The town of El Djem (also spelt El Jem) located 62km from Sfax is home to the most impressive Roman monument in all Africa – the Amphitheater of El Jem.
Built as a Roman settlements on the former Punic settlements in North Africa, El Jem known as Thysdrus by the Romans, became prosperous in the 2nd century as an important center for the processing of olive oil for export. Thysdrus was regarded second to Carthage until it was destroyed following the revolt that began in AD 238.
The amphitheater of Thysdrus is dated to around AD 230, and was built under Proconsul Gordian I who was later proclaimed Emperor alongside his son Gordian II following the revolt. It is believed to have not been fully completed, although it was still used for gladiatorial battles and small chariots races.
Apart from the Colosseum at Rome and the ruined theater of Capua, the amphitheater of Thysdrus stood as the largest and was said to hold a capacity of 35,000 spectators. A free-standing monument, it is built entirely of stone blocks without foundation, and was modeled after the Colosseum. Scenes from the movie Gladiator were shot on location at the amphitheater.
The amphitheater of El Jem (Thysdrus) was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979 under categories: (iv) icon of an era, and (vi) association with belief system.
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Feature Image: Amphitheater at El Djem by Agnieszka Wolska
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