Situation and characteristicsBulla Regia lies at the foot of Djebel Rebia (617m/2,024ft), in country which slopes gradually down to the Medjerda valley. It is one of the most important Roman sites in Tunisia, with the remains of baths, cisterns, temples, a theater, a forum and a series of handsome villas. To provide protection from the summer heat the houses were built with underground rooms - a method of construction which had proved itself in the troglodytic dwellings of southern Tunisia.Some of the finest mosaics from Bulla Regia are now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis; a few, however, have been left in situ.HistoryThe Phoenician town on this site was apparently captured by Masinissa about 150 B.C. After his death - as the "Regia" in its name indicates - it became the capital of one of the three Numidian kingdoms created by Rome. The process of Romanisation began in A.D. 50, and in the reign of Hadrian (117/118) Bulla Regia was raised to the status of a Roman colony. Thereafter its trade in olives and in corn made it one of the wealthiest towns in Roman Africa.In 339 Augustine spent some time in the town, which had become the see of a bishop in 380, and inveighed against the townspeople's passion for the theater.Two basilicas, of which remains survive, were built during the Byzantine period.The decline of Bulla Regia began with the Arab invasion in the seventh century, and the town was finally abandoned in the late 12th century.The first excavations were carried out by L. Carton at the beginning of the 20th century. Excavation of the site, by the Institut National d'Archéologie de Tunis and the Ecole Française de Rome, is continuing, and has brought to light further remains of both the Roman and the medieval periods.AccessBulla Regia, 60km/37mi south of Tabarka, is reached by way of GP 17 (Tabarka-Jendouba). 6km/4mi before Jendouba MC 59, signposted to Bou Salem, goes off on the left. The site lies on the left of this road, 7km/4.5mi northeast of Jendouba.
Opening hours: 8am-6pm
Useful tips: Tickets are issued in the little Antiquarium opposite the entrance to the site. The interesting underground rooms of the villas at Bulla Regia are frequently closed: it is advisable, therefore, to borrow the keys from the custodian or to ask him to act as a guide.
Baths of Julia Memmia
Following the ancient street in Bulla Regia, which runs northeast, we pass the foundations of an arch and, farther west (left) the remains of a Byzantine fortress. To the right, past two temples, are the Baths of Julia Memmia, a fine example of a town bathing establishment, built by a wealthy citizen named Julia Memmia about A.D.189. On the side facing the street, standing higher than the rest of the building, is a portico, off which open a number of small rooms, probably shops.From the portico the entrance leads into a vestibule, beyond which, on a lower level, are the baths, laid out on the usual symmetrical plan. The changing room (apodyterium, vestiarium) is followed by the cold bath (frigidarium), with two pools of cold water and a pavement mosaic depicting the Cretan Labyrinth. On either side are long rooms, probably gymnasia. Farther south are the warm room (tepidarium), hot bath (caldarium) and a steam bath (sudatorium), the latter two being surrounded by boiler rooms and a service passage. At the southwest corner of the building is a semicircular apartment, probably a latrine. On the east side of the baths are remains of a dwelling-house, the Diana Building, with a vaulted octagonal room. Crossing the street, which is paved with stone slabs, we continue the tour in a northwesterly direction.
The houses in Bulla Regia (A.D. third and fourth century) belonging to wealthy citizens of the town, some of which are excellently preserved, are named after the mosaics found in them. They are laid out on an unusual plan (some older houses having evidently been altered to conform with the plan). The rooms lay round a colonnaded courtyard, as was normal in Roman houses, but the main residential apartments were in the basement and, protected from direct sunlight, were pleasantly cool. In the commonest type of plan an underground passage gave access to three rooms, which were sometimes linked with one another and were supplied with indirect light and air by shafts to the rear (seen, for example, in the House of the Treasure). A more elaborate plan is seen in the House of the Hunt and the House of the Fishing Scene, whose underground rooms surround a colonnaded courtyard. The best preserved of these houses are described below.
House of the Hunt
The large Maison de la Chasse (House of the Hunt) in Bulla Regia, which takes its name from a mosaic, now almost effaced, in the basement, evidently belonged to a wealthy citizen. It was constructed by combining and altering a number of small existing houses. The upper floor is badly ruined, but the basement, lying some 5m/16ft below ground level, is well preserved. The rooms, laid out round a courtyard lined with Corinthian columns. include bedrooms (identified by the small mosaic-decorated platforms for the beds) and a large dining room (triclinium), also with a pavement mosaic. The bedrooms have an interesting air supply and ventilation system, with pipes built into the walls which communicate with an air shaft surrounding the rooms. The layout on the ground floor is similar, with two colonnaded courtyards, dining and living rooms, bedrooms and a small bath-house.
