is a delightful place and at the end of March was covered in very lush vegetation with banks of yellow daisies, purple borage, mallow, red campion, white stock, vetches and many others I couldn't put a name to. Later in the year after the flowers have died down it may not be as attractive.

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This was originally a Punic town which paid dues to Rome after the conquest of Carthage. Emperor Augustus founded a colony of veterans here in 27BC who helped control the area and movement of goods and people between the plain and along the coast. The town was in the centre of a very fertile area producing grain, fruit and olives.

The capitol building reached by a flight of steps, dominates the site with the remains of colonnades silhouetted against the sky. Walls were built with large upright stones to provide strength and support with smaller stones between them, a style know as Opus Africanum. In front is a large paved forum

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Off it is the Temple of Mercury with eight columns arranged in a circle, an unusual arrangement probably reflecting the Punic origin of the town.

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We could see the remains of stalls in the market place.

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There are remains of paved roadways with buildings along them, many still with the remains of mosaics. These retain the original Punic layout rather than the rigid grid pattern of Roman towns.

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The Palestra of Petronius still has columns with carved entablature above. This was used for games and gymnastic activities and is next to the summer baths next to it were roped off when we visited.

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Behind the Palestra are the remains of the summer baths.

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The winter baths across the road are better preserved.

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We found the remains of the Byzantine church, recognisable by its blue columns, behind the summer baths, with the remains of a baptismal fountain.

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There is plenty of information in the guide books and internet so is easy to find your way round without a guide.

This was our first Roman site in Tunisia and we loved the place.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Zaghouan - Temples des Eaux

Zaghouan is dominated by Zaghouan Mountain. It is a clean and prosperous town, about 35 miles south of Tunis.

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A narrow street leads past the government buildings to Temples des Eaux which supplied the water to Tunis by aqueduct.

The Temples des Eaux are thought to have been built by the Emperor Hadrian around 130AD, following an exceptional drought that resulted in the region’s scare water sources drying up. The project collected spring water from the mountain ranges which was taken by aqueduct to Carthage where it was needed to supply the Baths of Antonine, which were built on the same massive scale as the Imperial Baths in Rome.

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It is a beautiful site at the base above the town. The Temples des Eaux are now a park with trees, grass and a cafe. At the entrance are partially excavated remains with conduit running through them.

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Le Petit Basin is rectangular shape with low stone walls and steps leading down to area with the remains of a bath or fountain. Le Grand Basin is an impressive structure. There are two sets of stairs on either side of the conduit which is the start of the aqueduct carrying water to Carthage.

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Above is a semi circular courtyard surrounded by a wall with arches and 12 niches which would have held statues thought to represent the months. This was originally colonnaded with arches but none are left.

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The water source is at the centre of the wall in a large recess. It now has a clear plastic cover which you can peer through for a glimpse of the water below.

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The water is collected in a settling basin before entering the aquaduct.

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The road between Zaghouan and Bir Halima picks up the conduit. This looks like a rough masonry channel which runs along a bank beside the road. It goes across small bridges as it crosses water courses. The best is seen just outside Bir Halima on the Zaghouan side where there is a small parking area.

This doesn’t rank among the top ten Roman sites but is worth searching out if you are in the area.
 

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