Tunisia, a North African country with 3000 years of history in the Mediterranean, where many civilizations have succeeded each other; from indigenous Amazigh (Berbers) followed by Phoenicians who founded Carthage then the Romans who occupied Tunisia for more than 800 years until the Muslims came around the year 697. All these civilizations have left behind very rich and diverse architectural legacies as a witness of its vast history. Full of wonderful remains and ruins dating back to ancient times, several Tunisian archaeological sites are listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. Located all over around the country, they are the ideal destination for architects who are keen to discover more about these different cultures and civilizations through their architectural heritage. Here are a selection of some of the archaeological sites in Tunisia that every Architect should visit once atleast once in their lifetime:
Bulla Regia was a Berber, Punic, and Roman town near present-day Jendouba, Tunisia. Its surviving ruins and archaeological site are noted for their Hadrianic-era semi-subterranean housing, a protection from the fierce heat and effects of the sun. Many of the mosaic floors have been left in place; others may be seen at the Bardo Museum in the capital city of Tunis. There is a small museum connected with the site and organized underground tours are also available.
2-The Berber village of Zriba Olia
This sumptuous Berber village, now in ruins, is built between two rocky peaks and located between two mountains offering a breathtaking view of the second highest peak of Tunisia “Jebel Zaghouan”. Zriba was abandoned by its inhabitants in the 1960s, after the development of the new city in the plain. Even though it’s not technically an archaeological site since it was inhabited till recently, it’s still one of the most interesting models of Amazighi Berber villages in Tunisia with its unique layout and architecture.
3-The city of Dougga
Dougga or Thugga was a Punic, Berber and Roman settlement near present-day Téboursouk in northern Tunisia. The current archaeological site covers 65 hectares (160 acres). UNESCO qualified Dougga as a World Heritage Site in 1997, believing that it represents “the best-preserved Roman small town in North Africa”. The site, which lies in the middle of the countryside, has been protected from the encroachment of modern urbanization. Dougga’s size, its well-preserved monuments and its rich Numidian-Berber, Punic, ancient Roman and Byzantine history make it exceptional. Amongst the most famous monuments at the site are a Libyco-Punic Mausoleum, the capitol, the theater, and the temples of Saturn and of Juno Caelestis.
4- Amphitheatre of El Jem
If you’re a fan f the Gladiator movie, you definitely don’t want to miss on this one since some of the scenes were filmed there. The Amphitheatre of El Jem is situated in the modern-day city of El Djem in Tunisia, formerly Thysdrus in the Roman province of Africa. It is listed by UNESCO since 1979 as a World Heritage Site. The amphitheatre was built around 238 AD and is one of the best preserved Roman stone ruins in the world and is a unique structure in Africa. As other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events, and it is one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world. The estimated capacity is 35,000, and the sizes of the big and the small axes are respectively 148 meters (486 ft) and 122 meters (400 ft). The amphitheatre is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved.
5- Archaeological site of Sbeitla
The archaeological site of Sbeitla is situated in north-central Tunisia. It represents the Roman ruins of Sufetula, and contains the best preserved Roman forum temples in Tunisia. It was excavated and restored between 1906 and 1921. The city was founded during the reign of Emperor Vespasian and was the theatre of the great confrontation between Byzantines and Arabs in 647, setting the stage for the later Muslim conquest of the diocese of Sufetula and further conquests in southern Europe.
6- Archaeological site of Kerkouane
Kerkouane or Kerkuane is the site of an ancient coastal Punic city in north-eastern Tunisia, near Cape Bon. This Phoenician city was probably abandoned during the First Punic War (c. 250 BCE) and, as a result, was not rebuilt by the Romans. It had existed for almost 400 years. Excavations of the town have revealed ruins and coins from the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. Around the site where the layout is clearly visible, many houses still show their walls, and the colored clay on the facades is often still visible. The houses were built to a standard plan, in accordance with a sophisticated notion of town planning. A sanctuary has some columns preserved, and in a small atrium parts of mosaics are found. Curbstones, doorsteps, thresholds, and floors of simple mosaic layers are found all over the ruins. Still archaeologists work on the Kerkouane site, but it is believed that the best parts have already been discovered.
7- Archaeological site of Uthina
Uthina was a town in the province of Africa Proconsularis, now northern Tunisia and became a Roman colony of veterans of Legio XIII Gemina during the reign of Emperor Augustus. From the accounts given by geographers the site seems to be the ruins that form the archeological site of Oudna, near a station on the railway from Tunis to Kef and not far from what was the World War II Oudna Airfield. These ruins occupy a surface nearly three miles in circumference, covering a hilly plateau, and commanding the left bank of the Milian wady; there are remains of a fortress, cisterns, an aqueduct, a triumphal arch, a theatre, an amphitheater, a basilica with a circular crypt, and a bridge. Many mosaics are to be found there as well.
Carthage was the center of the ancient Carthaginian civilization, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis now the capital city of Tunisia. Carthage was founded in 814 B.C and was widely considered the most important trading hub of the Ancient Mediterranean and was arguably one of the most affluent cities of the Ancient World. The archaeological site of Carthage is a scattered site around the present-day city of Carthage and is classified World Heritage by Unesco since 1979. The site is also dominated by the Byrsa hill which was the center of the Punic city. In addition to the very large area that the site covers, the existence of 3 layers of history and archaeological remains, from Carthaginian to Roman to Byzantine, makes it one of the richest archaeological sites in the world.
Waddah Dridi is a Tunisian architecture student in the National School of Architecture & Urbanism of Tunis (ENAU). Driven by curiosity and passionate about the multitude of scales in architecture, his approach is to freely experiment with the design possibilities in order to figure the perfect correlation involving all the parameters.