Ancient city of Carthage
Excavations of ancient Carthage - this is a tourist attraction of Tunisia, more than a million tourists come here every year.
Inspired by the school history course - the greatness of the city of Carthage and the three Punic wars, tourists are waiting to see grandiose temples or high walls here, but they face a harsh reality - the remains of foundations, but no more.
Not even a small ancient building has survived, there are only a few whole columns. The only really inspiring moment of the excursion is a museum with beautiful statues and large mosaics. About everything in order.
Excavations and modern Carthage
Carthage is now a real city with a permanent population of about 25,000 people. This satellite city of the capital is now the most "expensive" in the country, here is the most expensive land and real estate. Here is the official residence of the President of Tunisia, villas of officials and wealthy businessmen.
Archaeologists find it difficult to excavate on new plots, they are not liberated by the land. Therefore, archaeological excavations in Carthage are focal. Tourists are available almost all such foci.
Tourists on an organized excursion look at the museum and just two excavation sites out of a dozen available - the Birsa hill and the thermae of Anthony. Independent tourists can see much more.
Excursions to Carthage
A trip to Carthage is the most popular excursion in Tunisia, it is available to all tour operators, both Russian and European. It is called "Carthage - Sidi Bou Said - Tunisia". It is in two versions, but it is always called the same.
The first option, when at the end of tourists are taken to the center of Tunis. Tourists watch Big Ben Tunisia , pass along Habib Bourguiba Avenue and enter the medina of Tunis . Walking through the center of the capital does not have much value from a cultural point of view, but tourists are given the opportunity to visit the big supermarket and the tourist market of the medina. A good option if you need to purchase Tunisian gifts and souvenirs , and decent stores next to the hotel there.
The second option, when at the end of the tourists are taken to the Bardo museum . This is the best option for those who love history. For one trip you can see all the most-most archaeological finds in the country.
How to get there by yourself
If you have a rest in the hotel Gammartha or in another resort near the capital, it is easiest to get there by taxi. For example, from Gammarth to Carthage only 12 kilometers, the trip will cost up to 10 Tunisian dinars and take 10-15 minutes of time. Use low prices for a taxi in Tunisia .
If you have a rest in Nabeul , Hammamet or Yasmine Hammamet , then the taxi already "will fly in a lot of money." It's easier to get to the capital by bus, as you can read in our article " Bus service in Tunisia ". From the bus station in the city of Tunis to Carthage about 20 kilometers, the cost of the trip is up to 15 dinars.
From the resorts of Sousse and El Kantaoui can be reached by train, from Mahdia and Monastir can also be reached by train, but you will have to make a transfer in Sousse. Read our article " Trips on trains in Tunisia ". From the railway station to Carthage just over 20 kilometers, 15 dinars and 20-25 minutes.
The entrance costs 10 Tunisian dinars, and 1 more dinar is a permit for photography. This price includes a visit to the museum and a passage to all other places of excavation in Carthage.
The ticket can be bought at the ticket offices on the Birsa hill or near the therma of Anthony. In the photo on the right is a sign at the box-offices of Birsa Hill, why did the cashiers hang two pieces of paper with prices? Apparently, the great Tunisian mystery.
From 8-00 to 19-00 in the summer season.
From 8-30 to 17-00 in the winter season.
How much time to plan
If you want to see all the archaeological sites, then plan the whole day. On the excursion, tourists watch the hill of Birsa, the museum and the therma of Antony in 2-2.5 hours.
A bit of history
The most ancient city of Carthage was founded by Phoenician seafarers. An interesting legend is connected with the city's foundation:
The founder of Carthage, the queen of Dido, agreed with the local Berbers to purchase a plot of land for the city. Sly Berbers, naturally, did not want to see the Phoenicians on their land. They sold as much land as can be covered by a single bull's skin. Dido cut the skin into narrow strips, joined them, and swept a large patch of land. So the city of Carthage was founded.
Here you need to make a little explanation. Probably in the ancient Berber language prepositions "inside" and "under" were denoted by one word, or the second version "buy as much land as fit in one bull's skin". Truth we do not know, the language of the Berbers for the last 2.5 thousand years has changed too much.
