Beneath the layers of time, various manifestations of Carthage can be found. The first Carthage, founded by the Phoenician Princess Elyssa-Dido, brought Africa to the forefront of history. The Punic Carthage of Hannon was queen of the seas and Hannibal’s Carthage ruled the world during its shining hour of glory before it too, vanished.
Augustus built Roman Carthage as the capital of Proconsular Africa and the Imperial Carthage which was a centre for the arts and learning. The Christian city of St. Augustine was as famed for religion as for its other interests. For a century the city was held by the Vandals and then became Byzantine under Belisarius.
Carthage was finally conquered by the Arabs who then abandoned it in favour of Tunis. However, it remained a watchful outpost of the new capital city. Throughout the centuries, this extinct city has been inexorably pillaged as a source of building materials for Tunis and other Mediterranean towns. It has gradually been transformed into an agricultural centre famed for the quality of its produce.
The installation of the French Protectorate over the Tunisian Regency enabled the Catholic Church to restore the splendid bishopric of Saint Cyprien. The massive Basilica rising from the summit of Mount Byrsa, known as the hill of Saint Louis, is evidence of this era which has disappeared since the country’s independent status. With the advent of the railway line linking La Goulette to La Marsa, which runs through the Carthage area, the district has become urbanised. Thus modern Carthage has been built on the ruins of ancient Carthage.
Mount Byrsa and the Museum
Mount Byrsa was the Acropolis of Punic and Roman Carthage. Under the French Protectorate, a large cathedral and a seminary for Carmelite priests was built on the hill. The museum of Carthage came to be located in this former seminary. Having been renovated and adapted to its new purpose, the museum brings together, preserves and exhibits collections of archaeological finds from the site. Three major periods have been identified : Phoenicio – Punic; Romano – African; and Arab – Islamic. The wide range of objects reflects the particular nature of each age : pottery, stelae, sarcophagi, sculptures, mosaics, inscriptions, ceramics and fragments of artifacts.
The Punic Quarter
Before entering the museum, visitors may look along the sightseeing route to the Punic Quarter, dating from the III – II century BC. This is a collection of carefully built and laid-out houses on a regular grid pattern which were endowed with all the conveniences and comforts of the age, such as water tanks, drains, plastered walls and tiled floors. At the centre of the settlement planned by Julius Caesar and brought to fruition by Augustus in 44 BC, then expanded by Hadrian and Antonine, the forum covered the plateau of Mount Byrsa, its imposing buildings looming over the entire city.
The amphitheatre was an essential place of entertainment in a Roman city. All classes of people relished the circus games – fights between wild animals, armed men v animals and gladiators, nothing was TOO bloodthirsty !! The amphitheatre at Carthage, was one of the largest in the Empire, the height of its arches a wonder of the Middle Ages. Nowadays, after removal of many stones, the area is derelict and surrounded by pine trees.
The Roman Theatre at Carthage –
provides an attractive, annual setting, in July and August, for an international festival of music, singing and dancing, which delights the public.
The Antonine Thermal Baths
The remains of these baths at the water’s edge, were amongst the largest in the Roman Empire. A place where the Romano-Africans developed a taste for physical cleanliness, healthy sports and cultural improvements. 8 columns of 15 metres were necessary to support the massive vaulted roof of the frigidarium (cold pool).