In Southern Tunisia, the sleepy agricultural modern town of El Jem was known as Thysdrus during the Roman period around the reign of Emperor Hadrian (AD 117-38).
Strategically situated on a major crossroad on the Afro-Roman trade route (on an originally Phoenician, Punic site), ancient Thysdrus (El Jem) was a thriving town, because of its endless olive groves and olive oil production. At its peak during the Roman period, the ancient city had a substantial population of 40,000 inhabitants.
Dating from 230 to 238 AD and oval-shaped, its size, and splendour and preservation rivals and in some cases exceeds the Colosseum of Rome and illustrates the grandeur and extent of Imperial Rome.
The ancient stadium seated over 35000 people and was used for gladiatorial games. It was intact until a few hundred years ago when residents started using the stone blocks for other local constructions. The Colosseum of El Jem is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The El Jem Archaeological Museum houses a superb and sumptuous collection of ancient mosaics discovered during excavations carried out at ancient Thysdrus. They mainly originate from the town’s former Roman villas and from the Roman Amphitheatre. In a peaceful setting, the well-presented museum itself is a restored Roman Villa known as the House of Africa. The mosaic collection is one of the finest of Roman antiquity.
All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.