- Tunisia’s rich history can be traced back to ancient Stone Age tools discovered 200,000 years ago, with significant civilizations like the Phoenicians and Romans leaving their mark.
- Maktar, Bulla Regia, and Sbeitla are impressive ancient ruins in Tunisia that showcase the influence of various civilizations, from the Berbers to the Romans.
- The ruins of Carthage, including the famous Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab ruins, offer a glimpse into the rise and fall of a powerful empire that once threatened Rome.
Due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea, the place now known as Tunisia became very important in the ancient world very early. Stone Age tools reveal that this area was inhabited around 200,000 years ago by ancient humans. By 10,000 BC, the area was host to the Capsian culture, which lasted until 6,000 BC.
Over the course of thousands of years, more distinct cultures inhabited the area, but the most popular period for this place began in the 9th century BC. In approximately 814 BC, a Semitic-speaking people known as the Canaanites (who were later known as Phoenicians) sailed from the eastern Mediterranean coast to establish the city of Carthage as one of the colonies to enhance their sea trade.
Shortly after its founding, Carthage became one of the most important Phoenician cities in the ancient world, which started expanding its territory across the Mediterranean into parts of the Italian Peninsula. The Carthaginian empire soon met with the Romans, who were also expanding their territory, and the two powers clashed, throwing the Mediterranean into a region of war and bloodshed for many years. The Romans soon defeated the Carthaginians, destroyed their capital city – Carthage, and established Roman colonies all over the area, most of which can still be seen today.
While the period of the Phoenicians was the most popular in the history of the area now known as Tunisia, several other people have inhabited it, including the Berber tribe, Arabs, Turks, Egyptians, French, and Romans. Today, the country is independent, and it is home to some of the most interesting ancient ruins in the world that shed more light on its rich history. Here are the top ancient ruins in Tunisia to visit when exploring this historic part of the world.
Maktar in Tunisia
Maktar is among the top archeological sites in Tunisia; it’s located in the Siliana Governorate and represents a town built by the Berbers of the Numidian Kingdom. The town was initially founded as a defense post against Carthage, but it soon became a settlement for Carthaginians after they were displaced by the Roman invasion.
By 146 BC, the town became a Roman colony and saw the creation of several Roman creations. After the Romans, the town was destroyed by the Arabs and then abandoned. Today, the Maktar is home to impressive ruins, some of which include – a Roman Amphitheatre, thermal baths, and a basilica.
- Location: Siliana Governorate, Tunisia
Bulla regia in Tunisia
Bulla Regia is the ruins of an ancient city that first hosted the Berber people before becoming a Carthaginian city in the 3rd century BC. The city also became part of the Numidian kingdom at a time before it came under Roman rule in 46 BC.
The ancient city is now home to some of the most interesting and well-preserved Roman ruins in Tunisia located underground, and a museum that hosts artifacts from the site’s excavation.
- Location: Jendouba, Tunisia
Sbeitla ruins in Tunisia
Sbeita is one of the most important cities from ancient times that are still standing; it was a prominent city in its time that flourished under Roman rule and is now known for its remarkable Roman ruins. The city’s history dates to the reign of Emperor Vespasian, who is believed to have founded it, although the site had previously been inhabited by other people.
Sbeitla was the site of one of the largest battles between the Arabs and the Byzantines, and today, what remains of it are interesting Roman structures, including public baths, the Triumphant Arch, the Gate of Antoninus, three incredible temples, and one of the best-preserved Roman Forums in the world.
- Location: Sbeitla, Tunisia
Sanctuary Of Tophet
Sanctuary of Tophet in Carthage
The Sanctuary of Tophet is an ancient Carthaginian burial site where numerous children’s graves have been discovered. The site is located in the archeological site of Carthage, and it has been dated to the Carthaginian era.
Due to the number of children remains found in this sanctuary, most scholars agree that the site was used as a place for child sacrifice, although no particular evidence has been provided to support this except passages from the Hebrew Bible like Jeremiah 7:31 and 2 Kings 23:10 which condemns activities done in a place known as Tophet.
