REMARKABLE RUINS - El Jem Amphitheatre,Tunisia
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REMARKABLE RUINS – El Jem Amphitheatre,Tunisia

El Jem Amphitheatre

El Jem Amphitheatre in Tunisia, also known as Thysdrus Amphitheatre, after the original name of the Roman settlement in this location, is an incredibly large and well-preserved Roman amphitheatre in Africa, which is declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It is one of the most accomplished examples of Roman architecture of an amphitheatre, almost equal to that of the Coliseum of Rome.

Amphitheatre of El Jem - aerial-view
Amphitheatre of El Jem – aerial-view
Amphitheatre - front view
Amphitheatre – front view
Amphitheatre - side view
Amphitheatre – side view

Located in a plain in the centre of Tunisia, the El Jem amphitheatre is built entirely of stone blocks, with no foundations and freestanding. It is modeled on the Coliseum of Rome, but not an exact copy of the Flavian construction. With an estimated capacity of about 35000, the structure measures 162 metres long and 118 metres wide, making the El Jem Amphitheatre the largest of its kind in North Africa. Its facade consists of three levels of arcades of Corinthian or composite style. Inside, the monument has conserved most of the supporting infrastructure for the tiered seating. Even today, the wall of the podium, the arena and the underground passages are practically intact. With its abundant original characteristics such as its tiered seats, arches and elliptical stone walls, which are intact up to 35 metres in places, it is argued by many that the El Jem Amphitheatre is in better condition that the Colosseum.

Amphitheatre -  A ruined portion
Amphitheatre –  A ruined portion
El Jem
El Jem
Inside the Amphitheatre
Inside the Amphitheatre

The amphitheatre of El Jem is the third amphitheatre built on the same place. It is said that, it was constructed by the local ruler Gordian, who was acclaimed Emperor at Thysdrus, around 238 AD. During those early days, it was mainly used for gladiator shows and chariot races. This was the place where, after much bloodshed, the poor lions and the unfortunate people used to face their final fates. However, the common people took shelter in it during the attacks of the Vandals in 430 and the Arabs in 647. Until the 17th century, it remained more or less intact. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem, transferred to the Great Mosque in Kairouan, and at a terrible moment during struggles with the Ottomans, the Turks brutally used cannons to flush rebels out of the amphitheatre. The age old ruins of the amphitheatre were declared as a world Heritage Site.

Tunnel leading into the main arena
Tunnel leading into the main arena

Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.

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