Carthage, the ancient civilization, was once a driving power in the Mediterranean. It controlled critical trade networks from Africa, including those that delivered the elephants and let Hannibal do his thing in the Alps. True, they were defeated by the Romans during the Punic Wars, although Rome generally knew that it was a positive thing, and from the ruins, they built a city that rivalled Rome in size, riches, and power.

Carthage, now partially excavated among exquisite whitewashed houses in one of Tunis’ swankiest neighbourhoods, is the essence of legend. Carthage, once a cosmopolitan commercial hub and vital Mediterranean naval power, was among the wealthy towns in the ancient empire, evoking poetry, mythology, and, of course, jealousy.

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Carthage Archaeological Site, Tunisia _©Yvon Fruneau

The Phoenicians’ enormous colony-turned-capital, however, perished at the hands of conquerors from the contrary direction of the Mediterranean, which burnt and reconstructed Carthage with their own standards and subjugated the local populace. Carthage lasted for longer than 500 years even before Romans took control in 146 BC, but almost little of the historic Punic capital survives due to the city’s horrific devastation. The stunning fall of such a society, however, continues to intrigue modern minds, and the UNESCO-enlisted Carthage Archaeological Park continues to be a popular destination on Tunisia itineraries.

What Happened to Carthage?

The Roman Empire crumbled, and the outlying provinces gradually lost their way and collapsed into ruin due to decadence or invasion. Each eager to leave a unique physical imprint, new tribes and civilizations arose. What better way to begin than with the stunning masonry blocks discovered in ruins along the sea? Carthaginian columns and masonry may be found across North-West Africa and in Moorish Spain. What remains are little glimpses of the power that once existed. The Antonine Baths’ massive underground arches, the footprint of the once-great stage, and scattered walls and graves blend to provide a picture of Queen Dido’s once-great, vanished metropolis.

The exquisite Bardo Museum nearby is solid testimony of this. This Moorish Palace, built by exiles pushed out of Spain by King Ferdinand And queen Isabella, currently houses the world’s largest collection of mosaics. Some are from the Punic era, while the bulk are from Tunisia under the Roman occupation. Amid addition to Carthage, there are chambers dedicated to the southern cities of Dougga, Bulla Regis, the ruins of which may still be seen since they are now situated in backwaters amid desert. Streets continue to pass past rows of wrecked buildings and stores, eventually leading to the forums with city gates. They appear to have been abandoned, with the last person shutting out the lights, and have been slowly crumbling for two millennia.

Lost In Time Carthage, Tunisia - SHeet2
Carthage Archaeological Site, Tunisia _©Jean-Jacques Gelbart

The arena at El Jem is among the most stunning. This little contemporary village is built around an old arena that is nearly finished, growing to its maximum height as well as dwarfing almost all of the new structures. You might have seen it before, since many combat films and sequences are shot here before being removed to be produced and replaced with a crowd. The weird acoustic give you a strong sensation of claustrophobia, which must have numbed the warriors’ senses when a wall of sound slammed them as they approached. Carthage may now be found only in the pages of Virgil, yet Tunisia still has some of the greatest ancient ruins in the world.

The Carthage Museum and Byrsa Hill

We may get a sense of the history and also the area itself by beginning our ascent to Byrsa Hill. From here, you can see the whole landscape, including the sparkling Gulf of Tunis and also the completely circular Punic Ports, which unique design allowed the Carthaginian fleet to look out to sea while remaining concealed from approaching warships. At your feet lie the low-level remnants of a Hannibal-era housing sector from the early third century BC, even a well grid of roads would see Carthaginians following in your footsteps.

The two-story Carthage Museum, located at the summit of the hill, exhibits a collection of archeological remains discovered strewn over the ruins. Stone sarcophagi from the 4th century BC, colorful mosaics portraying the changing seasons, and a figure of a wine-drunk Silenus, partner of Bacchus, the Roman deity of the grape harvest, are among the exhibits. The edifice was a formerly Catholic seminary in the early twentieth century; the adjoining colonial French L’Acropolium church, since deconsecrated, is an unconnected but moderately intriguing location to pop your head in and marvel over the weird combination of Moorish, Byzantine, and Gothic architectural features.

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The view from Byrsa Hill of Carthage is definitely worth the effort. _©Romas Photo

Baths of Antonine

The Roman Antonine Bath, begun by Emperor Hadrian and finished during the era of Antoninus Pius as in 2nd century AD, are easily the most spectacular remains left in Carthage. This huge terminus, located on valuable real land right on the seashore, was the biggest bath complex outside of Rome, emphasizing the city’s significance in the larger empire. Today, the bathhouse’s foundations are essentially all that remain, however the grass-topped arch and stone-hewn tunnels, that formerly allowed workers to walk around underground corridors without disturbing the bathers, undoubtedly entice tourists to investigate. Don’t forget to glance at the map of what property used to look like close to the entry to help spark your imagination.

