Amphitheater of El Jem (#6)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Today we continue examining the list of 52 Ancient Roman Monuments which had been claimed as a “must see” by Touropia Travel Experts. The last location we had checked out was #7 – Diocletian’s Palace.

Today we’re headed to El Djem, Tunisia as we explore #6 – Amphitheater of El Jem!

The Roman Amphitheater of El Jem is the 3rd largest arena in the world, after the Colosseum in Rome and the ruined Capua Amphitheatre. The amphitheatre was built around 238 AD, when the modern Tunisia belonged to the Roman province of Africa, in the city of Thysdrus, currently a suburb of El Djem.

Bust of Gordian III, between 242 and 244 (Louvre).

The Amphitheatre of El Jem is the 3rd amphitheatre built on the same place. The belief is that it was constructed by the local Proconsul Gordian, who became the Emperor as Gordian III.

As with other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events. The estimated capacity is 35,000, and the sizes of the big and the small axes are respectively 486 ft and 400 ft.

Exterior of El Jem in the morning.

The amphitheatre is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved. The closest marble to bring in for construction would have come from the Roman settlement of Simitthu, which is about 179 miles away using modern roads.

In the Middle Ages, it served as a fortress, and the population sought shelter there during the attacks of Vandals in 430 and Arabs in 647. In 1695, during the Revolutions of Tunis, Mohamed Bey El Mouradi made an opening in one of the walls to stop the resistance of the followers of his brother Ali Bey al-Muradi who gathered inside the amphitheater.

Sketch of the amphitheatre from 1875.

The structure remained in a good state until the 17th Century when stones from the arena were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan. It is believed that the amphiteatre was used as a salpetre manufacture in the end of the 18th and in the 19th Century.

Around 1850, the breach in the wall was enlarged by Ahmad I ibn Mustafa to approximately 98 ft. In the latter half of the 19th Century, the structure was used for shops, dwellings, and grain storage.

Inside the amphitheatre. Are you not entertained?

Amphitheatre of El Jem is an archeological site in the city of El Djem, Tunisia. In 1979, UNESCO listed the amphitheatre as a World Heritage Site. More recently, and less destructive, it was used for filming some of the scenes from the Oscar winning film Gladiator.

Unique in Africa, the Amphitheatre of El Jem remains one of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world. We hope you enjoyed today’s journey, and hopefully have inspired you to get out to see more of the world.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Bomgardner, David L. The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre. Routledge, 2013. ISBN 9781134707393.

Nossov, Konstantin. Gladiator: The Complete Guide to Ancient Rome’s Bloody Fighters. Rowman & Littlefield, 2011. ISBN 9780762777334.

“Amphitheatre of El Jem”UNESCO.

 

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