Some might visit Tunisia for its beach and general culture, but there’s no doubt that history plays a massive part in the country’s tourism industry.
This is one country which has managed to preserve a large amount of its famous and historic attractions, meaning that it’s most definitely possible to step back in time and see what life really was like for the Romans and beyond.
Bearing the above in mind, we have comprised the twenty three most renowned attractions when it comes to history in Tunisia. If you can at least see some of them through your stay, your trip will be all the better for it.
El Jem Amphitheatre
When it comes to Tunisia, there’s no doubt that one of the first things that most tourists set their sights on is the El Jem Amphitheatre. Everything around the amphitheater might be quaint, but this is the center piece of the whole area and the fact that it is one of the most well-preserved Roman attractions in the world means that visitors arrive from far and wide.
Many have compared it to the famous Colosseum in Rome, which isn’t actually significantly bigger. The architecture is very similar and most believe that the Tunisian version is in much better condition.
The amphitheater was constructed by Emperor Gordian at some point between 230 and 238 AD. In its prime, some believe that it could have held up to 60,000 people. This is emphasized in the amphitheater’s size, with it being 162m long by 118m wide. Unsurprisingly, there is no other amphitheater in North Africa which is anywhere near this in terms of size.
While the overall structure is in very good condition, there is some damage following attacks on the city in 238 AD. However, having now been classed as UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979, it goes without saying that a lot of work is invested in maintaining and preserving this site and making it one of the first things that visitors of Tunisia aim to see.
La Malga Cisterns
While La Malga Cisterns don’t hold anything like the reputation that the amphitheater has, they are still a very interesting attraction for anyone who visits Carthage. In short, they can be described as ancient water storage tanks that were once used to supply water to the city.
The aqueduct system around the area, which runs for over 100km, brought water to these systems.
Over recent years they have been used for countless other means. For a short period they were stable blocks – but the site is still in a condition to get an idea of what life used to be like when they were used as storage tanks.
This is another one of the must-see attractions in Tunisia, with Dougga being an area boasting countless ruins of tremendous historic value. It spans over no less than seventy hectares and includes attractions such as an amphitheater, public baths, a forum, a 3,500-seat theatre amongst many other small sites that are always of fantastic interest to the public.
One of the most interesting facts about Dougga is that it doesn’t just concentrate on one period. While a lot of Tunisian sites will be famous for the Roman era, Dougga actually predates this. A lot of the interesting attractions do focus around Roman ruins, but there are also some that date back as early as the second or third century BC.
The majority of attractions within Dougga are particularly well preserved. This is once again probably due to the fact it was named as another UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, which again means that plenty of care is taken to ensure that it retains its historic and architectural values.
This is one of a number of areas in Tunisia that boasts its own amphitheater although there’s no doubt that Bulla Regia is known for much more than this.
This is an area that really came into its own during the Roman era, with countless monuments and public buildings being constructed.
Something that most visitors often appreciate are the two-storey villas. In short, these are villas which have their lower floor placed underground, in a bid to protect the resident from the elements. Additionally, in those villas that are open to the public, it’s possible to set eyes on some of the fantastic Roman mosaics that have survived the test of time.
The Magon Quarter
This isn’t quite as well-known as some of the other attractions on our list, but the Magon Quarter is still worthy of a visit if your time allows.
It can be described as a Punic residential area based around Carthage, although on the down side it hasn’t been preserved as well as other sites and this means that few remains exist.
Nevertheless, something that often does interest visitors is the ancient city wall, with a small part of this still standing. This is particularly significant when one considers that it was first erected at some point in the fifth century BC.
Sanctuary of Tophet
This is another Punic site, although arguably one that isn’t for the faint-hearted. The Sanctuary of Tophet contains children’s graves from the Punic period and many have been preserved over the years.
There are suggestions that children were sacrificed during the difficult times in this period, which could be one of the reasons why there are so many of the graves. Nevertheless, this has never been confirmed and is merely speculated by historians.
This area is definitely worthy of a visit if your time allows, with Byrsa Hill home to some of the most interesting sites that Tunisia and specifically Carthage has to offer.
In its prime, Byrsa Hill was the military center of Carthage. When the Romans destroyed and then rebuilt the surrounding areas, they made the Hill a key feature of their plans and made sure that most of their important buildings were based here.
It means that the likes of the Carthage National Museum are contained within this site, as well as some of the ruins of ancient Carthage which are particularly interesting.
