El Djem

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El Djem
El Djem
The skyline of El Djem
The skyline of El Djem
El Djem is located in Tunisia
El Djem
El Djem
Location in Tunisia
Coordinates: 35°17′48″N 10°42′46″E / 35.29667°N 10.71278°E / 35.29667; 10.71278Coordinates: 35°17′48″N 10°42′46″E / 35.29667°N 10.71278°E / 35.29667; 10.71278
CountryFlag of Tunisia.svg Tunisia
GovernorateMahdia Governorate
 • Total21,576
Time zoneUTC1 (CET)

El Djem or El Jem (Tunisian Arabic: الجمّ, il-Jamm) is a town in Mahdia Governorate, Tunisia. Its population was 21,576 during the 2014 census. It is home to Roman remains including the "Amphitheater of El Jem".


The Roman city of Thysdrus was built, like almost all Roman settlements in ancient Tunisia, on former Punic settlements. In a less arid climate than today's, Thysdrus prospered as an important center of olive oil production and export. It was the seat of a Christian bishopric, which is included in the Catholic Church's list of titular sees.[1]

By the early 3rd century, when the amphitheater was built, Thysdrus rivaled Hadrumetum (modern Sousse) as the second city of Roman North Africa after Carthage. However, following the abortive revolt that began there in AD 238 and Gordian's suicide in his villa near Carthage, Roman troops loyal to the emperor Maximinus Thrax sacked the city. The town is shown on the 4th-century Peutinger Map.



View of the first two amphitheaters

The Amphitheatre of El Jem could seat 35,000 spectators. Only the Colosseum in Rome (seating about 50,000 spectators) and the ruined theater of Capua were larger.

The amphitheater at El Djem was built by the Romans under proconsul Gordian, who was acclaimed emperor at Thysdrus around 238 and was mainly used for gladiator shows and small-scale chariot races.

Until the 17th century, it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan. At a tense moment during struggles with the Ottomans, the Turks used cannons to flush rebels out of the amphitheater.

The ruins of the amphitheater were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. It hosts the annual El Djem International Symphony Festival.


Drifting sand is preserving the market city of Thysdrus and the refined suburban villas that once surrounded it. Some floor mosaics have been found and published, one of them featuring the iconography of (Dea) Africa,[2] but field archaeology has scarcely been attempted. Recently with aerial photos, a huge racetrack stadium has been discovered.[citation needed]

The dry climate of Thysdrus has helped to preserve writings on papyrus.

World War II[edit]

During World War II a major military airfield was located near El Djem, used first by the German Luftwaffe. It was attacked on numerous occasions and later used by the United States Army Air Forces Twelfth Air Force as a transport field. There are few, if any, remains of the airfield today with the land being returned to agricultural uses outside of the city.


El Djem is located on the A1 motorway which runs from Tunis to Sfax.

The metre gauge railway from Tunis to Gabès, known as La Ligne de la Côte, stops at El Djem.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2013; ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), pg. 992
  2. ^ Gifty, Ako-Adounvo. Studies in the Iconography of Blacks in Roman Art. Ph.D. Thesis awarded by McMaster University. p. 82.

External links[edit]