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