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Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Ground Up: Archaeological Wonders Of Tunisia

Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic, is situated in northern Africa and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area is almost 165,000 km², with an estimated population of just over 10.3 million. Its name is derived from the capital Tunis located in the north-east.

Tunisia is filled with history as evident in the imprints left over a 3000 year span. Adventurers, conquerors, missionaries, traders, farmers, warriors, all made their own impact. Whether on the hills of Carthage or at the threshold of the Sahara desert. Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Turks, Spanish and French all made their way through Tunisia at one point in history, and the architecture they left behind is a reminder of state societies evolving, and at some point, falling.

Bruce Officer has compiled several articles on some archaeological sites he visited in Tunisia several years ago. For many people, Tunisia is an unknown location, however Bruce mentions Roman North Africa was a prosperous but often overlooked province.

Archaeological Sites To Visit in Tunisia

The Tophet of Carthage – Religious Sanctuary and Possible Child Sacrifice Ground

The Tophet is the sanctuary dedicated to the god Baal Hammon, the main god of the Carthaginians, and the fertility goddess Tanit. It is an open space, shaded by trees and densely packed with stone markers called stele (singular form stela). At first glance one might think these are grave markers, but they are actually markers recording an important sacrifice made to the gods, often naming the person who the stela set up.

Read: The Tophet of Carthage

The Roman Amphitheatre of El Jem

© chileno66

Indeed, so starkly alone is the building that antiquarians believed it to be an amphitheatre built in the desert, thinking it the whim of a mad emperor. But modern excavations have revealed the outlines of a fair sized city with a forum and villas of the wealthy, though these excavations have been backfilled and aren’t available for the visitor to see.

The El Jem amphitheatre is grand, even by Roman standards. It is 138 metres long and 114 metres wide, making it a little over two thirds the size of the Coliseum in Rome. It was probably built in the first few decades of the third century AD.

Read more: The Roman Amphitheatre of El Jem

Dougga – A Roman Hilltop City in Tunisia

© izzthewizz

This is Dougga, sometimes called Thugga, a Roman city not far from the North African desert frontier, but also a city rooted in its Numidian and Carthaginian past.

The Numidians were the native people of the hills and plateaus of the semi-fertile zone between the desert and the Mediterranean sea. By the time of Rome’s expansion, they had formed a kingdom, adopting written language and government from the Carthaginians – the Middle Eastern people who had settled on the coast of North West Africa and had created a trading empire. Although some of the Numidians were still nomadic, plenty lived in villages and even towns like Dougga.

Read more: Dougga – A Roman Hilltop City in Tunisia

Thuburbo Majus – Solitary Majesty of This Tunisian Roman Town

Public Domain

Thuburbo Majus, or Colonia Julia Aurelia Commoda as it was called when it was granted colonia status, was a Roman town about 60 km southwest of Carthage on the trade route that connected Carthage to the edge of the desert and the caravans that crossed it. In fact there was a Carthaginian town here before the Romans arrived and Augustus chose it as a site to settle retired army veterans in 27 BC.

Read more: Thuburbo Majus – Solitary Majesty of This Tunisian Roman Town

The Antonine Baths in Carthage, Tunisia

© Bruce Officer

Construction of the Antonine baths began under the Emperor Hadrian in AD 146 and was completed under his successor Antoninus Pius in AD 162, hence the naming of the complex. And it was indeed a complex, not a simple set of Roman baths. As well as the normal cold, warm and hot rooms there were outdoor pools and a sun terrace, as well as broad steps leading down to the sea. The scale was astonishing: the main pavilion had a floor area of about 18 000 square meters and the total complex about 35 000 square meters.

Read more: The Antonine Baths in Carthage, Tunisia

How Can I See All Of These Archaeological Sites In Tunisia?

This heritage, Tunisia's greatest wealth has been held in trust and preserved in hundreds of sites and museums from the small Punic museum in Utica to the vast collections of the prestigious National Museum of Bardo. Most Museums are closed on Mondays, whereas many on-site archeological museums and ruins are open all week. An entrance fee is usually charged and a caretaker will often act as guide. ~Tourism Tunisia

What Other Cultural Tours And Activities Can You Find In Tunisia?

  • The International Music Festival is held for long evenings in the El Jem Coliseum. The festival is held on a summer night and provides an unforgettable musical experience. Symphonic sounds collide as world renowned artists take the stage for a spectacular night under the stars.
  • Tunisia's desert near Tozeur has featured in numerous films, most notably in The English Patient and Star Wars. An increasing number of tour operators now offer desert safaris to the locations where these famous blockbuster movies were shot. For further information, contact the Tunisian National Tourist Office.~IExplore
Also check out these sites for an exclusive list of activities and travel tours.

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