Where: Thysdrus, 50 miles south of Tunis, Tunisia, North Africa
When: 3rd Century
History: 3rd largest colosseum in the world, showing great fights between man and beast
Go there for: Decadent villas and dazzling mosaics
The Roman Colosseum in El Djem is one of the largest Colosseums ever built and the jewel in the crown of the Roman town of Thysdrus which once held decadent villas and dazzling mosaics. In its heyday, 30,000 bloodthirsty people would travel from vast distances to see the spectacle of man on wild beast battles.
What Happened at El Djem?
Any number of exotic animals may have faced their death here – Camels, horses, zebra, even giraffes – as the concept of the Colosseum was to show off the glories of the Roman Empire. Here was the ancient trading town of Thesterus, the hub of the Saharan trade routes bringing goods, slaves and wild animals from the African interior to the Colosseum.
Animals, prisoners and gladiators were kept in the giant dungeons underneath the ampitheatre until brought out into the blinding sunlight to give, what in many cases, was the final performance of their short lifetimes.
Architecture and Invasion
The site of El Djem itself is covered in sand. It’s a grand Romanesque construction and the third largest ampitheatre in the world. Build in the 3rd century AD by Emperor Gordie I, the theatre was never completed because of political rivalries and lack of money. He reputedly killed himself in the ampitheatre when the rebellion was doomed and his town virtually destroyed.
It’s easy to see the project’s weak point, built for 35,000 in a remote location it could never have achieved the crowds and glory of Rome. It served as a stronghold against invasion and was the last Berber bastion against Arab invaders.
Visiting El Djem
Workshops have recently opened in El Djem where artists are creating exceptionally elegant mosaics. You can compare these artworks with the historic pieces in the museum by the colosseum.
El Djem Ampitheatre
An explorations of the ampitheatre of El Djem