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Tunisia - Carthage
Archaeological Site - UNESCO World Heritage
~ sights, history and culture ~

Carthage archaelogical site at the Byrsa HillIt is, indeed, an exceptional experience to visit the site where in ancient times the mighty Carthage was located.  Only a few remains bear witness to this legendary city which developed about 3000 years ago on the Gulf of Tunis from a Phoenician colony.  According to Dionyssios von Halikarnasos the foundation dates back to 814 BC.
Carthage Punic quarter at the Byrsa-Hill
The centre of the city was the Byrsa Hill, the acropolis of Carthage as it is today.  Southeast of the hill a Punic residential area with multi-storey houses made from mud brick  on stone foundations was excavated.  They had courtyards, mosaic floors, swimming pools and underground cisterns to collect water. 

Carthage ancient stele at the tophetThe holiest site of Carthage was the Trophet, a cemetery and ritual site.  In the course of excavations 12 layers of graves from the 8th cent B.C. up until the early years of the Christian period were found as well as 1,500 steles with inscriptions and religious symbols.  The excavations revealed the remains of infants and children in large numbers which suggests possible evidence of child sacrifices.

After its foundation the city developed into a flourishing commercial centre and soon became one of the most important trading and sea powers.  In the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. Carthage had become the richest city in the Mediterranean area.  The city had 400,000 inhabitants and a further 100,000 were living in the adjacent agricultural areas.  Their  navy included some 300 to 350 warships!

Rivalry with Rome and Syracuse led to several wars.  Best known are the “Three Punic Wars” (264 to 241 BC /218 to 201 BC /149 to 146 BC) between the  Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic, which have been among the most costly traditional battles of human history and – Carthage lost them all!

The German writer Berthold Brecht once wrote: “The great Carthage led three wars.  It was still powerful after the first, still inhabitable after the second.  It was no more to be found after the third”
Battle at Zama with war elefants (second Punic war - painting by H. P. Motte
The second Punic war became the most famous due to Hannibal’s incredible crossing of the Alps with 37 war elephants, probably 50,000 infantrymen and 9000 cavalry. However, in spite of crushing victories over Roman armies in Italy, this war ended in Hannibal’s own country  with a heavy defeat at Zama, after which Carthage lost its foreign sovereignty.

In the third Punic war, Carthage finally met its Waterloo.  It ended with the complete destruction of Carthage and the enslavement of its inhabitants!

Roman period

Carthage, the ancient Antoninus Pius baths - Roman periodAccording to a resolution by Julius Caesar in 46 BC the Emperor Augustus colonised the place with 3000 people in 28 BC..  The city was now renamed “Colonia Iulia Concordia Carthago” and rapidly developed into a flourishing trading town again.  Already, in the 2nd century Carthage, with over 300,000 inhabitants, was the fourth largest city in the Roman Empire after Rome, Alexandria and Antioch.  It became the centre of early Christianity in North Africa and due to its size was, along with Rome, the most important Episcopal see in the western half of the Roman Empire..  The most important remnants of the Roman period in Carthage are the Antonninus Pius-Baths,

The end of ancient Carthage.

In the course of Islamic expansion Arab troops under Hasan ibn al-Nu’man defeated Carthage in the Battle of Carthage in 698 AD.  It ended the reign of the Eastern Roman Empire.  Roman Carthage was destroyed just as the Romans had destroyed Carthage in 146 BC.

Modern Carthage
Carthage still is a popular tourist attraction and noble residential garden suburb of Tunis, where also the Tunisian presidential palace is located. On the Byrsa there is the largest church of North Africa, the Cathedral of St. Louis, built in 1890, which was up to 1965 the Episcopal see of the archbishop of Carthage and is a cultural centre today.


Carthage - steles on the Punic tophet
Carthaginian coins from about 310-290 BC (Punic Period)
Carthage - Roman period
Steles on the Punic Tophet
Carthaginian coins from circa 310-290 BC
showing the wreathed head of Tanit
(GNU Free Documentation License)
Carthage - Roman period

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