Situation and characteristicsCarthage lies on a peninsula reaching out into the Bay of Tunis which is protected on the landward side by two shallow lakes.
With its avenues lined by palms and eucalyptus trees, its villas and gardens full of red hibiscus blossom and purple bougainvilleas, Carthage is Tunis's most attractive suburb. But of ancient Carthage, once the greatest city in North Africa, and its thousand years of history there are only scanty and scattered remains, and visitors who have seen Dougga, Bulla Regia, Sbeitla or Maktar may be disappointed. These other cities, however, have the advantage of not having been willfully destroyed and used for more than a thousand years as a quarry of building stone; nor have they been built over in the 19th and 20th centuries as Carthage has. Nevertheless the remains of this ancient city are still worth a visit for the sake of the structures, mainly of the Roman period, which have survived.HistoryThe foundation of Carthage goes back to a distant legendary past. According to legend a Phoenician princess named Elissa, daughter of the king of Tyre, fled from Tyre following a dispute over succession to the throne and landed on the coast of Tunisia, with a few faithful followers, in 814 B.C. A Numidian prince agreed to her request for a piece of land the size of a cow-hide: whereupon Elissa cut the hide into thin strips and with them enclosed an area of land on which the town of Qart Hadasht (known to the Romans as Carthago) was built. The truth of the legend cannot be checked, but at any rate there is evidence of the existence of Carthage as early as 750 B.C., and the first Carthaginian settlement was built on the hill known as Byrsa, the "Cow-Hide".In antiquity the Sebkha Ariana (salt lake) was still linked with the sea, so that Carthage lay at the end of an easily defensible peninsula linked with the mainland only at its east end. It was enclosed by a wall over 40km/25mi long, 10m/33ft thick and up to 13m/43ft high, reinforced by towers, ditches and earthworks, which protected the city and the surrounding agricultural area from enemy attack. The city was defended by 20,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 300 elephants. Under the Magonid dynasty (Hamilcar, Hasdrubal, Hannibal) Carthage became the leading commercial power in the western Mediterranean; its seamen sailed round the whole of Africa and discovered the coasts of Britain. The conflict between Carthage and the other Mediterranean power, Rome, led to the three Punic Wars, which ended in the complete destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. The city was plundered, burned down, razed to the ground and ploughed over; and the whole area was sprinkled with salt so that even the soil should be made infertile.Something over a hundred years later the area was resettled by the Romans: in the reign of Augustus the Colonia Julia Carthago was founded, and soon afterwards it became the seat of the provincial government. Thereafter it grew and flourished, and by the early second century A.D. it was the third largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of around 300,000. Magnificent public buildings were erected during this period, second only to those in Rome itself. As in Punic times, the central feature of the city was the hill of Byrsa, with the Capitol and the forum, and the Romans largely preserved the general layout of the Punic town. By the beginning of the fourth century Carthage had become the leading city in Christian Africa and the see of a bishop. Under Byzantine rule it retained its predominance in North Africa, until in 692 the Arabs arrived and once again utterly destroyed the city. Thereafter Carthage fell into an oblivion which ended only under the French protectorate, when the Catholic Mission, honoring the city's early Christian tradition, established its African headquarters in Carthage.The ancient remains are scattered over the whole area of the town, and the principal sights can most conveniently be seen on foot. Alternatively it is possible to hire a horse-drawn carriage or a taxi. The drivers know their way around and can take visitors wherever they want. In order to avoid misunderstandings it is advisable to agree the fare in advance. The suburban railroad (TGM) can also be a help in getting to the various sites.Access20km/12.5mi east of Tunis on the road to La Goulette. Regular bus services; suburban railroad (TGM, Tunis-Carthage) from the station at the east end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, Tunis (either Salammbo or Hannibal stop).
The Tophet is thought to be built on the location where Elissa, the foundress of Carthage, first set foot in Tunisia.
The Baths of Antoninus Pius were the largest of the Roman Empire apart from those in Rome.
To the south of the Museum in Carthage is the Quartier Punique (Punic Quarter). Excavation has shown that in the earliest period the hill was used as a burial-ground. In the fifth century the Carthaginians built workshops here, which later gave place to houses. After the destruction of Carthage the hill remained unoccupied. It was only in the reign of Augustus (30 B.C.-A.D. 14) that the summit of the hill was leveled off - involving the destruction of the Punic remains, including a temple of Eshmun (Asklepios) which stood here - and work began on the construction of a huge forum and Capitol. This was the starting-point of the two main axes of Roman Carthage, the decumanus running from east to west and the cardo from north to south. During excavations under the church and the monastery various Roman remains were found: the foundations of temples, mosaics and the altar of the Gens Augusta which is now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Visitors' eyes will be caught first by the two rows of piers running at an angle to the Punic street pattern - the foundations of a platform on which the Capitol was to stand. Two sections of the Punic town have now been excavated, giving an excellent impression of the layout of the houses. Usually of two storys, they had round underground cisterns, with fountains on the floor above to provide a water supply for the house.
