Amphitheater of El Jem - African Coliseum
In Tunisia, many interesting attractions, but the word "grandiose" can be awarded only one - it's an amphitheater in the city of El Jem. It is also called the "African Colosseum". Built in the 3rd century, it was the third largest in the Roman Empire after the Coliseum in Rome and the amphitheater of Capua. And all the amphitheaters in the empire were built around 230.
Of course, the amphitheater El Djem is wrong to call the "Colosseum", because the Colosseum is only one on the planet and is located in Rome. Another name - "Roman Amphitheater Tizdra" by the name of the Roman city, once standing on this place.
The city of El Jem is small - 21 000 people. For tourists there is nothing interesting, except the amphitheater, the archaeological museum and the archaeological site. In this article I will tell you about all these places and start with the history.
A bit of history
Since ancient times, the history of Tunisia in this place was the Berber village called Tizdra, then the Phoenicians settled here and the settlement became part of the state of Carthage. After the fall of Carthage, the Romans founded a colony here, where veterans of the legions of Julius Caesar sat.
The climate in Tunisia was then more humid and cold, the local soil gave huge yields of cereals and olives. The city of Tizdra grew rapidly, by the beginning of the 3rd century it competed with Hadrumet (now the city of Sousse ) for the title of the second largest in the province of Africa after Carthage . A large amphitheater was built here.
The fatal for the city of Tizdr was the year 238, which historians call the "year of six emperors." For this year in the Roman Empire six emperors were replaced. One of them was Gordian, whom the citizens of Tizdra put forward.
In the beginning, the affairs of the Gordian were marvelous, the people of Tizdra revolted against the authority of Rome, proclaimed him emperor, Gordian triumphantly entered Carthage, the Roman Senate recognized him as emperor. It would seem that the operation to seize power was successful.
But the governor of neighboring Numidia remained faithful to the old emperor Maximinus. He led one legion to suppress the uprising. Gordian had no cadre army at all, his militia was defeated. The son of Gordian was killed in battle, and Gordian himself committed suicide. The city of Tizdra was completely destroyed by the legionaries.
The city was no longer being restored, and the amphitheater was used as a fortress. In 430, they defended themselves against vandals, in 647 from the first invasion of the Arabs. In 699, the leader of the Berbers El Kahin defended here during the third invasion of the Arabs in Tunisia.
In the 17th century, part of the amphitheater was disassembled, the stone was taken away for the reconstruction of the Grand Mosque of Kairouan. In 1695, the Tunisians who rebelled against the oppression of the Ottoman Empire defended themselves here. In 1850 another insurrection, the rebels defending themselves in the amphitheater from the troops of Bey. All these events carried destruction, many of which can now be seen on the walls of the building.
Archaeological value in the amphitheater was seen only by the French, when Tunisia became a colony of France in 1881. In 1904, active excavations began.
The amphitheater suffered during the Second World War when it was stormed by British troops.
Restoration was carried out between 1974 and 1980. Restored seats and some structures. In 1979, the amphitheater El Jem was inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. Since 1985, within the walls of the amphitheater is the International Symphony Music Festival in El Jem.
Figures and interesting facts
- Amphitheater El-Jem oval shape, external dimensions: 148 meters (major axis) by 122 meters (minor axis). The height is 36 meters. For comparison, the size of the Roman Coliseum is 188x156 meters.
- The length of the circumference: 427 meters, the Roman Coliseum is 100 meters larger.
- Dimensions of the arena: 65 by 37 meters.
- The building has three floors with arches in Corinthian style. In all there were 68 arches, now only 30 of them are left.
- The capacity of the amphitheater of El Jem is estimated at 30-35 000 people. The population of the city of Tizdra is estimated by historians in 50-60 000 people. Obviously, the city had no need for such a large structure. Apparently, the construction of such a large amphitheater was a political step - to show the wealth of the city.
- On many sites on the Internet, in promotional booklets and from the guides' stories, you can hear that it was in the amphitheater El-Djem that the movie Gladiator with Russell Crowe in the title role was shot. This information is not true. Scenes of fighting in the arena were filmed in Malta, where they created a mock-up of the arena with only one floor of the stands. The rest was then added by computer graphics. If you want confirmation of these facts, go to the official website of the film or movie company Universal Studios, there you will read the same.
"The amphitheater in El Jem has no foundation." The soil here is firm and level, in the foundation there is simply no need.
- The amphitheater is protected by law 35-1994 and a special decree. According to these laws, in a zone of 300 meters around it is impossible to build buildings with a height of more than 5 meters.
