El Jem Tunisia is famous for its grand Roman amphitheater and still surviving structures from the golden age of the city. Located in present day Mahdia, Tunisia, the ruins are some of the best in the country, and like the ruins of Leptis Magna in Libya, they provide great insight into Roman power in North Africa. The ruins are surrounded by a modern town that has sprung up in the area, which creates a great contrast between past and present, and also allows travelers to combine their history lessons with fine hotels and meals at modern restaurants. Although the majority of the ancient city still lies beneath the sand and is waiting to be excavated, El Jem is a must-see stop on your visit to Tunisia.
El Jem was built upon a former Punic settlement by the Romans in 46 BC and was originally called Thysdrus. In terms of wealth and power in Africa, Thysdrus was second only to Carthage, due to its importance in olive oil manufacturing and exporting. El Jem Tunisia enjoyed this calm and prosperous lifestyle until its leader, Gordian I, committed suicide near Carthage after a failed attempt to overthrow Roman power in Rome. After the failed scheme, Roman troops that were loyal to Emperor Maximus Thrax destroyed the city. The amphitheater remained well intact, however, in spite of being occupied numerous times, including by the Arabs in the fifth and seventh centuries and by the Germans during World War II.
The amphitheater of El Jem is the most popular point of interest at the archaeological site. The amphitheater, also referred to as the colosseum, at El Jem was constructed between 230 and 238 AD during the reign of Gordian. The stones that were used to build the amphitheater of El Jem were quarried about twenty miles away in Salakta before being brought to the city. This massive structure is almost as large as the one in Rome and is in fantastic condition considering its age.
The amphitheater here at El Djem Tunisia, as the city is also called, is said to have provided seating for upwards of 30,000 spectators at a time despite the small population of the city. There was special seating for the wealthy at the top of the arena with covered seats to protect spectators from the sun, and there were also sculptures at the top of each column in the amphitheater. The amphitheater still provides the stage for the annual Festival of El Jem were spectators enjoy music. A visit to this fantastic structure transports visitors back in time to the age of grandeur that the Romans created.
The El Jem Museum is also another must-see stop on your visit to El Jem Tunisia. This museum is loaded with artifacts and provides a glimpse into the wealth and power of this former Roman stronghold. The El Jem Museum features mosaics from houses, sculpture fragments, ceramics, and metal objects, to name a few. The impressive collection of mosaics is the most interesting room in the museum, and archaeologists keep discovering more to add to the already large collection. The majority of the mosaics depict detailed scenes using geometric motifs and are noted to be some of the finest ever unearthed. The museum is a true testament to the craftsmanship that was developed in this sophisticated Roman city.
Although the amphitheater of El Jem and the El Jem Museum are the two main attractions at the archaeological site of ancient Thysdrus, the experience is unforgettable. The amphitheater, often compared to the Colosseum in Rome, is a magnificent structure and a symbol of the cities great past while the EL Jem Museum showcases the artisans and craftsmanship of the city. If you are visiting Tunisia, be sure to make a stop at one of the most frequented attractions the country has to offer, in addition to stopping at the usual tourist areas such as Djerba and Port el Kantaoui.