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El Jem Amphitheatre

El Jem Amphitheatre

El Jem Amphitheatre (El Djem), also known as Thysdrus Amphitheatre after the original Roman settlement in this location, stands in the midst of a quiet town in Tunisia. This incredibly large and well-preserved Roman amphitheatre is El Jem’s star attraction and draws visitors from around the world.

Despite the ravages of time, El Jem remains one of the most evocative Ancient Roman structures in the world and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. You might also recognise this ancient treasure from Monty Python’s film, ‘Life of Brian’.

El Jem Amphitheatre history

Constructed by the Emperor Gordian between 230 and 238 AD, El Jem Amphitheatre was built for spectator events such as gladiatorial games. The amphitheatre was vast and able to accommodate up to 35,000 spectators (potentially up to 60,000), measuring 162 metres long and 118 metres wide, making El Jem the largest theatre of its kind in North Africa.

Having managed to survive the destruction of the city carried out in 238 AD, in the Middle Ages the amphitheatre served as a fortress, sheltering the locals during attacks from the Arabs in 647. The damage which one can see at the El Jem Amphitheatre can be attributed to its time as a citadel in the 17th century.

In 1695, the Muradid leader in Tunis, Mohamed Bey El Mouradi, opened one of the walls to prevent his brother’s followers resisting him as they gathered in the amphitheatre. It was around this period that El Jem was hit by cannon fire and later also quarried for its treasures and masonry.

El Jem Amphitheatre today

Today, you approach El Jem amphitheatre by descending steps that mimic the stadium’s seats. Inside, explore every nook of the ancient stadium, from the underground passages that held animals ready for games to the arena that would have seen gladiators waiting to fight them. You can also join a guided tour for a fuller explanation of the theatre’s history. Otherwise, wander the site at your own pace before stopping at the small shop for a memento.

From the outside, the El Jem Amphitheatre bears a striking resemblance to its older and larger – although not significantly larger – counterpart in Rome, the Colosseum. With its abundant original characteristics such as its tiered seats, arches and elliptical stone walls, which are intact up to 35 metres in places, many argue that the El Jem Amphitheatre is actually in better condition that the Colosseum.

Getting to El Jem Amphitheatre

El Jem Amphitheatre is only a 5 minute walk from the train station, where you can get trains 120S-450K, 120S-488F or 120S-553H. Alternately, you could drive from Tunis in just over 2 hours along the A1, and there is nearby parking available.


visited el djem and the roman amphitheatre. wow!For lovers of roman art and history this place is a must..do not make the same mistake as us though. do not go on an organised trip/excursion. you will be rushed and not have enough time to take in the atmosphere of this magnificent site.Sit in the stands and just imagine the death and destruction that went on in there in order to satisfy the masses. walk up the entrance to the arena,from the dungeons below and you are walking in the footsteps and seeing the sights of gladiators from thousands of years before you. El djem puts you back in time. you can hear the crowds roar. aswell as the lions!

Just come back from a visit to El Jem and was awestruck at its beauty and size! There is really nothing left to the imagination- you can picture the gladiators, slaves and lions clashing in the oval shaped auditorium. The best section of the colosseum, in my opinion, is the dungeons. They are almost perfectly preserved and it is possible to walk through the lion enclosures and along the corridors into the auditorium. This site is a must for all visitors to Tunisia, particularly fans of Roman history!


Better than Rome’s Colosseum?

The scale of El Djem is vast and although it is not as big as the Colloseum, the quality of it is better and it is better preserved. However, a key reason to visit El Djem at the moment is that it is almost clear of the annoying mass tourism at Rome and other main Roman sites of Europe.

Following the terrorist attack on a beach in Sousse in 2015 , tourism in Tunisia has severely declined. Since the main holiday companies such as TUI and Thomas Cook started to return last year (2018) and the FCO reduced the threat level of the country (from ‘advise against all but essential travel’ to ‘see advice before travelling), tourism has started to slowly increase.

However, many sites such as El Djem and Carthage are currently almost deserted. During our time at El Djem (March 2019) there was just one other school group and maybe 5/6 couples exploring at the same time as our group. We also had the Roman baths at Carthage pretty much all to ourselves!


Amphitheatre of El Jem - Tunisia

Location and Values: The Amphitheatre of El Jem is located in the small town of El Jem in central Tunisia, about 60 km south of Sousse. It is undoubtedly the most impressive Roman monument in Africa, its massive bulk visible for kilometres around, dwarfing the tiny houses of the town around its base. It has a seating capacity of around 30,000 people, stands 30m high, with a diameter of well over 100 metres, almost as large as the Colosseum in Rome. It is thought to date from around 230 AD, and was built by a local proconsul, Gordian. The amphitheatre has been extensively renovated and it is possible to climb to the top of the third tier of seating, and explore the corridors and rooms under the arches and floors.

