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At the foot of the Jebel Serj chain, which borders the valley of the wadi Mahrouf to the W, the citadel of Lemsa, set up on a small plateau backed against the Jebel Bouja, occupied a position of strategic importance. On the one side, it overlooked the S-N passage from the Ousseltia basin to that of the Siliana along the plain of the wadi Mahrouf, and on the other the more difficult passage which, crossing it at right angles, comes from the E by way of the Ouchtetia and Guelfel passes.

This fine fortress with its strikingly well-preserved walls (except for the SE side) can be seen from afar dominating the valley in the middle of a field of ruins. A gushing stream flows down the mountainside next to it. The citadel probably was built by the patrician Salomon in the reign of Justinian, who established his country-wide system of fortifications in the first half of the 6th c. Built with materials from the monuments of the ancient city, it is a modestly proportioned fortified castle. Almost square, it measures roughly 29 m N-S and over 31 m E-W on the inside and has square projecting towers at the corners; the battlements are still standing. A nearly axial entrance on the N side is the only way into the interior: 1.84 m wide and framed by two projecting bastions, it is staggered, as recent excavations show.

Inside and around the fort, especially in the W part of the rampart, there is a group of somewhat crude, late buildings. Outside the citadel, at the foot of the ruined SE wall, was found a large, well-constructed basin measuring 28.4 x 11.25 m. Its sides were 1.1 m thick, one of the long ones having served as the base of the wall, now destroyed. The basin, 1.4 m deep, was fed by pipes from the nearby spring, along the N side. Older in construction than the building it supports, it continued to serve as an extra support, perhaps even a fortification, for the fortress: blocks from the ruined wall have been found at the bottom of the basin, which they helped to fill. During the excavation of the basin and piping system some reused dedicatory blocks were found, among them some honorary and religious funerary inscriptions, one dedicated to Mercury. Some of these have been published, and they illuminate the city's history before Byzantine times. Five hundred m down from the citadel on the other side of the road is a small theater, backed against the hillside. Its seats are well preserved.


C. Diehl, “Rapport sur deux missions archéologiques dans l'Afrique du Nord,” NouvArch 4 (1893) 389-597P; K. Belkhodja, “Ksar Lemsa,”Africa 2 (1966) 313-29PI.


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