National Archeological Museum
The National Archeological Museum (Musée National de Carthage) in Carthage, still in course of development, has a very interesting collection of material, including information about the course of the excavations, a model of Punic Carthage, Punic and Early Christian antiquities, jewelry and ornaments, everyday objects, clay masks, little heads in colored glass paste with large staring eyes, funerary stelae, sarcophagi, mosaics and models of the Tophet and the Capitol built by the Romans on the ruins of Punic Carthage. The museum gardens are also worth visiting. Amid the greenery are a variety of ancient remains and a 3m/10ft high marble statue commemorating Louis IX (though in fact the statue is a likeness of the Emperor Charles V).
The Archeological Park (Parc Archéologique) in Carthage, behind the baths, was laid out in 1953. The rectangular grid of streets shows the layout of this residential quarter of the Roman town. The park reflects the long history of Carthage, with Punic graves of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., the five-aisled Basilica of Douimès, dating from the sixth century A.D., and an underground burial chapel (the Chapelle Sainte-Monique) of the seventh century for one Asterius, moved here from its original site. In one of the numerous apses of the Schola (a kind of club or meeting-place) is a well preserved Late Roman mosaic depicting preparations for some imperial ceremony. All over the site are the remains of Roman cisterns, and under a tree are numbers of limestone "cannonballs", projectiles from Carthaginian arsenals. North-east of the Archeological Park, on a site formerly occupied by a 19th century Bey's Palace, stands the well guarded Presidential Palace.
One km/0.75mi northwest of the Byrsa Hill in Carthage, on the left of the road to Tunis (and opposite the La Malga cisterns), can be found the second century Roman amphitheater, a five-story structure with seating for some 50,000 spectators - i.e. about the same as the theater of El Djem. The arena could be flooded for naumachias (mock naval battles). Apart from its massive foundations and a few underground rooms, however, the whole structure has been destroyed. During the persecution of Christians, on March 17th 202, St Perpetua, her slave-girl Felicitas and others were martyred here by being trampled to death by a wild cow. They are commemorated by a marble column erected by the Pères Blancs. St Cyprian was beheaded here in 258, the first African bishop to be martyred, and St Augustine lectured in the arena.
A little way north of the Tophet in Carthage, along Rue Hannibal lies the Kothon, the old Punic harbor, with two basins in which the mightiest fleet in the Mediterranean once lay at anchor. According to the ancient sources the commercial harbor was in the shape of a rectangle measuring 456m/500yds by 356m/390yds, linked with the sea by a channel 20m/65ft wide. The entrance to the Harbor could be closed by a chain. The naval Harbor to the north, which was surrounded by a high wall, had a diameter of 325m/355yds. A channel giving it direct access to the sea was constructed only during the Third Punic War. In the center of the Harbor is a small island, on which the palace of the commander of the fleet once stood. The naval Harbor alone had moorings for some 220 vessels, both along the landward side and round the island.
Cathedral of St-Louis
The Cathedral, in Moorish/Byzantine style, was built in 1890 and is dedicated to St Louis of France (King Louis IX), who died here in 1270 during the siege of Tunis. The largest church in North Africa, it was until 1965 the seat of the Archbishop of Carthage and Primate of Africa. It belonged to the monastery of the Pères Blancs (White Fathers), a missionary order founded by Cardinal Lavigerie whose declared aim was the reconquest of North Africa for Christianity. The White Fathers had established themselves on the Byrsa Hill in 1881, and in addition to their missionary work had begun to collect antiquities. The Cathedral and conventual buildings - which now house the National Archeological Museum - became state property in 1964.
Damous el Karita
Outside the ancient town of Carthage, on the west side of the main road to Sidi Bou Said (TGM station Carthage-Présidence), are the remains of the basilica of Damous el Karita (from domus caritatis), the largest Early Christian church in Tunisia. Of this great nine-aisled building nothing is left but a forest of broken columns and pillars. Adjoining is the cemetery of the Pères Blancs.To the east of the main road are the basilica of St Cyprian and the convent of St Monica (Augustine's mother), with a church (originally seven-aisled). Farther north is the Basilica Majorum, of which only the outlines can be distinguished. In a chapel in this church SS. Perpetua, Felicitas and their companions were buried.