In modern Tunisia remember the time of Carthage with nostalgia, because then the Carthaginians were the masters of the Mediterranean. For example, the queen of Dido is depicted on coin 1 Tunisian dinar (pictured left), look at the names of the hotels: "Hannibal Palace" or "Carthage Thalasso", recall the amusement park Carthage Land , and the assortment of souvenir shops abounds with subjects with the themes of ancient Carthage. At the same time modern Arabs are not confused by the fact that they have nothing to do with the Phoenicians from Carthage.
The city of Carthage was founded in 814 BC. Over 500 years, it became the political center of all the Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean. The Carthaginians subjugate part of Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, part of Spain. Carthage becomes the largest naval power with a combat fleet of more than 300 ships.
Relations with the Roman Republic were good at first, two treaties on allied and trade relations were concluded in 508 and 348. However, the conflict of interest is brewing, and from 264 to 241 the First Punic War between Rome and Carthage takes place. Rome wins, and Carthage loses its possessions in Sicily.
From 219 to 2012 the Second Punic War is taking place. During this war, the famous Carthaginian commander Hannibal Barca moves with his army of the Alps and smashes the Romans in Italy, the Battle of Cannes took place - the largest one-day battle of antiquity. But for every legion defeated by Hannibal, the Romans are exposed to a new one. The tremendous mobilization potential of the Roman Republic played a decisive role. At the end of the war, the Romans landed near Carthage and won the decisive battle at Zama. Carthage loses all territory, except for a small piece of land around the city.
The third Punic war ends with the complete destruction of Carthage. All residents either were exterminated or taken to slavery, and the ground was filled with salt, so that nothing would grow. Let's make a small note: salt in those days was very expensive, and the Romans could not fill the whole earth with salt, it was a question of symbolic spreading, probably, a maximum of one bag.
After 25 years, the people's tribune Guy Gracchus proposes to build a new city in the place of Carthage, but this initiative has no success in the Senate. The next idea came to Julia Caesar, but his death from the knives of Brutus and other senators did not allow these plans to be realized. The next was the emperor Octavian Augustus, he already happened.
The Romans carried out large-scale earthworks, built a new big city. Over time, Roman Carthage became the center of the province of Africa, the largest and richest city.
In 439 the city was captured by vandals, in 553 it was seized by Byzantines, in 698 by the Arabs. These three conquests turned out to be fatal for the city.
Most of the ruins and artifacts that tourists watch are from Roman Carthage, there are few remains of buildings and objects from Punic Carthage.
Let's talk in detail about what the tourists are looking at.
Birsa Hill was the center of the Punic city. It is assumed that it was here that the citadel was located - the last stronghold of the defense of the inhabitants of Carthage in the Third Punic War. It is also assumed that here was the central temple of the city, dedicated to the god Baal-Hammon.
All these assumptions, to establish the truth now is impossible. The Romans leveled the top of the hill when they built their colony by order of the emperor Octavian Augustus, and destroyed all traces. The assumption is made on the basis of the records of the historian Strabo, who lived after the fall of Carthage, and on the basis of logic, because the hill height of 57 meters is an ideal place for the citadel.
However, some fragments of the Punic city survived on the slopes of the hill, it is part of the Punic Necropolis and several residential quarters. It is difficult to get a good idea about the organization of the Punic city, for this purpose it is better to go to Kerkuan .
The name of the hill "Birsa" comes from the Greek word "birce", which translates as "skin". It is believed that this particular hill was bargained out by the queen of Dido from the Berbers, encircling the hill with stripes of bovine skin. This version of the title is put forward by the poet and historian Virgil.
The center of the Roman colony was also on the top of a hill. Here was the forum, the Capitol, the library, the temples. The center of Rome Carthage consisted of two squares with public buildings. The area of 12 and 13 thousand square meters is three times more than the Forum of August in Rome and 10 times more than the average for the empire. The Romans from the very beginning built a large city and the capital of the entire province of Africa.
Create any idea of the location of buildings is difficult, too little left of them. The museum has a miniature model (pictured left) showing visitors how the city center looked in the era of the Roman Empire.
On the hill there are scattered tablets showing visitors what and where was, a little helps to navigate. As the excavation area looks now, see in the photo gallery below, after this gallery, we will continue our story.