Slideshow of the Amphitheatre Of El Jem: The slideshow provides a thorough ‘photo essay’ of the site, including views of the amphitheatre from outside, and behind-the-scenes photos of the rooms and spaces behind the arches and underneath the main arena, where the animals, prisoners and gladiators were kept before their hour of reckoning.

Slideshow of the Amphitheatre Of El Jem:

Google Earth View: To view satellite imagery of the amphitheatre of El Jem on Google Earth, click here. This opens a new window, so when you are finished, just close the Google Earth page and you will be straight back here to continue browsing.

Links to other places featuring the frontiers of the Roman Empire: Djemila I Timgad I Tipaza I Cyrene I Leptis Magna I Sabratha I Carthage I Dougga I Volubilis


The fine print

All in all, El Jem is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Fortunately, even though it might be located very remotely, it is easily accessed. Most hotels will offer tours that take you to it, while renting a car is easy and will only take an hour from the likes of Sousse or Mahdia.

A slight point should be made on the climate. Depending on the time of year that you visit, it can vary considerably. Due to its open nature, it can either be exceptionally hot or cold, so make sure you take this into account as you pack for the day trip.


Impressions of El Jem: Amphitheatre of Antiquity, Tunisia

The article outlines the history of the Amphitheater of El Jem in Tunisia together with impressions of its structure. It is a great surprise to drive for some 40 miles from the Tunisian coast through mile after mile of olive groves, then to come upon the town of El Jem and be confronted with a well-preserved Roman amphitheater on a scale of the Coliseum in Rome. This particular structure was constructed on four levels of arena seating. It is estimated that it could hold a capacity crowd of around 30,000 people.

The Entertainments

The building is credited as being built by proconsul Gordian in around 230 AD though there is a local tradition that the project was founded by wealthy families who thrived on the rich trade of the city of Thysdrus which was located at a crossroads of major north south and east west trade routes.

It is believed the Amphitheater especially featured the use of wild animals as part of the &lsquoentertainments&rsquo. This could take the form of exhibitions of the training of wild animals such as lions, leopards, panthers and bears, though probably the crowds would more enthusiastically follow the &lsquohunt&rsquo of wild animals within the arena. On a more barbaric note, animals would be set to attack and devour victims within the area. These could be convicted criminals whose demise would act as a visible deterrent to the onlookers, or prisoners of war from foreign conquests. Also early Christians would have met their deaths within the Amphitheater.

Mosaics found within numerous excavated Roman villas in the surrounding Roman town of Thysdrus portray in graphic detail the horror of these inhumanities. Some of these mosaics can be seen within the antiquities museum in the town and are well worth visiting.

The establishment of the &lsquoentertainments&rsquo gave rise to various guilds which trained both fighters and animals to meet the demands of the onlookers.

An Ongoing Stronghold

Underground tunnel: El Jem Amphitheatre Credit: author image

Through history, the Amphitheater would find new roles as a place of military strength amid warring factions, such as during the initial wars of conquest of Islam which swept across North Africa in 647 AD. The Amphitheater to this day retains its association with opposition to foreign invading forces. The structure of the Amphitheater would suffer greatly from conflicts in 1695 and 1850 where cannon fire was used by the Turks to breach the walls of the edifice. With this severe damage to the structure, the Amphitheater was used as stone for the surrounding town of El Jem from 1850 onwards. The Amphitheater was also a place of final refuge and resistance for fighters opposed to French colonial rule as late as 1882.

Impressions

Although the Amphitheater is an impressive architectural feature, elements of its unique character are best experienced at close hand. The underground tunnels which, for example link with chambers where animals, gladiators and victims would be held are worthy of note. Places where doors would have been positioned remain clearly visible. The original wells which served the Amphitheater have also been restored.

Within the seating plan of the Amphitheater, the most prestigious seats were closest to the arena, with the least important of population (women and children) seated furthest away at the highest levels.

Modern Times

Details of the wall structure: El Jem Amphitheatre Credit: author image

An extensive programme of reconstruction within the last 35 years has stabilized the structure. One interpretation of the use of such large stone blocks in the original structure is that large blocks are necessary to compensate for lower load-bearing properties of the stone.

The restoration of the Amphitheater has allowed it to become a place of entertainment, featuring open air classical music concerts during the summer months. In 1979 the El Jem Amphitheater became a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The Ampitheatre Of El Jem.

