Ruins of Carthage, Tunisia

Carthage, the most important Roman metropolis in Africa in what is now Tunisia, was destroyed in the 7th century. Today, you can still get a taste of history among the remains of the former metropolis.

The ruins of the city of Carthage are located in North Africa near the Tunisian capital Tunis. Carthage was a major city in ancient times and the capital of the North African maritime and trading power Carthage. The ruins of the former metropolis are now a suburb of Tunis and one of Tunisia's most important sights. Since 1979, the excavation site of Carthage has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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PICTURES: Ruins of Carthage

 

History of Carthage

Carthage was founded in about the 8th century BC and conquered by the Persians in 539 BC. Carthage had two first-class ports, perfected navigation and supported the Persians in their wars. Soon Carthage maintained colonies throughout the Mediterranean from Sicily to southern Spain. Its inhabitants, called Punic by the Romans, indulged in every conceivable luxury in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, for Carthage had risen to become the richest city on the Mediterranean through the boom in maritime trade.

But then came the three Punic Wars against Rome, the second led by the famous Carthaginian general Hannibal, who made it to the gates of Rome. In 146 BC, at the end of the third Punic War, Carthage was conquered by the Romans and completely burnt down. It was not until about a century later, under the famous emperor Gaius Julius Caesar and later the Roman emperor Augustus, that Carthage was refounded and once again developed into a metropolis. Thanks to the lively grain trade with Rome, Carthage became the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire at that time, after Rome, Antiocha and Alexandria.

Carthage was once the most important Roman city in North Africa. Its ruins can be visited today in a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia - © Dereje / Shutterstock
© Dereje / Shutterstock

In the 4th century, Carthage was conquered by the Vandal people, who made Carthage the new capital of the Vandal Empire. Although reconquered by the Romans in 533, Carthage's heyday was almost over. Around 600, some buildings were renovated, but when the Arabs invaded North Africa in the middle of the 7th century and founded their first African city, Kairouan, it was not long before Carthage was destroyed by the Arabs at the end of the 7th century. Nearby Tunis became the new administrative centre and from then on Carthage served as a quarry for the nearby cities of Tunis, Kairouan and Sousse.

Visit the ruins of Carthage

Today, the former Carthage lies about 15 km west of Tunis and can be reached easily in half an hour by the TGM express train. When you reach today's villa district of Carthage, you won't believe that you are actually walking on historical ground when you see the Moorish palaces and palm-covered gardens.

St Louis Catholic Cathedral is located on Byrsa Hill amidst the ruins of Carthage in Tunisia - © WitR / Shutterstock
© WitR / Shutterstock

The Arabs were extremely thorough in their destruction of Carthage. Thus, unfortunately, all that remains of the once magnificent Roman residences, villas and thermal baths of Carthage today are a few foundation walls and the remains of columns. Nothing at all remained of the Punic buildings after the last Punic war. However, the excavations have not yet been completed and perhaps one or two Carthaginian treasures are still hidden beneath the earth.

The uncovered remains of Roman and Punic history can be marvelled at in a total of six archaeological sites.

Tip: For a visit to the ruins of Carthage, you should plan on several hours or even a whole day, because the individual excavation sites are about 15 minutes apart on foot. So you should be prepared for a long walk and wear sturdy shoes accordingly. If you want to avoid this, you can also take the TGM fast train to the individual stations of Carthage.

Things to see in the ruins of Carthage

Amphitheatre

One of the highlights of Carthage is the Roman amphitheatre. Its enormous dimensions can still be guessed at today. Apparently, in its heyday it could seat up to 50,000 spectators, both standing and seated. At that time, it was the largest African amphitheatre of the Roman Empire after the amphitheatre in El Jem. Today, the Carthage Amphitheatre is used for summer music and theatre events and festivals.

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The huge amphitheatre in Carthage was the largest amphitheatre in Africa after the one in El Jem, Tunisia - © amidala76 / Shutterstock
© amidala76 / Shutterstock

Antonius Pius Therme

Directly above the coast lies the impressive Antonius Pius thermal baths dating from 162 AD. The Romans were known for their luxurious baths and a hint of this former splendour can still be sensed here. At that time, the Antonius-Pius-Therme was one of the largest and most beautiful wellness temples in the Roman Empire. With a length of 200m and a height of 20m, still impressively displayed today by a 15m high re-erected column of the frigidarium, the luxurious building was the largest Roman spa outside Rome.

Magnon Quarter

To the south of the spa is the Quartier Magnon archaeological park, where beautiful Roman villas with ornate mosaics and fountains of the wealthy Romans can be admired.

Cult site of Tophet

Those with a penchant for the creepy will find the world-famous cult site of Tophet an interesting destination. At the beginning of the 20th century, clear evidence was found here in the form of thousands of bones and urns that human sacrifices were made here by the Carthaginians. In order to please the gods, even children had to give their lives.

St Louis Cathedral

The best view of the ruins of Carthage is from Byrsa Hill. Right there is the imposing St. Louis Cathedral, built by the French in 1890.

A former monastery at the back of St Louis Cathedral in Carthage houses the National Museum of Tunisia - © amidala76 / Shutterstock
© amidala76 / Shutterstock

The Tunisian National Museum has been set up in the former monastery at the back, which presents mainly Punic culture in the form of sculptures and jewellery and is definitely worth a visit!

Tip: There is virtually no shade on the Carthage excavation site, so be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen, enough drinking water and a head covering!

Around Carthage

Before leaving the ruins of Carthage again, you should definitely pay a visit to the breathtaking coastal region, which is one of the most beautiful in all of Tunisia. The fantastic landscape is clothed in an intoxicating sea of flowers in spring and offers idyllic bathing opportunities in summer. Other excursion options from Carthage include the picturesque Artists' Village Sidi Bou Said and the beautiful coastal town of La Marsa.


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