The word ‘Tophet’ in Hebrew means ‘Place of burning’, and it is described in the Hebrew Bible as a place where people influenced by a Canaanite religion burned and sacrificed their young to the Canaanite god Molech. Even though no conclusion about the site has been reached, visiting this site remains a harrowing experience.
- Location: Carthage, Tunis, Tunisia
Dougga in Tunisia
Dougga is considered the best-preserved ancient Roman town in Africa, although the town’s origins date to the Numidian kingdom as it contains a mausoleum dedicated to a Numidian prince. Dougga is also home to a necropolis, and several temples that predate the Roman era were found on this site, proving it had already been an important settlement.
The site, however, became most popular when it became a Roman colony, after which it flourished and saw the establishment of several iconic Roman creations, including a theater, an early church, temples, baths, and a forum.
- Location: Beja Governorate, Tunisia
El Jem Amphitheater
El Jem Amphitheatre in Tunisia
El Jem Amphitheater is an elaborately built oval-shaped Roman theater in the city of El Djem that’s considered one of the best-preserved Roman theaters in the world. The amphitheater is also one of the largest in the world, with a capacity to accommodate an estimated 35,000 people.
It is believed to have been built around 238 AD and is made entirely of stone blocks, which makes it unique among other Roman ruins. Today, it’s considered one of the top Roman amphitheaters to visit among history buffs.
- Location: Thysdrus, El Djem, Mahdia Governorate, Tunisia
Medina Of Tunis
A mosque in the Medina of Tunis
While the Medina of Tunis today is one of the most vibrant parts of the city, it also qualifies as one of the best historic sites in Tunisia to visit. The site’s origin dates to the seventh century when it was founded as an Arabic neighborhood near the site of the present-day Al-Zaytuna Mosque.
It soon became a favorite spot in the city of Tunis, where elaborate structures were built. From mosques to palaces, mausoleums, and cobblestone streets, the Medina of Tunis is full of so many wonders from one of the most interesting periods in the history of Tunisia
Bardo National Museum
The entrance of the Bardo Museum in Tunisia
Bardo National Museum is not exactly an ancient site, but it contains some of the most important artifacts dug out from ancient sites around Tunisia. It is the largest museum in the country and the second-richest museum in Africa after the Egyptian Museum of Cairo.
Its collection includes a lot of Roman mosaics, marble statues, terracotta statues, and lots of other artifacts from the prehistoric to the modern era of Tunisia.
- Location: Le Bardo, Tunis, Tunisia
The Ruins Of Carthage
Ruins of Carthage overlooking the Mediterranean Sea
No trip to Tunisia is complete without a visit to the ruins of Carthage – the mighty empire that once threatened Rome. This ancient city’s origin dates to the 9th century BC when Phoenicians from the eastern Mediterranean established a colony in the area.
This colony was initially established to enhance its trade network, but it soon grew to become a great power in the Mediterranean. By 264 BC, Carthage was already in a war with the Roman Republic, which would last for nearly a century and was later referred to as the Punic Wars.
After decades of fighting on land and sea, the Romans, in 146 BC, stormed the city of Carthage and razed it to the ground. After the destruction of the city, the Romans built a new city in its place, which was eventually destroyed by the Arabs.
Today, the ancient city of Carthage lies in ruins at the peak of Byrsa Hill, where it overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. It’s one of the best ancient sites in Tunisia to visit; it is home to Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, and Arab ruins, making it the richest archeological site in Tunisia.
The Antonine Baths
The Antonine baths in Tunisia
The Antonine Baths are located in the archeological site of Carthage, but they are worth a separate mention for their significance. These baths were constructed between 145 and 165 AD during the reign of Emperor Antoninus Pius, and they are considered the largest set of Roman baths in Africa and one of the largest ever built in the history of the Roman Empire.
Although the baths were destroyed centuries after they were built, they remain well-preserved and are a testament to the huge investments the Romans made in their Carthaginian colony.
- Location: Carthage, Tunisia