El-Jem, Tunisia — 2001 — A Roman Coliseum in the North African Desert

Posted on January 30, 2010


After Rome defeated Carthage, the Romans moved in to take control of the territory.

Leaving their mark, of course.

Ancient Carthage is today a suburb of Tunis, and that city is the capital of the most northerly of north African countries, Tunisia.   Tunis is the African port you enter when you take the ferry journey across the Mediterranean from Sicily.

And when you take the train south from Tunis, into the dry flat lands of central Tunisia …

Quarter to Three in El-Jem

… you can stop at El-Jem, a modest little town sitting humbly around the skirts of its very own Roman coliseum.

I could only take pictures of outside of the coliseum in sections, since the houses of El-Jem stand too close to the monument to allow anyone without a fisheye camera (or access to surrounding rooftops) to take pictures of the whole thing at once.

Across the street, the signs and merchandise in the stores make clear that the Romans left long ago.

But they left a remarkable monument.

And of course any good coliseum must also house a dungeon, for the beasts, gladiators and miscellaneous other victims of show business, ancient Roman style.  Those were days and times and attitudes when circuses did not need clowns to make them sinister.

A piece of what looks like simple decoration outside . . .

… emerges as a source of air and meager light–dust too, I guess–for the dwellers beneath.

This Tunisian mosaic depicts events that might have taken place at this same coliseum.

So away and out for a couple more looks around.

Then a little look around El-Jem.

And inside a truly funky store.

Something which I can now say to my friends (while raising puzzled eyebrows):

“You mean there’s a coliseum in Rome, too?”


All photos, except Scipio (the Roman who defeated Hannibal btw) and the mosaic, are by Father Theo, 2001.

Posted in: photography, Travel