Hey I thought this building was in Rome

El Jem Travel Blog

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In the old city of El Jem is one of the largest Roman coloseums in the world. It is second only to the colosseum in Perpignan and the colosseum in Rome itself. Unlike the colosseum in Rome the colosseum in El Jem is visible from miles away. Hence you will see it while you drive towards the city and you will immediately be attracted to the place because of the immense size and dominant position in the city.


It is one of the last buildings of it sort to be constructed anywhere in the Roman Empire - hence the builders could take full advantage of the experience of former constructions when they built the present colosseum.

It was not the first amphitheatre in the ancient city of Thysdrus (present day El Jem) there had been other theatres built long before this one. But the city was experience a lot of wealth flowing in through the olive trade which was centered on this city. The wealth of the city even gave the opportunity to one of it foremost citizen to rise all the way to emperor of Rome - the little known Gordien I in 238 - the same year the new colosseum was finally finished after 8 long years of construction. His success as an emperor was very limited - and his rebellion ended in his suicide inside the amphitheatre.


This was not the last time the colosseum would be the site of a historic battle event. At the very end of the 7th century the Berber princess Al-Kahina made her last stand here against the advancing Arabs. Cut off from resupply she allegedly kept showing the besieging Arabs fresh fish from the top walls of the colosseum. The fish were supposedly smuggled in through an underground tunnel connecting the colosseum with the sea miles away. There are no sign of the remains of this famous tunnel today - which could indicate the story is more legend than true.


I start walking towards the colosseum and I pass a workshop where they are producing mosaics. In there you can join a class to learn how to make a mosaic. If you do not have the patience for this kind of slow manual labor you might just want to look for a bit on the production of the mosaic and have a look around inside the workshop and glance at all the mosaics in different shapes and sizes - if you want you can naturally buy your own mosaic to bring home and do whatever.


I get into the colosseum and start by walking up to the second floor. From there is a little overhang of the area and from up there you can see pretty much all the seats and the old arena floor. On the side I am standing must of the old structure are still in place but on the other side the colosseum it is partly destroyed. But it looks like it has been reconstructed at a later stage so the seats seem to be in perfect shape.


After having the overall look at the area it is time to explore the place a bit more in debt.

Going down below you can walk through a long hall with small rooms at each side - these rooms are not rooms but stables. Down here they kept the wild beast before they let them off in the arena. They kept the lions and other wild beast here to bring them out to the spectable. The huge demands for wild beast in the roman arenas let to the North African lions being extinct in ancient times and never returning.


I make it through the underground corridors without any fatal encounters with the decent of the old beast which used to roam down here. And I enter the centre of the colosseum - the ground where man fought against beast - and gladiator did combat against fellow gladiators. The ground is huge and you can only start to imagine the giant fights which must have taken place down here.


I end up wandering around the place for quite a while searching for the perfect angle to take a photo which will do justice to the old building - it is not as simple as it sounds. For some reason the building don’t want to fit into the frame of my photos - it keeps escaping at the top or the sides. But I find a good spot - in the bushes next to the toilet. From here it is possible to capture the building - I just have to hold away a couple of branches from the bush which keeps getting into the middle of the picture. I finally manage to get a shoot straight against the sun but it does contain all of the building - and a couple of branches of leaves and flowers at the sides - I only had one hand to keep those away.

anupa_rk says:
Very nicely written. Thanks for putting this up.
Posted on: Mar 15, 2010
reikunboy says:
nice blog, i learny alot from it
Posted on: Mar 09, 2010
dieforu says:
interestin blog!!weldone!:-)
Posted on: Mar 09, 2010
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El Jem Sights & Attractions review
The colosseum of El Jem
Unlike many other Roman sights where you will visit the remains of an ancient city there are just one thing in El Jem - the colosseum. This is not a p… read entire review
El Jem
photo by: EmEm