A restored 15m-tall column exemplifies the vast magnitude of this complex: it was one of eight that supported the enormous 22m-by-42m frigidarium (cold room). Following the Roman bathing practice, narrow passageways lead to the modest tepidarium (warm chamber) and subsequently toward the 10-sided caldarium (hot room). There were palestras (gymnasiums) on both ends of the frigidarium where bathers may engage in some wrestling before proceeding to the sauna. The Vandals, true to their reputation, destroyed the baths in 439 AD, and also the Arabs rebuilt Tunis using stones from Carthage. The facilities were fed by the Roman-built Zaghouan Aqueduct, which can still be seen northwest of Byrsa Hill. The route connecting Tunis and Zaghouan at Oudna still has an outstandingly intact and magnificent piece of aqueduct.

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Antonine Bath, Carthage _©Graham Claytor

The Roman Theatre

The recreated Roman-era theater northeast of Byrsa Hill had been nearly totally rebuilt; unfortunately, only a tiny piece is made up of the authentic 2nd-century stones. However, its completeness gives for a feeling of level: the theatre is supposed to have held up to 5000 visitors. This is the major site for the yearly International Fest of Carthage, which takes place in July and August and features music, dance, and dramatic events.

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Ancient ruins of roman amphitheater, Carthage _©Farida

Roman Villas

This apartment section nearby the theatre is a monument to the Roman empire’s strength and wealth. The rebuilt Villa of the Aviary is the centerpiece, with a column-ringed courtyard, a dispersed of floor mosaics, and a terrace with an unrivalled vista of the Gulf of Tunis which must have charged this 2nd-century dweller a good coin. The home is called from the enormous peristyle mosaic, which depicts fruit tree branches, squirrels, ducks, and peacock-like birds having long crimson tail feathers.

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Ruins of a Roman Villa, Carthage _©Marcella Miriello

Tophet’s Sanctuary

The spooky Sanctuary of Tophet is peppered with lichen-covered stelae and is believed to have utilized for ritual sacrifices of infants and animals. These tombstones are etched with symbols and letters, such as the Tanit sign, a marker of the Punic deity that resembles a stick-figure lady in a garment or an Egyptian ankh (the key of life). When French researchers explored the site in 1921, they discovered almost 20,000 urns beneath the stelae that held the cremated remains plus bone pieces of children, making it one of the greatest cemeteries of the period.

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Tophet’s Sanctuary _©Martha

The Bardo Museum

The Bardo Museum is not in Carthage, but it houses the recovered statues and exquisite mosaics that adorned the residences of the elite in Punic as well as Roman Carthage. Mosaic tilework was typically used to cover the flooring of whole courtyards, dining rooms, and huge halls, and the old commissioners requested that a broad range of topics be depicted in the colourful tiles. Sea creatures and wine-soaked festival sceneries have been popular, and one of the most interesting is indeed the tiger skin mosaic “rug” sprawled out as if captured in a hunt. A sculpture of the lion-faced deity Tanit and smiling Punic masks are also on display at the museum.

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The National Bardo Museum _©Nadia Ben

Exceptional International Significance

Carthage, established by the Phoenicians, is a sprawling ancient site perched on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Tunis and also the adjacent plain. Carthage, the Punic civilization’s capital in Africa and the state capital of Africa in Roman era, played a pivotal part in Antiquity as a major trading empire. During the protracted Punic wars, Carthage conquered Rome’s territory, which was subsequently destroyed by Rome in 146 AD. The Romans erected the settlement on the remains of a historical city.

References
  1. An explorer’s guide to Carthage’s ancient ruins. (n.d.). Retrieved from Lonely Planet: https://www.lonelyplanet.com/articles/carthage-tunisia-ruins-guide
  2. Archinomy. (n.d.). Ancient city of carthage. Retrieved from Archinomy: https://www.archinomy.com/case-studies/ancient-city-of-carthage/
  3. BGMN. (2018, 02 05). Tunisian Monitor Online. Retrieved from Carthage,A lost civilisation: https://www.tunisianmonitoronline.com/index.php/2018/02/05/carthage-a-lost-civilisation/
  4. Jules. (2010, May 04). Lost and Found: Carthage and Roman Tunisia. Retrieved from Pure Travel : https://www.puretravel.com/blog/2010/05/04/lost-and-found-carthage-and-roman-tunisia/
  5. Keurs, P. t. (2014, March 12). leidenanthropologyblog. Retrieved from Carthage: The image of a lost city: https://www.leidenanthropologyblog.nl/articles/carthage-the-image-of-a-lost-city
  6. UNESCO. (n.d.). Archaeological Site of Carthage. Retrieved from UNESCO: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/37/
  7. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Architecture of Tunisia. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Architecture_of_Tunisia#Punic_Carthage
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An aspiring urbanist, who is trying to explore herself through architectural writing currently, she believes that the remedy for a healthy planet begins with designing responsive spaces. She is an optimistic, determined and curious person who is always eager to learn and improve her skills.

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