Roman Legeacy - El Jem

El Jem Travel Blog

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After the museum we were off to El Jem.  We had not issues getting out of the city as we had pre-plotted.  There was one point Rob was uncertain at a round-about and immediately stopped to verify.  It was a good thing he did as we were headed in the wrong direction.  The drive was pleasant and allowed us to see more of the landscape and countryside.  There are so many olive trees it is astonishing, but Tunisia is the fourth largest producer of olive oil in the world.


Once we arrived in El Jem we had to drive in through the entire town with few signs for the Roman Amphitheater, but we made.

  After driving in a circle we found good parking and headed through a crowded commercial area.  Rob was hungry so he bought an interesting grilled sandwich from a vendor.  He agreed to most of the toppings, but avoided the tuna.  Sandwich in hand, munching away we were off again.  We could see the magnificent coliseum in the distance.  The enormity of it was staggering.  The side we approached on was very well preserved.  At the top of the steps a camel was resting and chewing his cud with a fabulous Berber throw over his back.  When Rob looked him in the eye he kind of puffed up his neck and stared back.  We declined the offer of pictures and a ride for 10 TDN.  Since Rob still had half a sandwich to finish we sat on the steps.  A very vocal and friendly kitty came up begging to share.
  In no time she was joined by a friend.  Once Rob noticed she had been nursing kittens recently, he couldn’t resist her and gave her a bite.    Food consumed it was time to go inside.


Apart from the Roman colosseum, the sights of El Jem are still covered by sand. And the city of El Jem is a sleepy place without much character. But the colosseum is great, almost as big as the one of Rome, and in better condition. It is 148 metres long by 122 metres wide, with tiers up to 35 metres. There is nothing missing which takes away its grandeur. One area of the walls is gone, and this was done in 1695 when a big hole was shot in the wall of the colosseum, in order to uncover the hiding places of dissidents against the Ottomans.

The colosseum was constructed between 230 and 238 CE by the command of the Imperial official Gordian.

It' believed to have given room for as much as 30,000 spectators, some estimates set it at 45,000. This in the town of Thysdrus with only 30,000 inhabitants. But was a wealthy town, probably eager to impress its visitors.

The building process is even more impressive considering that the stones were quarried 30 km away at Salakta. In 238 Gordian committed suicide after an unsuccessful rebellion against Rome, where he had claimed to be emperor. With this, the construction of the amphitheatre ended. It was never completely finished, but was of course used

The entry was 8 dinar each and a 1 dinar charge for taking pictures.  Give thoughts on walk of site.


We hunted for a snack for me but everyone wanted to grill me some lamb…NO WAY! We ended up in a grocery store and a can of peas and carrots and a few assorted snacks.


We walked the back alleys as the sign for the museum had pointed in that direction. Two direction checks later and a good 15 minute walk and we were there. We had walked most of the town to get there but, there we were, the archeology museum. The cost of entrance was included in the entrance to El Jem. This museum alone is worth your effort get here. I have seen Roman mosaics on three continents and these are by far the very best preserved and most elaborate and colorful of them all. They are truly amazing. Give examples of several.


Rob and I walked the actual site, behind the museum, and were able to see where the mosaics were taken from. It was sprinkling but it actually felt refreshing. The walk through time and history of this community was enlightening. We discovered that at each door threshold there was a mosaic that was the address of the home, telling a bit about the family.


Also, the state had created an example of what a Roman villa ( Afrika House ) was like. It’s foundation up to about 1 meter (3 ft) is original and the rest is recreated. You get a real sense of what the construction and space were like. An attendant walked us around the site and explained the rooms and the reconstruction. He was very proud to have been a part of the preservation. We gave him a tip for his help.

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El Jem
photo by: EmEm