The Amphitheatre of El Jem is an oval ampitheatre in the modern-day city of El Jem, Tunisia, formerly Thydrus in the Roman province of Africa. It is listed by UNESCO since 1979 as a World Heritage Site.

It is one of the best preserved Roman stone ruins in the world, and is unique 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 metres (486 ft) and 122 metres (400 ft). The amphitheatre is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved.

The amphitheatre is one of the most iconic architectural contributions of ancient Rome. The most famous example of such a structure is the Colosseum in Rome, where brutal gladiatorial battles took place.

Nevertheless, amphitheatres were built all throughout the Roman Empire, with around 230 known amphitheatres that are still surviving today. One of the most magnificent examples can be found in the Tunisian city of El Djem, considered to be home to the most impressive Roman remains in the whole of Africa, and famous for its starring role in the Hollywood epic ‘Gladiator’.

Statue: The Dying Gladiator.

Whilst the exact date of the amphitheatre’s construction is uncertain, it has been speculated that work began in A.D. 238. This year is also known as the ‘Year of the Six Emperors’, as there were six people recognised as emperors of Rome during this year. The amphitheatre may have been commissioned by one of these emperors, Gordian I or his grandson (also one of the six emperors), Gordian III. The year A.D. 238 was not exactly a peaceful year for the Roman Empire, and it was an uprising in the Roman-ruled areas of Africa that made Gordian I, who incidentally was nearly 80 years old at that time, the emperor of Rome.

Gordian II.

The Ampitheatre of El Jem is still an impressive tourist attraction today, and its historical importance was recognized in 1979 when it was inscribed as a World Heritage Site.

Ampitheatre of El Jem, Tunisia.


El Jem: A Marvellous Historical Experience in Tunisia

Photo Credit: Sergio Gómez

Reporter Erin Clare Brown from BBC Travel says that the fuss is long gone about Rome’s Colosseum, comparing the horde of tourists who were waiting under a pouring rain as “wild animals before a gladiator hunt.”

Brown, compares the Colosseum to Tunisia’s Amphitheatre of El Jem, and its great resemblance to Rome’s, stating that it is not only cheaper (4$) but also, “blissfully” empty, which enables one from getting the whole experience of the “Roman engineering and architecture.”

Indeed, Tunisia’s El Jem is an outstanding Roman monument that had borne witness to the impressive Roman Empire that saw its demise in 375 AD with the fall of Constantinople. This amphitheatre, as described in Rob Marsh’s Understanding Africa, is “184 m long by 122 m wide” and could carry up to 35 000 spectators. Built around 238 AD by the Roman proconsul Gordian, Tunisia’s Colosseum was positioned in an agricultural area, where its inhabitants could harvest “wheat and olives.” The amphitheatre has a remarkably detailed history, being exploited in the roman civilization to host gladiator combats and venationes and used centuries later, in the Byzantine era, by armed rebellion against the Arab invaders.

El Jem possesses 64 flight of stairs to access the benches, three floors punctuated by arcades and arenas in its basement. Like all amphitheatres known to humankind, El Jem testifies to the spectacular skills of the roman architecture and its well-preserved shape, built from stone blocks, immortalizes their history as well as other civilizations’.

Tunisian women and their fight against inequality and violence stems from an awareness of their rights as human beings, deserving of the same privileges as their male counterparts. However, the Tunisian female population didn’t always have to defend these basic rights. Throughout history, many myths and stories have been told about great queens who defied male rule and its sovereignty. Of these extraordinary queens, Dihya, nicknamed Al-Kahina, meaning “sorceress” or “priestess,” was the most remarkable as she defied the Caliphate conquest of North Africa before meeting her fate in this grandiose monument. Indeed, the queen of the Berbers, refused to bend the knee to the Arabs. As a result of her defiance, she was killed in the battle by an Arab general’s army, Hassan ibn al-Numan. Algerian Historiographer, Moubarak El Mili, depicted her as a “pearl (embellishing) the history of women, because of her good policy, great courage, and sincere defense of (her) country and adherence to principles.” Al-Kahina will remain in history as the queen who fought, chauvinistically, against the colonization of her territories and lends to this Roman Colosseum a romantic air.

A UNESCO World Heritage monument, El Jem is usually visited as part of a day trip that begins with a visit to the amphitheatre and ends with a stroll at its Archaeological Museum where numerous mosaics are displayed. “La Maison d’Africa” is a sumptuous aristocratic residence built around 170 AD that showcases the prosperity and richness of the Thysdrus rule. A must-see, this residence abounds with several pavements of mosaics, each as remarkable as the other. Every year, thousands of tourists flock to the third biggest Roman amphitheatre in the world, eager to see one of Tunisia’s most valuable historical masterpieces.

