One of the
largest and most imposing sites of Tunisia is situated on
the Algerian frontier at the crossing of the great route
of penetration toward the interior from Carthage to
Theveste, with the route connecting the basin of the
High Medjerba to that of the Foussana. The station
commanded access to the mountainous confines: the first
camp of the third Augustan legion, it became a colony
under the Flavians from the time of the transfer of
this legion to Tebessa (then later on to Lambasa) and
again took up its military role under the Byzantines, who
constructed important fortresses there.
The remains reveal several centuries of occupation—Roman, Vandal, and Byzantine. Visited by travelers in
the 18th and 19th c., the site was explored by Saladin,
who described and sketched the principal monuments;
and by Cagnat, who called attention to their visible inscriptions. Sadoux made a survey of certain edifices described by Gsell. Sporadic borings were carried out before the excavations in 1909 and between 1930 and
1940 when clearance was limited to several buildings
only. What little excavation there has been has not been
completely published. The monuments standing or unearthed are few in number for the extent of the site.
On the right bank of the wadi there is a small triumphal arch with engaged piers hollowed out of two
square niches; and on the right bank, E of the town,
stands a fine triumphal arch with engaged piers at the
side of two projecting parts, each made up of two
Corinthian columns supporting a complete entablature
upon which is carried a long inscription dedicated to
Septimius Severus. In the Byzantine period this arch
was transformed into a small fort.
There were numerous cemeteries on the outskirts,
especially at the gates and the starting points of the
great roads of the city. The most important extends to
the foot of the great triumphal arch. Excavated in
1909, it has revealed epitaphs of the legionnaires of
the Flavian era.
Several important mausolea were found, one hexagonal with two floors, another garlanded, and the largest,
tetrastyle, rose above a rectangular foundation.
Several meters from the road and from the building
of the ancient customs station, stood a large tetrastyle
temple, thought to be the capitol. The foundations and
one lone column have survived. In front of it was the
forum, a large paved enclosure known since the 19th
c., excavated in 1934, and still unpublished.
Farther E, a square court bordered by small rooms,
excavated at the same period, appeared to be a market.
To the N, only partly uncovered, is a large bath. All
these monuments are still unpublished. The building
with troughs to the NE was once considered a church
but the identification of it is still puzzling, as is that of
the monument with the “windows.” The theater, partially
excavated in 1926, resulted in the discovery of numerous
statues and inscriptions indicating restorations.
Monuments of the Christian period include basilicas:
The most remarkable is that of Melleus so-called, alongside the modern road, 100 m W of the ancient customs
station. The church of “Candidus” outside the Roman
town in the middle of the necropolis is 150 m SW of
the arch of triumph. The Vandal Chapel, situated on the
outskirts of the site, is one of the oldest monuments
known at Haidra.
The monument par excellence of the Byzantine period is the citadel, constructed under Justinian. An
important irregular quadrilateral with multiple towers,
it extends all over the S slope of a small hill as far
as the wadi.
A little farther to the S but on the other side of the
encircling wall, there is another small church, also
excavated but remaining unpublished.
Piganiol in MélRome
S. Gsell in RevTun
(1932) 277-300; Y. and N. Duval
2 (1966) 1153-89; VII congrès darcheol.
(1965) 473-78; CRAI
(1968) 321; P.-M.
Duval in CRAI
; for the fortress, see C.
Diehl, Afrique byzantine