Amphitheater of El Jem | Colosseum El Jem | Tunisia Travel Guide

Amphitheater of El Jem

The Amphitheater of El Jem is by far the most imposing Roman monument in North Africa. Its round and massive silhouette rises in a flat desert plain which leaves it visible from a great distance, and this, all the more easily because the locality which developed around the building avoided high constructions.

It is also one of the best-preserved works of its kind, despite the many vicissitudes it has gone through over time, in particular the severe bombardment with cannon balls that it suffered at the end of the 17th century for to dislodge a rebel tribe who had entrenched themselves there, which caused a large breach in the side of the building.

Almost elliptical in shape, the monument measures 149 m long, 124 m wide and 36 m high. The stands, now missing and partially restored, could accommodate up to 30,000 spectators, which ranks this building in 7th position after those of Rome, Capua, Milan, Autun, Verona and Carthage. The arena, 65m long in its main axis, is crossed in the basement by two wide galleries through which arrived actors, beasts and machines which could be confined in two series of eight underground cells.

The Amphitheater of El Jem is an exceptional testimony to Roman architecture, especially that of monuments built for entertainment purposes, in Africa. Located in a plain in central Tunisia, this amphitheater, built entirely in freestone, is neither hollowed out nor leaning against a hill. In this it takes the model of the Colosseum in Rome without however being a simple true copy of the Flavian building. Its dimensions (major axis of 148 meters and minor axis of 122 meters) and its capacity (estimated at 35,000 spectators) undoubtedly rank it among the largest amphitheatres in the world. Its facade has three floors of Corinthian or composite style arcades. Inside, the monument has retained most of the supporting infrastructure for the stands. The podium wall, arena and underground passages are virtually intact.

This architectural and artistic work erected around 238 AD. AD is an important milestone for the understanding of the history of Roman Africa. The El Jem Amphitheater also testifies to the prosperity of the small city of Thysdrus (now El Jem) during the time of the Roman Empire.

The El Jem amphitheater is one of the rare monuments of its kind and the only one in Africa to be built, not on a hillside, but on level ground and supported by a complex system of arches. The monument of El Jem is one of the most accomplished examples of the Roman architectural type of the amphitheater, almost like the Coliseum in Rome.

Long reduced to the sole role of a historical monument, the Coliseum of El Jem has, for almost two decades, been used as a cultural space hosting, in summer, the festival of symphonic music of El Jem and other artistic events.

El Jem in pitures

The  Amphitheater of El Jem in Video

El Jem on the map