Travel to Carthage – Ancient Phoenician Ruins
The biggest name in Tunisian history is Carthage – arch rival of Rome in the second and third centuries BC and a Phoenician trading post founded at the end of the 9th Century, that developed into one of the most prosperous and powerful cities in the western Mediterranean. By the end of the 6th Century BC it was one of the main powers of the Mediterranean.
As one of the great cities of the ancient world it was added to the World Heritage List in 1979. The hill of Bysra, where in the 8th century Princess Elissa-Dido founded the city, carries a wealth of history. Although little remains of Phoenician Carthage there are still many Roman sites to be seen including baths, villas and an amphitheatre which houses the Carthage International Summer Festival.
Located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis, 15 kilometres North of the capital Tunis, Carthage is the largest of the towns founded by the Phoenicians on the north African coast. Its founding dates back to 814 BC during the reign of legendary Elissa-Dido, where it thrived as a maritime centre and later became the third-largest city in the Roman Empire before being destroyed by the Arabs in 692 AD.
However, archaeological evidence suggests that the city was probably settled around the middle of the 8th century. The historical study of the city is problematic as its culture and records were destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Third Punic War; very few Carthaginian primary historical sources survived.
The subsequent spread and growth of Phoenician colonies in the western Mediterranean, and even out to the Atlantic coasts of Africa and Spain, is as much the achievement of Carthage as of the original Phoenician trading cities such as Tyre and Sidon. But no doubt links are maintained with the homeland, and new colonists continue to come west.
During the second and third centuries BC Carthage came to blows with Rome, one of the other great powers of the Mediterranean, in the infamous Punic Wars. Despite successful battles waged by Hannibal, the Punic general who had lead his army, backed by elephants over the Alps into Italy, Carthage suffered in the last war, when the city was destroyed by the Romans, and its people sold into slavery.
Carthage’s key attractions include the Antonine Baths that were once the largest baths in the Roman Empire with an extravaganza of hot rooms, warm rooms, saunas, gymnasiums and a huge cool room; the Punic Ports that once provided berths for more than 200 naval vessels; the Theater of Hadrian which was built in the second century and still used today for the summer festival of Carthage; the Cathedral of Saint Louis which crowns the hill of Bysra and that became a cultural centre; the National Museum of Carthage that holds an impressive collection of Punic statues, steles and urns; Byrsa Hill, the excavated Punic Quarter atop the hill; the mysterious Sanctuary of Tophet, a child cemetery where it is thought the Carthaginians sacrificed their children to the gods; the Punic Ports, once the powerhouse of the empire; and the new Carthage Mosque.
- Visit the National Museum of Carthage and see an impressive collection of Punic statues, steles and urns.
- Explore the excavated Punic Quarter on Byrsa Hill.
- See the Antonine Baths, once the largest baths in the Roman Empire.