El Djem Amphitheater (World Heritage)

The Colosseum of El-Djem, the ancient Thysdrus, built at the beginning of the 3rd century, was the largest amphitheater in North Africa. Its dimensions were enormous: the three-storey building was approx. 150 m long, 36 m high and 122 m wide. The facade was adorned by 68 arcades. There was space for up to 35,000 spectators; today a semicircle of the building still stands. Thysdrus was the center of olive and grain cultivation for the supply of Rome.

El Djem amphitheater: facts

Official title: Amphitheater of El Djem
Cultural monument: Three-storey amphitheater for up to 35,000 spectators, 148 m long, 122 m wide, 36 m high and provided with 68 arcades
Continent: Africa
Country: Tunisia, see smber
Location: El-Djem / Thysdrus, between Sousse and Sfax
Appointment: 1979
Meaning: the largest amphitheater in North Africa as a stone testimony to the greatness of the Roman Empire

Amphitheater of El-Djem: history

46 BC Chr. Foundation of Thysdrus
at 230 Construction of the amphitheater
238 Suppression of a revolt by the troops of the Thrace-born Roman emperor Maximinus Thrax (173-238)
7th century Conversion to the fortress of the Berber leader Damia Kahina, who was fighting against the Arabs
1695 partial destruction when Bey Mohammed opened a breach

Bread and games

As far as the eye could see, olive plantations laid graphic patterns over the arid Sahel landscape between Sousse and Sfax. Thanks to the ingenious Roman irrigation systems, the once barren and barren region had been transformed into flourishing farming land. In the middle was Thysdrus, founded by Caesar, which was one of the wealthiest cities in North Africa because of the intensive use of land and the strong demand for oil from Rome. Of course, prestige, power and wealth also wanted to be properly demonstrated to the outside world. In the later El-Djem, not only were magnificent villas with the most beautiful mosaics, a circus and thermal baths, but also an amphitheater of gigantic proportions, »a rampart rammed into the horizon, a stone oval, a seal with which imperial Rome is united Shaped the steppe.

In the 3rd century, however, the economic zenith of Thysdrus was already passed after a few years of prosperity. Rome’s financial demands on the African landowners had become more and more immoderate. And so the introduction of an olive tax in 238 was only the final impetus for a revolt to break out, which quickly spread to other North African cities. The uprising, however, was bloodily crushed by the troops of the Roman emperor Gaius Julius Verus Maximinus, known as Maximinus Thrax.

El-Djem was never able to recover from this stroke of fate. But the amphitheater, one of the best-preserved monuments of its kind on the territory of the Roman Empire, is a shining testimony to its great past. The cultural historian Jean Duvignaud is certainly not exaggerating when he writes: “This one large eye of the Colosseum in El Djem leaves you in a speechless astonishment.” The small rural town of El-Djem sees the rise in the flat steppe landscape. The outer walls are 40 meters high and are divided into three rows of arches with 68 arcades each. The Turkish Bey Mohammed had a breach made in this impressive building when his men holed up in the theater, insurgent Berbers attacked. Even if this damage was never repaired, this amphitheater with its huge oval interior, which could be covered with a sun sail, does not have to shy away from comparison with Rome’s Colosseum. After all, this is the third largest amphitheater in the Roman world. In view of their rather monotonous life in this uniform, flat landscape of the Sahel, the people demanded variety and amusement. Gladiator fights, animal hunting and other more or less bloody spectacles were particularly popular.

Whoever descends into the cellar vault of the “African Coliseum” can still see the stables and narrow corridors that made it possible to let the wild animals quickly and safely into the 65 by 37 meter arena. The dungeons in which the human “actors”, gladiators and persecuted Christians, fearfully awaited their final appearance, can still be made out. It takes little imagination to imagine the cruel “games” that once took place here.

Only on a few days of the year, during the summer festival, does the huge oval of El-Djem come to life again today when it is used as the setting for theater performances and musical events. These are rarely cruel.

El Djem Amphitheater (World Heritage)

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