The market street in Bulla Regia continues south, passing baths and dwelling-houses, to end at the theater (restored). Originally built in the second century, it dates in its present form from the fourth. Of the auditorium, which has a diameter of 60m/200ft, there survives the lowest tier of seats. The floor of the orchestra has a mosaic depicting bears. On the south side of the theater is a portico, beyond which is a large open square or esplanade, with colonnades, a pool, a fountain and a temple. Immediately west of the theater are the remains of a temple of Isis. Farther west is another esplanade, laid out round a garden and surrounded by public buildings. On the south side of the whole complex is a retaining wall. From here we turn west to return to the entrance, passing the Baths of Julia Memmia.
House of Amphitrite
The finest and best preserved mosaics in Bulla Regia are in the Maison d'Amphitrite (House of Amphitrite), a little way northeast of the Maison de la Pêche. The building which bears this name was probably in fact a temple of Neptune. An underground passage leads into a large room with a mosaic of Venus Marina (formerly confused with the sea-nymph Amphitrite) and Neptune on a marine centaur. On the ground floor of this building was a large mosaic of the freeing of Andromeda, now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Southern Baths (Alexander Church)
On the south side of the road (MC 59) in Bulla Regia are the remains of the large Southern Baths (Thermes du Sud; 60m/200ft by 55m/180ft) and the little Alexander Church (Eglise d'Alexandre), a rectangular building with two rows of stone troughs. The function of the building, which was destroyed by fire, is not clear: it may originally have been used for the collection and distribution of agricultural produce, for the material recovered by excavation included a hundred jars and amphoras for the storage of corn and oil.
Tour of Site
The tour of Bulla Regia begins at the Baths of Julia Memmia. From there it goes north, passing the two Byzantine basilicas and various dwelling-houses, to the House of Amphitrite, from which it turns south, passing the forum, the temples and the theater, to return to the starting-point. Just inside the site, to left and right, are cisterns (restored). Also on the right can be seen an enigmatic structure of the first century A.D., known from its type of masonry merely as Opus Reticulatium; the interior is divided into three aisles by rows of pillars.
The villas of Bulla Regia show an unusual method of constructing vaults which is found on many other Roman sites in Tunisia. It seems to have evolved in the second century and to have been used until the Arab conquest. A number of terracotta tubes were fitted into one another to form a dome shape and the joints were filled in; a number of such arches were set up next to one another to form a vault, and the under surface was then faced with plaster.
House of the Fishing Scene
The Maison de la Pêche (House of the Fishing Scene) in Bulla Regia is one of the best preserved houses on the site. The basement in particular is well preserved. Round the colonnaded inner courtyard runs a vaulted gallery with a number of rooms opening off it. The mosaic depicts a sea swarming with fish, with cupids and ducks angling for them.
House of the New Hunt
Adjoining the Maison de la Chasse in Bulla Regia on the north is the Maison de la Nouvelle Chasse (House of the New Hunt), excavated in 1972. In the dining room (triclinium) can be seen the mosaic from which the house takes its name. Like some of the other villas, the Maison de la Nouvelle Chasse was later used as a place of burial.
To the north of the Maison du Trésor in Bulla Regia are two well preserved sixth century Christian basilicas, linked with one another. The older and larger of the two preserves a few marble columns, a font and a mosaic of fishes and birds.
Just to the south of the Maison de la Pêche in Bulla Regia is the Forum, a large paved square in a poor state of preservation. Little is left of the buildings which surrounded it. Only the foundations of the Capitol survive.
House of the Treasure
The Maison du Trésor (House of the Treasure) in Bulla Regia is named after a Byzantine hoard of silver found in it. In the basement is a well preserved geometric mosaic.
From the Maison d'Amphitrite in Bulla Regia we return south, passing the Maison de la Pêche and then, to the left, a nymphaeum. The fountain is still running, though it has been disfigured by a modern installation.
Temple of Apollo
The temple of Apollo, to the north of Bulla Regia, consisted of a forecourt and a cella, a typically African plan. Marble statues of the divine triad of Apollo, Ceres and Aesculapius which were found here are now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
From the Forum in Bulla Regia a street runs south to the Market, a large paved square surrounded by a colonnade, with small shops along the north and south sides.
From a low hill in the center of the site of Bulla Regia there is a good general view of the excavations.