The Ruins of Carthage are known internationally. Carthage is a ritzy seaside neighborhood in the capital city of Tunis. Walk around Carthage and you are bound to run into ruins on every street corner. Your eyes will be mesmerized by the beautiful french colonial homes and modern villas, alongside magnificent views of the Mediterranean. Here’s a guide to get you through the Ruins of Carthage on its Archeological site.
History of Carthage Tunisia
Carthage’s history begins with its founding in 814 B.C.E by the Phoenician Queen Dido. Carthage’s Phoenician name was the “New City” or “Kart-hadasht”, to distinguish itself from Utica. Utica was an older Phoenician establishment nearby. The Romans named the city Carthago, after the Greeks name for it Karchedon. Originally Carthage served as a small port for Phoenician traders to stop by if needed. With time it turned into one of the greatest port cities in the Mediterranean. Once it grew to a powerful city, Carthage became a rival to both Rome and Greek.
Hannibal, a Carthaginian general expanded the empire by conquering most of Africa, Rome, and Spain. He led his 70,000 men alongside elephants across the Swiss Alps to conquer Rome. However, he was severely defeated. Seeking revenge, Rome attacked Carthage. Roman General Scipio Aemilianus besieged the city for three years. When Carthage fell the Romans destroyed the city.
Utica became the main city of Power. Julius Caesar rebuilt Carthage. Carthage once again became an important city until the fall of the Roman Empire.
After the Roman Empire, Carthage would be invaded by several different civilizations. Firstly, the Byzantine Empire invaded Carthage. They maintained the Roman influence over Carthage. The Byzantine fought many times with the Vandals. They were successful in keeping them away from Carthage. However, The Byzantine Empire would be conquered by the Muslims. The Muslims used many of the ruins of Carthage to build what is present-day Tunis.
Getting Around Carthage
You can go from one site to another on foot. Most of the historical sites of Carthage are within a five-minute walking distance from each other. If you are visiting on a hot day I would recommend getting a cab for the day. You should discuss the price beforehand. You can also hire a tour guide who can take you through the different historical sites of Carthage.
Ruins of Carthage and Mosque
The archaeological site of Carthage is a Unesco World Heritage site. For 10 dinars you are able to enter all the Historical sites listed below with the exception of the Cathedral. I would recommend doing them in the order listed below.
There is not much visible to the naked eye of the Punic Port today. What remains is the shape of the ports and the water. The Phoenicians designed the port to trick their enemies into thinking it was just a merchant port. A narrow channel linked the southern merchant port to the northern naval port, making it appear as if there was no naval base there. The Romans rebuilt the port to transport wheat. Today the Punic and Roman ruins of the port are underwater. There is a small museum where you can view models of each port.
Baths of Antoninus
The baths are named after Emperor Antoninus Pius. The Romans built the baths between 146 AD to 162 AD. These baths are the largest baths in Africa and one of the largest baths that the Roman Empire has built. The Baths of Antoninus were unique in their design due to their proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. The baths have a deep foundation. As a result, the Romans built the baths on the second floor. The lower floor was for staff rooms, storerooms, and water supplies. The Romans designed the baths to reflect their proximity to the sea. There was an open-air pool facing the sea, as well as access to the water via a grand staircase.
The baths were similar to Roman baths in the way they functioned. The bathes had separate spaces for men and women. There was a cold room (central frigidarium), warm room (tepidarium), and a hot room (caldaria) for separate space.
What remains today is just the ground floor. The second floor of baths collapsed. However, you can still picture the grandeur and just how complex and extensive these baths were.
The Roman Villas are the ruins of the former upper-class homes under the Roman empire rule in Carthage. Villa of the Aviary is the only villa that remains on the site. This beautiful Villa overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, with well-preserved columns and mosaics. The ancient pathway of the neighborhood remains, as well as several mosaic pieces.
The Roman theatre of Carthage
Built in the second century against the hillside this theater could seat around 10,000 spectators. Today the reconstructed theatre hosts concerts and live music venues. Every year it hosts the International Festival of Carthage. Across the streets you can see the ruins of old cisterns.
Byrsa was the original name of the citadel that was above the Punic harbor. Additionally, it was also the name of the hill the citadel was on. The legend of Byrsa says that when Queen Dido was seeking exile from her homeland Tyre, she and her followers settled in Byrsa upon their arrival in North Africa. The local Berber chief offered them as much land as a single ox hide could cover. Dido cut the oxhide into strips and completely encompassed Byrsa. Both locals and other residents of Utica, a Phoenician settlement nearby urged for the building of the city.
At the end of the legend Dido throws herself into the fire. There are various speculations on why she did it. Some say to protect her city, others her marriage, and some speculate she did it after abandonment from her lover Aeneas, a famous Trojan leader.
Today Byrsa Hill contains part of the original ruins of the Punic city of Carthage as well as the St. Louis Cathedral.
Acropolium of Carthage (a.k.a St. Louis Cathedral)
Abbot Pougnet built the Acropolium of Carthage in 1830. The Acropolium was dedicated to King Louis IX. He died in Carthage on his way to Jerusalem. Hussein II Bey granted permission to France to build the chapel on the grounds of ancient Carthage. He allowed them to take as much land as they needed. They built the Acropolium on Byrsa Hill. The architectural style of the cathedral is Gothic and Byzantine. Today, the Acropolium is a cultural center. The museum houses several well-preserved mosaics, artifacts, and statues.
The Roman Amphitheatre of Carthage
The Roman Amphitheater was built in the 1st century AD and then rebuilt by Julius Caesar. This amphitheater is one of the largest amphitheaters of its time. The Amphitheatre can hold up to 30,000 spectators. The basement facilities, house a modern chapel dedicated to two saints. This amphitheater is one of three in Africa built on flat ground rather than a hill.
The Al Abidine Mosque / Malik ibn Anas mosque
Located on the Hill of Oden, The Al Abidin Mosque, named after Tunisia’s former autocratic president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, is the more modern site in Carthage. This mosque opened in 2003 and encompasses a prayer hall that can hold up to 1,000 worshipers, an inner courtyard as well as a 9-meter minaret. This stunning mosque is definitely worth a stop for a photo op. After the Tunisian Revolution and the ousting of Ben Ali, the mosque was renamed to Malik ibn Anas, a Muslim jurist, theologian, and hadith traditionist contributed to formulating early Islamic legal doctrines.
Basilica of Damous El Karita
Next to the Malik ibn Anas Mosque are the ruins of the Basilica of Damous El Karita. This Basilica dates back from late Antiquity and the Byzantine era. In the complex, there were two churches, one martyrium, one hypogeum, and an underground rotunda. Experts believe the Basilica hosted religious pilgrimages and festivals. The first Christian monument discovered in Carthage is the Basilica. The archeologists never completely excavated the Basilica. The archeological research that has taken place to find early Christian inscriptions and over 1,000 tombs have stripped the ruins of most of its materials. Today, few ruins remain. A Catholic cemetery rests next to it.
In summary, there is so much to see during your visit to the Ruins of Carthage! I hope this guide will provide you the information you need to discover Carthage!