The Amphitheatre of El Jem

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The Amphitheatre of El Jem is located in the town of El Jem or Thysdrus, as it was known in Roman time, in central Tunisia. Modeled after the famous Colosseum of Rome, this impressive monument is one of the most accomplished examples of Roman architecture of an amphitheatre, almost equal to that of the Colosseum itself. It has a seating capacity of 30,000 people, stands 36 meters high, and has a diameter of nearly 150 meters. Only the great Colosseum in Rome and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger.

The Amphitheatre of El Jem was built in the early 3rd century under proconsul Gordian, and was mainly used for gladiator shows and small chariot races. In those times, Thysdrus was an important center of olive oil manufacturing which was exported in huge quantities.


Photo credit: Agnieszka Wolska/Wikimedia

The amphitheatre is free standing, built entirely of sandstone blocks, with no foundations. Its facade comprises three levels of arcades of Corinthian or composite style. The amphitheater is the only one in the world, with the Colosseum of Rome, still have an intact facade with three levels of galleries. Inside, the monument has conserved most of the supporting infrastructure for the tiered seating. The wall of the podium, the arena and the underground passages are practically intact.

Until the 17th century, the amphitheatre remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan. During the struggles between the Ottomans and the Turks in Byzantine period, the amphitheater became a fortress and a place of refuge for the rebels.

The ruins of the amphitheatre were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. Because of its good acoustics, it hosts the annual Festival international de musique symphonique d'El Jem.

Also see: 4 Ancient Roman Amphitheatres Still in Use Today


Photo credit: Cimoi/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Trsqr/Wikimedia


Photo credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr


Photo credit: Tony Hisgett/Flickr


Photo credit: Christopher Rose/Flickr


Photo credit: Amine GHRABI/Flickr

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