Excavation of the site of Carthage began in 1857 and is still continuing. In 1974 UNESCO initiated a program, backed by substantial resources, for saving a site of such outstanding importance in human history, and since then excavation work has been steadily expanded. Fourteen countries are now involved in the project. So far three main phases in the city's development have been identified: an early settlement of small mud-brick houses, all aligned in the same direction; then a densely populated city with streets laid out at right angles to one another, cisterns and a triple ring of walls; and a final phase, from the city's heyday to its destruction.
On the inland side of the main road (Avenue Habib Bourguiba), near the TGM station Carthage- Hannibal, rises the Byrsa Hill (originally 70m/230ft high), crowned by the conspicuous Cathedral of Saint-Louis. From the top of the hill there are fine views of modern Carthage, the Punic Harbor, La Goulette, Tunis, the Mediterranean and the finely formed Djebel Bou Kornine. The hill was the central feature of the Punic settlement. The Romans sliced some 6m/20ft off the summit in order to make a broader platform for imperial buildings. (There is a model of the Roman Capitol in the Museum).
The Quartier Magon excavation site is in a small park (entrance on the sea front, between the Kothon and the Archeological Park in Carthage). The site gives some impression of the development of the town in Punic times. Immediately behind the sea wall (fifth century B.C.), which just before the Third Punic War was 13m/43ft high, was the craftsmen's quarter; beyond this were larger houses, and beyond these again luxurious villas with richly patterned terrazzo floors. There is a small museum with models of the Punic town walls, houses and streets, pavement mosaics of the Punic period and a model of the ancient quarries at El Haouaria.
The main remains of Punic Carthage are on the Byrsa Hill and in the Carthage-Salammbo district, between the main road (La Goulette-Sidi Bou Said) and the sea. The most important features are the National Museum and Quartier Punique (excavations of a Punic residential quarter), the Tophet (sacred precinct), the Punic Harbor (Kothon) and the Quartier Magon. If time permits, the tour of the site should begin with a visit to the National Museum and the Quartier Punique, both on the Byrsa Hill, and continue with the Tophet, the Kothon and the Quartier Magon.
Immediately adjoining the theater in Carthage is the Park of the Roman Villas (Parc des Villas Romaines). Once a Punic cemetery (in which a number of shaft graves are still to be seen), the site was later occupied by the peristyle villas of wealthy Romans. One third century house, the Villa des Volières, has been restored and now contains a small Antiquarium; fine pavement mosaics.From the terrace, on which there are a number of fragments of sculpture, there is a fine view of Carthage, with the Presidential Palace below, the Gulf of Tunis and beyond this Cap Bon.
Avenue Reine Didon in Carthage runs east to the Roman theater (A.D. second century), built into a hillside facing the sea, with seating for 5,000 spectators. The stage, slightly raised, is backed by a scenae frons (stage wall). After much earlier alteration and destruction the theater has now been almost completely restored, and is used for open-air performances in July and August and for the Film Festival.
On the opposite side of the street from the amphitheater in Carthage a footpath leads to the La Malga cisterns, built by the Romans to store water brought from the Zaghouan hills in an aqueduct 132km/82mi long. Only 15 of the original 24 cisterns are now left, each 95m/312ft long, 12.5m/41ft wide and 11.50m/38ft high.
Between the two harbors in Carthage can be found the Oceanographic Museum, with a small museum of marine biology.The displays include specimens of Mediterranean fishes, a collection of sea-shells, Tunisian fishing boats, Tunisian birds and a sea-water aquarium.
Baths of Gargilius
North of the Byrsa Hill, to the left, are the remains of the Baths of Gargilius, which are believed to have been the meeting-place of the Council of Carthage in 411.
Hill of Juno
To the north of the Byrsa Hill in Carthage is the Hill of Juno, with a former Carmelite convent. On the northwestern slopes is a building with twin columns, the function of which is unknown.
Roman and Early Christian Museum
Along Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Carthage to the south is the Roman and Early Christian Museum (Musée Romain et Paléo-Chrétien), with material of the fourth-seventh centuries A.D. and plans of the excavations.
To the south of the Odeon in Carthage the Circus is identified only by a long depression in the ground.
On the top of the hill in Carthage are the remains of the Odeon, a small covered hall built in A.D. 207.
Map of Carthage Attractions