It would be fair to say that Sbeitla doesn’t boast the same reputation as some of the other listings on this page, which is perhaps unfair when you consider the fact that a lot of historians see the ruins as some of the best Roman ones in the world.
In the Roman era, it was seen as a key settlement before progressing into a Christian center and a Byzantine city. Eventually, it was taken by the Muslims.
Anyone who visits Sbeitla can admire, through the ruins, the fantastic city that once existed. Minerva and the Temples of Jupiter are both well-known, while the site contains a museum which will provide you a full history of the area. This is definitely worth a visit, just to take in everything Sbeitla was used for and how it progressed over the years.
The Zaghouan Aqueduct
Next on the list is a former Roman aqueduct which was again responsible for supplying water to Carthage. History records suggest that it was initially constructed in 130 AD, with the area suffering a number of droughts during this period.
Unsurprisingly, the aqueduct spans kilometers and the majority of it has been left in ruins. Still, some of it is well-preserved and if you can make your way to Mohammedia, you will be able to experience these.
As you may have seen so far, a lot of the sites on this list focus on Carthage – which is hardly surprising when you consider the history of this city.
While its initial history is cloudy, some believe that it was founded in the 9th Century. It was one of the powerhouses of Tunisia, although was destroyed completely in 146BC following the Punic Wars.
One myth suggests that the Romans salted the earth so nothing could be built to replace it. However, they were soon to have a change of heart and after realizing how its location could work to their advantage, they re-founded the city. Eventually, it was one of the most important cities in their empire.
Carthage has always proved to be a city at the center of a power-struggle though. The Romans may have captured it, but they were not to keep it as the Vandals moved in during the 5th Century. Having changed hands on numerous occasions, the Umayyad Caliphate captured Carthage and opted to found the neighboring Tunis.
As such, a lot of Carthage is in ruins. However, there are plenty of sites within the area which are well preserved and you can gain an insight into what life was like in the ancient city. There is plenty of scope to see things here and it’s one of the most impressive areas of Tunisian history if you can find the time to visit.
Carthage National Museum
One of the most impressive attractions within Carthage is the National Museum.
For anyone who wishes to see what life used to be like in the ancient city, this should be your first port of call. It has accumulated various artefacts over the different eras that paint a vivid picture of what Carthage used to offer. Everything from weapons to tombs can be found here – while many visitors are intrigued to see the model of the city that has been put together.
The location of this museum is worthy of a mention as well. It is situated in a position that provides stunning views over the ruins, yet a glimpse of the modern city as well.
Carthage Punic Port and Museum
As the name suggests, this museum focusses on the harbor which is around ancient Carthage.
The power of Carthage over time was undisputed, but a lot of people don’t realize that it held an aggressive position over the seas as well. The fact that over two hundred warships could be based around the port speaks volumes about its size.
While it was destroyed when the Romans took the area over, they rebuilt it after realizing the power of the area. Since then, it has been well-preserved and the museum boasts several models that show what the port would have looked like in its initial state.
Carthage Roman Theatre and Odeon
Being capable of holding thousands of spectators in its prime, this is another attraction in Carthage which shouldn’t not be missed if time allows.
The big difference with this attraction is that it hasn’t just been well-preserved, but it has been completely restored. It is now used to hold countless events and this means that visitors won’t just get an insight of history, but can also see how it is used in the present day.
Unfortunately, nobody knows quite how much of the structure is original. However, if you look across from the site, the Odeon of Carthage still stands. This has not been restored, meaning that visitors can still take in at least some ruins from this area.
Carthage Roman Villas and Kobba Bent el Rey
The Carthage Roman villas might be quite a small attraction in comparison to some of the others that have been listed in this area, but they are well worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.
There are a lot of ruins, and some of the villas barely exist after the years have taken their toll, but there are some which provide an interesting insight into history. For example, the Villa de la volièr has Roman mosaics, while the Kobba Bent el Rey has been well-preserved and still has its underground element standing.
Roman Amphitheatre of Carthage
While no-one is going to suggest that this amphitheater rivals the one in El Jem, it is still classed as one of the major Roman stadiums that donned Tunisia. In its prime, it’s understood that it could house around 35,000 people – which again highlights the sheer size of it.
The thing that separates it apart from the amphitheater in El Jem is its current condition. Unfortunately, it hasn’t survived the test of time and it is now mainly ruins. It has been looted over the years and this means that there is little to see, although some visitors do like to view this site just for the historical elements.
