Amphitheater of El Jem

Amphitheater of El Jem
Photo by Jonas Kremer.

The Amphitheater of El Jem is an immense theatre in the classic Roman town of Thysdrus (now El Jem), dating from the 3rd century AD. It is the largest remaining Roman monument in Africa.

The city of Thysdrus had become rich through the olive trade. The elliptical theatre had room for 35,000 spectators, more than the number of inhabitants of Thysdrus. The Amphitheater's complex, high-quality architecture, combined with its location in a remote province, made it a showcase of Roman imperial power and prosperity.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 21-May-22 -

Amphitheater of El Jem by Els Slots

Four times a day, there are direct trains between Tunis and El Djem. That seemed like an interesting way to visit this WHS, so I bought a ticket for the 8.35 a.m. train, which should take about 3.5 hours. The platform was full of passengers… but no train arrived. The local travelers were not impressed and sat on the edge of the adjacent platform in the shade and waited. In the end, we left with a 1h45 delay, which increased to 2 hours later on the route. The train is quite comfortable (I went in first class for 14.75 dinars / 5 EUR), but outdated, warm, and slow.

From El Djem station it is a 10-minute walk to the amphitheater. I had read that it is so big that you can see it from the station, but I didn't see it. It only suddenly appeared in the last street. Due to all the delays, I was there exactly during the hottest part of the day, and it can get hot here. I just started by walking around the galleries, the sun doesn't penetrate there. The galleries are special in that they are three rows high and two rows thick. The stones are scratched with graffiti, many of them recent, but also from the 19th century.

From the second and third galleries, there is a good overview of the entire amphitheater. What is striking is that there are only steps with seats left on one side. There is also a large gap in the whole structure – created in the 17th century when it was blown up by the Ottomans to crush resistance from Berber rebels who had entrenched here.

The stadium in Roman times was mainly used for shows with wild animals, the so-called venationes. The beasts were held in cages below the center field before performing. This part is still well preserved, which distinguishes this amphitheater from, for example, the Colosseum in Rome. The pipes that were supposed to provide the animals with water are also still visible.

The Roman city, of course, consisted of more than just an amphitheater (although the core zone of the WHS is limited to just that one monument). Only since the 1990s have other excavations been carried out here: a smaller amphitheater, baths and a villa with mosaics have been found. The entrance to the mosaic museum and the villa, 'Villa Africa', is included in the entrance fee to the large amphitheater. It is about a 700-meter walk away, on the edge of the dusty town and not far from the louage station.

Tunisia is known for its beautiful mosaics, but unfortunately, I wasn’t able to see much of them. The large Bardo museum in Tunis is closed until at least the end of the year due to political concerns (it lies next to the Parliament, the functioning of which has been suspended since last year). So I was happy to see a few things here in El Djem. And I was positively surprised: you start in the museum, where the mosaics on display get better room after room. It is striking how often wild animals were depicted, the Romans certainly found them exotic.

At the back of the museum is a reconstruction of an excavated villa, with mosaics still in their original setting. It was a grand residence (the largest found in Roman Africa) dating back to the year 170 AD, with a ceremonial room for guests and private quarters.

Read more from Els Slots here.


chris moran price

uk - 21-Jul-10 -

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!


Matt

England - 13-Aug-06 -

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!


Jessica Spratt

Canada - 30-Dec-05 -

The ampitheater of El Jem was great, but we ended up stranded in the town (which is not so great) because our coach driver neglected to tell us that another bus wouldn't stop unless...well, unless he felt like it. Anyways, the ampitheater was amazing. You can explore it to your hearts content, unlike the one in Rome. The most impressive part was going down underneath where many pisoners would have spent their last few lonely moments.


Having arrived in el jem by train and being the only tourists in town at that time i was rather apprehensive and then made more so by being refused a cup of coffee in a cafe full of tunisian men .But all my reservations were forgotten upon first sight of the coloseum ,what a magnificent example of roman architecture and to see it on the edge of the desert even more amazing.ElJem itself is a fascinating place,real Tunisia if you get away from the tourists you,ll still find the camels head outside the butchers shop and the cages of rabbits waiting to be picked for someones dinner ,but thats what we go to see how different cultures are ,a brilliant place can,t wait to go back.


El-Jem is a small town in the middle of the desert. We passed there by train from Sousse, and were impressed by the sight of the colosseum sprouting out of nowhere! The Colosseum is superb! It is indeed much better preserved than that of Rome. And the museum nearby having Roman mosaics and statues is also well kept. A must-see site! We then got back to Sousse by using the Luage system - cheap and well organised.


Klaus Freisinger

Austria -

Now a small town in the middle of nowhere (well, at the edge of the desert), El Jem, the ancient Roman town of Thysdrus, was formerly a crossroads of the caravan trade and a very wealthy town, as you can see in its amazing coliseum, which is probably the finest anywhere - including the one in Rome. You can really see how the Roman Empire had an influence even on remote parts of the Empire, and how the locals wanted to outdo Rome. The place is not far from the touristy coast, so a trip from there is not complicated and no doubt worth the effort.


Ian Cade

UK -

Amphitheater of El Jem by Ian Cade

The Coliseum at El Jem is pretty fantastic and it has a capacity that was probably greater than the population of the town that now surrounds it! The site is really impressive as it is the largest Roman building in Africa and was the third largest Coliseum in the Roman World! The south side is the one through which you enter and is the area that is most intact. The size of the structure is impressive especially when seen from the centre "stage" and there is a fair bit of the ruins open for you to clamber over.

The site makes a nice day trip from Sousse or a great lunch stop if travelling from the south (Sfax or the Sahara!), and if you have luggage with you every restaurant owner in town will offer to store it for you in the hope that you will get lunch at his restaurant after looking around.

There is a train station in the town but the Trains are not so frequent, however they are the easiest way to get there, if not then Louagges provided the most frequent access to the town and are cheap (I prefer them but the train gives you a little more room!)


André Dique

United Kingdom -

What a magnificent coliseum! A true testament to the engineering skills of the ancient Romans. A few hours drive from Tunis this impressive site could easily be visited as a day trip from Tunis or the resorts around Hammamet. I took a louage (the ubiquitous shared taxis) via Sousse, which cost less than 10 dinars. Pardoning the camel rides and curio stands outside, this site is worth a visit for anyone interested in Roman building and fans of the Gladiator film.


Site Info

Full Name
Amphitheater of El Jem
Unesco ID
38
Country
Tunisia
Inscribed
1979
Type
Cultural
Criteria
4 6
Categories
Archaeological site - Ancient Rome
Link
By ID

Site History

1979 Inscribed

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The site has 1 locations

Amphitheater of El Jem

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