Musée archéologique, 5160 El jem, Tunisia
GPS: 35.297871444958, 10.708185251192
The Amphitheatre of El Jem is located between the cities of Sousse and Sfax in eastern Tunisia, in the ancient Carthaginian town of Thysdrus. It is one of the largest Roman amphitheatres in the world, along with that of Capua and the Colosseum in Rome, both in Italy. Of imposing size, this major monument belonging to the little town of El Jem (or El Djem) is comparable to its Roman elder with many architectural similarities, even if it was never completed.
In the shape of an ellipse, the Amphitheatre of El Jem would have been built in the 3rd century by Gordian I, Roman proconsul of the province of Africa. This monument symbolises the once prosperous ancient city of Thysdrus and is located in an agricultural region producing olive oil. This Roman-Berber colony developed by taking advantage of its climate and its geographical position, at the confluence of the major trade routes of the Sahel. The Amphitheatre of El Jem contributed to the glory and influence of the Roman Empire through its gladiatorial shows, chariot races and sports games. In the year 238, a popular revolt was launched against the increase of local taxes decided by the emperor Maximinus Thrax to finance his military journeys through Europe. This rebellion movement spread to the city of Carthage and reached the heart of the city of Rome. In retaliation, the emperor decided to destroy the insurgent city of Thysdrus by Roman forces. In this period of great unrest, Gordian I was chosen as the emergency successor to Maximinus. But after the death of his son Gordian II in a battle near Carthage, Gordian I finally committed suicide in the amphitheatre he had built a few years earlier. His reign lasted only 22 days (which is the shortest reign in the history of all Roman emperors) and this event plunged the Roman Empire into a new political and military crisis.
The Amphitheatre of El Jem was built without any real foundations, from blocks of stone extracted from the quarries of Salakta, some 30km away. Its capacity is 35,000 spectators, the equivalent of the population of the city of Thysdrus at the time. The Amphitheatre of El Jem, with its astonishing acoustics, is a massive architectural complex with a circumference of 450 metres (compared to 525 metres for the Colosseum in Rome). Its southern part, with three floors, remains the best preserved, although many stones from the building were used to construct the village of El Jem and the Great Mosque of Kairouan.