Birsa Hill is very important for the French, here in 1270 during the eighth crusade died King Louis IX, who was later canonized by the Catholic Church. In 1830, the French agreed with the beys of Tunisia to build a chapel in his honor and built it in 1840. After the establishment of the French Protectorate, the French built here a large cathedral (from 1884 to 1890), which stands today. St. Louis Cathedral now does not function as a temple, after independence it was closed, and in 1993 it was transformed into a museum.
Museum of Carthage
The museum is on the Birsa hill. Important note! The toilet on the Birsa hill is not located in the museum. To get to the toilet, without entering the courtyard of the museum, go along the colonnade to the end.
Perhaps, it is the museum that can be called the most interesting part of the excursion. From the buildings in Carthage little is left, but artefacts from the ground archeologists extracted thousands. Part is in the museum of Carthage, and part in the capital in the Bardo Museum.
In the museum there are not so many exhibits, which should be told in detail. First of all, we will select a huge mosaic, it is best to look from the second floor. Another extremely curious exhibit is the sculpture "A Rider in a Chariot and His Wife". In ancient Rome, chariot races were no less popular than gladiatorial fights, and the champions of this sport were immortalized in marble. By the way, the occupation was extremely dangerous, the death rate among the riders was even greater than that of the gladiators. These two artifacts, see the photo below.
Tourists primarily want to see the Punic exhibits, the Roman ones are not so interesting. Punic exhibits are not numerous here, in addition, they need to be distinguished somehow. Few guides will be able to help, most of them are poorly versed in history.
Punic pottery was traditionally covered with red and black varnishes, so it can be distinguished. This style of decoration of ceramics in Tunisia has remained and now, potters in Guellala on the island of Djerba love this style. The main thing is not to be confused with Greek ceramics, which was designed in a similar style, and Greek ceramics in Carthage found a lot.
Try to navigate the explanatory inscriptions, they are made in Arabic and French, but some exhibits have tablets in English. If you do not know the languages, then see the Roman numerals indicating the century of origin of the object.
You can see the most interesting exhibits in our small gallery below. Continuation of the article immediately after the gallery.
The terms of Antonia
The largest Roman baths in North Africa. There were several baths in Carthage, but these were the only ones that archaeologists could discover.
Once it was a grandiose structure with a height of 29 meters and a length of more than 200 meters. For a long time they served as a source of building materials, and now we can only see the ground floor. From the upper floors there are only two columns, which have long been a visual "business card" of Carthage.
Tourists descend down and find themselves in a real labyrinth, there are dozens of rooms and corridors, many climb the ruins in order to take a photo on some high place. We urge you to be cautious, climbing a 1900-year-old building may end in trauma. Another warning - do not approach the white fence, since this is the residence of the president of the country, the security there can shoot without warning.
See the photo of this place in the gallery below. After the gallery, read the article next.
To the baths adjoined the residential quarter, from which almost nothing remained. Walking on it, you can imagine the layout of the ancient city and see ancient burials. See the selection of the photo below.
Other excavation areas
These areas are not shown on the tour, they can only be seen if they came here on their own or with a private guide.
The Magon quarter is part of the Punic city, which was partially rebuilt during the Roman and Byzantine periods. Visiting this place gives an opportunity to imagine Punic Carthage.
"Roman villas" are a few rich houses grouped in the once fashionable area of the city, there are found amazing mosaics - "Mosaic with horses" and "Mosaic with a bird cage".
The theater and the Odeon accommodated up to 5,000 spectators, which is surprising for such a large city, because in Carthage there were up to 300,000 inhabitants at the time of the arrival of the vandals. From the amphitheater little is left, but restorers have joined the work, now part of it has been restored. It was at this point that Winston Churchill delivered a speech.
The amphitheater had a classical form of the oval, it hosted gladiator fights, persecution and other entertainments. Capacity - 30 000 spectators, the state is bad, even to learn in these ruins the Roman amphitheater is difficult for tourists.
The building of the columns is an interesting object, a structure from which only the columns remained. The purpose of the facility by archaeologists is not established precisely, only hypotheses.
In addition, in Carthage you can see the ruins of a dry dock and a port, the remains of an aqueduct and sewage, the foundations of several basilicas.
Have a nice walk through Carthage, and read our informative and useful articles for tourists about Tunisia ( links below ).
Read about Tunisia on our website