- Now the area is deserted. For many years the arena, podium and cellar rooms were covered with sand, which provided them with excellent safety. On the tour will be what to see.
Excursions to El Jem
Russian-language tours only in El Jem are not held, but you can visit this place as part of a comprehensive excursion.
Visit El Jam is included in the excursion "Sahara", which is held for tourists from all resorts of Tunisia, including from Zarzis and the island of Djerba . This tour lasts two full days, not all tourists decide on it, few want to break away from paid All Inclusive for two days.
Another option is the tour "El Jem - Kairouan". It lasts one day, the program includes an amphitheater and the ancient capital of Tunisia - the city of Kairouan. Unfortunately, such an excursion is not available to all Russian tour operators. This excursion is not carried out for tourists in Zarzis and Djerba.
Time for an inspection of El Jem during the tour will be limited. You'll have time to see the amphitheater yourself, but there will not be enough time for the museum and the archaeological zone. If you want to see all the interesting things in El-Jem, then you have to go here on your own.
How to get there by yourself
Of all the Tunisian resorts , the closest to El Jem are Sousse and El Kantaoui (63 km), Monastir (65 km) and Mahdia (43 km). Some tourists go to El Jem from the hotels of these resorts by taxi, the benefit of a taxi in Tunisia is inexpensive. A trip in both directions with the driver's expectation will cost 150-200 Tunisian dinars . A similar amount will be worth the trip from Sfax (64km).
Through the city of El-Djem is the main branch of the railway in Tunisia. A train ticket will be much cheaper than a taxi, and many tourists consider this method safer. For more details, see our " Trains in Tunisia " review.
Prices for tickets and excursions
An excursion to the Sahara costs 110-140 US dollars, depends on the departure resort and on the greed of the seller of excursions. Excursion "El Jem - Kairouan" costs 50-70 dollars.
If you come by yourself, you will have to buy a ticket for 10 dinars, the permission to take photos is 1 dinar.
Daily from 9-00 to 19-00 in the summer, and from 9-00 to 17-30 in the winter. On Friday (the holy day of the week for Muslims), the schedule is normal.
What to watch
Arena of the Amphitheater
The main impression tourists get when they stand in the arena, you can feel like a gladiator, who will fight for the audience in the stands. But this feeling is interesting to receive only a couple of minutes, then curiosity requires more.
Look around and see a long hatch in the center of the arena, it leads to the basement. Look at the photo on the right, click on the photo to enlarge. Guides tell us that through this hatch in the arena, gladiators and animals were brought out for battles. This is not true. This hatch was used for ventilation of basements. It was always open, only during the fighting it was covered with wooden flooring.
Gladiators entered the arena through the main gate. The status of the gladiator was very high, some of them were real folk heroes and idols. Naturally, in the cages under the arena of the gladiators were not kept.
In the cells in the arena were kept animals and sentenced. The Romans were very practical people, they did not hire executioners for execution, but put the condemned to the arena against the gladiators. Triple benefit: and the penalty for the state is free, and gladiators training, and amusement crowd.
To raise the condemned and the animals, two elevators served, the holes for these elevators can be seen now on either side of the long hatch. Tourists let down, you can see the premises where the prisoners and slaves were held.
Now only half of the stands have remained intact. During the restoration, the seats were restored. You can sit and see, feel like an ancient Roman who came to see a bloody show. Inside the building there are passageways to the stands, their configuration is about the same as in modern circuses or stadiums.
Pay attention to the stones, from which the amphitheater is built. If you look closely, you will find triangular holes. These holes the Romans used to lift the blocks on the winches. In the photo on the left you can clearly see these holes, click on the photo to enlarge.
The Amphitheater of El Jem is also an opportunity to look at the ancient Roman building technologies.
A ticket to the amphitheater entitles you to visit the museum, which is located in the south on the road to the city of Sfax. In the museum you can see everyday objects, coins, ceramics. But the most interesting here is the Roman mosaics, preserved in the places of Roman villas.
Most of the mosaics from El Jem were taken to the Bardo museum and to the museum in Kasbah, Sousse. Here remained two famous mosaics: "Goddess of Africa" and "Four Seasons".
Immediately behind the museum is the excavation site of villas in Tizdra. Better than the others are two villas: "House of the Peacock" and "House of the Sollertian", in which there are several large mosaics.
We wish you an interesting visit to the amphitheater and museums in El Jem, and read our other informative and useful reviews about Tunisia ( list of links below ).
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