North Africa: The Roman Coast (Bradt Travel Guides)

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9781841622873: North Africa: The Roman Coast (Bradt Travel Guides)

If you wonder: “What have the Romans ever done for us,” you should perhaps visit Volubilis, the best-preserved Roman site in present-day Morocco, or the spectacular amphitheatre at El Jem, built by the wealthy proconsul Gordion who later committed suicide within his own great monument. North Africa: The Roman Coast guides travellers around the Roman heritage sites of modern-day Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, and brings to life the stories behind the archaeological remains. It additionally gives details of nearby attractions of the present day, including beaches, museums, excursions and adventure tours.

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About the Author:

Ethel Davies is a photographer and writer with a passion for history. She has travelled through much of the ancient Western―and Eastern―world, and has chronicled sites in pictures and text.

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Dominating the flat surrounding landscape, the enormous amphitheatre of El Jem is one of the most magnificent sites in Roman Africa. This honey-coloured stone of this ancient entertainment complex rivals in size, beauty and preservation the Colosseum of Rome itself and is proof that the influence of the motherland thrived even in its far-flung corners. Located in a modern-day sleepy market town, there is currently little other evidence that this enormous edifice served the affluent city of Thysdrus, an important crossroads on the Afro-Romano trade route. Approaching the town from either the east or the west, the building is visible from a long way off, making the approach fairly simple. The remarkably intact ruin lies in the middle of town and is clearly the centre of most of the town’s present day activities.

Construction of the amphitheatre began in AD230 and was completed eight years later. The project was commissioned by Gordian, Rome’s proconsul in Africa who was also one of the community’s wealthy landowners. Not hesitant to use the best, the stone came from seaside quarries to the east, over 30km distant from the town, while the water for the workers travelled via aqueduct from hills to the west nearly 15km away. With a contemporary capacity of over 30,000, larger than the community’s population, the arena was additional evidence of the importance of its location on the trade route.

Gordian later rose to impressive heights when he was declared emperor in AD238, but his attempt to seize power from the monarch in Rome, the Emperor Maximus failed. Allegedly, the amphitheatre’s patron killed himself within his greatest achievement. The building itself continued to serve political leaders, functioning best as a fortification against various foreign forces. Today, it welcomes the latest invaders, the tourists.

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