Medina of Tunis
With approximately seven hundred monuments and buildings situated in this Medina, and with many dating back to the twelfth century, already you can see why this should be on anyone’s Tunisia to-see list.
Back in the day it was one of biggest commerce centers around, leaving some fantastic monuments and palaces in its place for the modern-day history enthusiast.
Any visitor who likes to absorb religion will be in their element in this area as well. It has mosques of all types; for example, the Al-Zaytuna Mosque is the oldest in the Medina and is understood to date back to the seventh or eighth century. Additionally, the Sidi Mehrez Mosque still stands and because of its unique architecture (it is formed with unique white domes) it is often a favorite amongst visitors.
It doesn’t all surround mosques though. There is also the Bab el Bahr, which happens to be the gateway to the whole Medina. This is of particular importance to the history of the site and looks to remind people of how Tunis was once under French rule between 1881 and 1956.
Considering the vast historical importance of the Medina of Tunis, it is another region that has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Antonine Baths
The name of this attraction gives everything away, with the Antonine Baths once being an enormous Roman bath complex based in ancient Carthage. Fortunately, a lot of the ruins have been preserved, meaning that visitors really can sample what life used to be like in the area.
It’s understood that the baths were constructed at some point between 145 and 165 AD and were the largest baths in the whole of North Africa. They contained a whole magnitude of chambers and with the baths also being situated right beside the ocean, you can take advantage of some fabulous views as well as tremendous history.
Again, this is one of those areas that might not be the most renowned, but Kasserine should be visited if your time allows. It’s another ancient city largely left in ruins, although a lot of people don’t tend to visit which means that overcrowding is not a problem.
For those who do decide to make a day of it, it’s possible to see an ancient theatre which has been marvelously carved into the hill. There are other smaller attractions which make up this site and considering the fact it’s so close to Sbeitla, it can be quite easy to plan a trip there.
The Kasserine Pass
Anyone who retains any sort of interest in World War II should make it their priority to visit the Kasserine Pass, with this being a key element to the part of the war which focused on Tunisia. This is the area where the Allied and Axis forces clashed in something which history buffs will know as the “Tunisia Campaign”.
The fact that this was the area where the US tasted the worst defeat of this war speaks volumes of its importance. Over a thousand militants were killed in battle although in terms of the site itself, little exists that is going to appeal to the masses. Instead, most people visit just to travel along the battle site.
Enfidaville War Cemetery
Another site with links to World War II is the Enfidaville War Cemetery. As the name suggests, this is home to the graves of the soldiers who took part in the war, specifically the North Africa Campaign. There are a total of 1,551 graves, although 88 of these are unidentified.
The North Africa American Cemetery
An even bigger cemetery dedicated to World War II is this one. The North Africa American Cemetery has 2,841 graves, as well as a Wall of the Missing which as 3,724 soldiers who went missing in combat. Anyone who visits this site will also be able to see a chapel.
Next on the list is Haidra, which happens to be one of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa. Unfortunately, its location means that it doesn’t attract many tourists – but the fact that it’s another one of those areas that contains an ancient Roman city means that it’s a must-visit for real history enthusiasts.
The Roman city in question is Ammaedara. It was initially used by the Third Legion Augusta, but following the conclusion of their campaign it was taken by their veterans who were looking for somewhere to settle.
This is a site which brings a lot of historical questions, with many still wondering if anything existed before the Romans arrived. Additionally, there are ruins from its initial stages when it was used by the Third Legon Augusta, right the way through to its demise.
Those who visit Haidra will probably be most interested in the Byzantine fortress, which is understood to have been built in approximately 550 AD. Other notable attractions in the area include the Church of Melleus, the Arch of Septimius Severus and the original market and theatre. It means that if you can get to the area, a lot of time can be spent exploring – particularly as many of these ruins are in good condition.
The Bardo Museum
The Bardo Museum might be last on our list, but it’s certainly an interesting attraction. The fact it is the national archaeological museum for Tunisia says everything you need to know about its importance.
The museum contains a whole host of items, including Punic ceremonial artefacts from different eras, right the way to Roman mosaics.
The mosaics at the museum are particularly interesting and have largely been kept in very good condition. They are complimented by numerous sculptures and artefacts from the Roman era, many which have been extracted from Carthage.
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