Photo Credit: Khaled Elhaj

This Roman amphitheatre hosts every year the International Festival of El Jem Symphonic Music, since 1985. Visitors of all around the world look forward to this cultural event that stimulates their imagination with the monument’s splendid architecture, the lighting that highlights its marvellous arcades and the beautiful melodies that spur chills and goosebumps.


The Amphitheatre of El Jem

The amphitheatre was built around 238 AD in El Jem, Tunisia. It is one of the best preserved roman aphitheaters in the world, and is unique in Africa. The estimated capacity is around 35,000, and is 32 metres high. The amphitheatre is built from scratch of stone blocks, and is exceptionally well conserved. As you wander in its maze, you can sense the gigantic size of the monument, between shady arches built with limestone and tunnel dug in the ground housin the cells where wild animals used to be kept. The belief is that it was constructed by the local proconsul Gordian, who became the emperor as Gordian III. So, please join us in this tour and marvel the place as it offers you the best panoramic vista of the city of El Jem and its surroundings.

Meet MedTunis

MedTunis

Mohamed Halouani, Tunisian native. Mohamed transformed his profound passion for travel and history into a creative and diversified educational career, designing and carrying out multiple archaeological and cultural trips for various institutions such as The Detroit Institute of Art, the Textile Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and many more organizations. After having received his degrees in English and Spanish, Mohamed completed his European Master's in linguistics and Hispanic studies at the Sorbonne University in Paris. He has extensive knowledge on Islamic architecture and Eastern decorative elements, as well as, archaeology and history. An excellent lecturer on ethnographic and anthropological subjects, he will introduce you not only to the historical jewels of Tunisia but he'll also reveal to you the culture and history. He is the Co-founder of the Tunisian Interprofessional Federation for Tourism and President of the Cultural Tourism in Tunisia.

What to expect

Get ready for something special. We’re travelling to El Jem with no passport, no plane ticket and no luggage. And yet you’ll experience all the sights, sounds and stories with just your laptop, favorite snack and an amazing content creator.

The tour will last about 45 mins and will be live-streamed by your content creator directly from El Jem . Forget about slideshows or pre-recorded videos, this is a live broadcast and anything can happen!

While on the tour you’ll be able to see a full screen video of your content creator and their surroundings, interact with them and other travellers through the live chat, see where you are in the world on a map and show your appreciation with a tip.

Why are they tip-supported?

We are running these tours on a tip-supported basis to make them as accessible as possible. They are free to join, but you have the option to leave a tip during the tour.

The majority of your tip goes directly to support the channel, while the rest helps Heygo continue to build a place that brings the world closer together.

See a tour in action

How to join

Reserve your spot by selecting a time to book. Once done, you’ll be able to see your reservations on your Trips page and we’ll send you an email confirmation with a link to join the tour.

For the best viewing experience, please join on a computer using Google Chrome.


El Jem Amphitheatre - History

El Jem

El Jem or El Djem Amphitheatre

Seen from miles away, the mighty Roman amphitheater of El Jem (or El Djem) is a must-see for any traveler in Tunisia. It has been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It is also arguably the best-preserved Roman amphitheater in the world.

The Romans began construction on this amphitheater in 230 AD and within eight years this tremendous center of entertainment was completed. It was the fourth largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire and can hold up to 30,000 spectators. It is 149m long and 122m wide and today rises to a height of 40m. This amphitheater would have hosted numerous events popular in antiquity including gladiatorial shows, wild animal hunts, and criminal executions.

Any visitor can climb to the top level and take in the views of the town of El Jem and its surroundings as well as descend to the lower levels where rooms for wild animals and gladiators would have been found. Unlike the Roman Coliseum in Italy, this impressive amphitheater has very few crowds and one can spend undisturbed time exploring the ruins or reflecting on the events that would have taken place there.

El Jem Museum

Within walking distance of the amphitheater is the El Jem Museum. Here you will find a plethora of Mosaics depicting life and times in Roman North Africa. An archaeological site located in this museum is called the House of Africa. Make sure time is set aside to enjoy the various Roman collections found in this museum.

Want to Visit El Jem?

If you are interested in visiting this impressive amphitheatre, our travel experts are happy to assist you to plan an unforgettable Tunisia tour.


Watch the video: 4KThe Amphitheatre of El Jem Tunisia. 2020. UltraHD Travel Video (January 2022).

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