Situated on a large
peninsula, which stretched between salty lagoons to the
furthermost part of the gulf of Tunis, Carthage was twice
in antiquity a capital. Founded by Tyrians, who came
from Phoenicia, the settlement quickly became the metropolis of an empire, at first essentially maritime. Destroyed, it was reconstructed and immediately raised to the rank of capital of the province of Africa, a position
it held almost to the end of antiquity. This past, covering 15 centuries of history, has left relatively few traces
which strike the imagination of the visitor of today.
Since the end of the 19th c., modern life has progressively
covered over much of the ancient site.
During all the centuries of abandonment which
preceded, the ruins served as an inexhaustible stone
quarry for Tunis and other towns as well as for present-day structures built on the site. Very few monuments
have escaped this intensive exploitation. Further, the explorations of the 19th c. resulted in stripping the remains
of their archeological objects for private collections and
Of the first Punic city there are known only the two
harbors, the tophet, the sacred area destined for cult
sacrifices, and the necropoleis, which form a large strip
occupying the N heights of the town. Of the Roman
period, several monuments have survived which, in spite
of their ruinous condition, bear witness to their original
importance. To the SW, no more of thie circus remains
than traces of foundation; a little farther to the N was
the amphitheater, of which only the arena and the
substructures have survived; of the Odeon, situated on
the summit of the plateau, there exists no more than
the platform of the foundation; of the theater only a part
of the cavea, backed against the side of the hill, is still
intact. There are also the large cisterns of Malga to
the W and those of Borj Jedid to the NE, fed by the
aqueduct of Zaghouan; and finally, above all, the Baths
of Antoninus preserved today in a great archaeological
park. This is the most imposing monument of Roman
Carthage and counts among the largest of the Empire.
Situated on the seashore at the foot of the hill of Borj
Jedid, with one facade towards the sea and the other
towards the interior, it had an alternation of projections
and recesses formed by a succession of rectangular,
hexagonal, and octagonal rooms. Perfectly symmetrical
in plan, it was covered by an immense vault supported
by enormous granite columns. The wings encircled two
large palestrae with porticos of white marble. The building was surrounded by an esplanade, itself circled by
porticos and building annexes of which two immense
hemicycles sheltered the latrines.
In this city, subjected to incessant pillage of its materials and objects, the most indestructible monument
is certainly the city plan. A large-scale work, thought
out rationally and implanted by Rome even at the
origins of the re-founding of the town, this plan takes
as its central axis the summit of the acropolis of Byrsa
and divides the area of the city into four quarters of
equal importance except for the one situated to the NW.
A rectilinear, regular plan of the streets determines the
insulae in which are set all the monuments of the town.
The most remarkable sector in this regard is that
which stretches along the slope of the hill of the Odeon.
Uncovered by several campaigns since 1899, the villas
included in these areas rose on successive levels up to
the Baths of Antoninus. The most remarkable of these
dwellings is the House of the Aviary named for a mosaic. Around a large peristyle open the rooms, which
also give on an octagonal garden situated in the center
of the court. Cleared at the beginning of this century,
this aristocratic villa has been restored and transformed
in part into an antiquarium protecting some archaeological objects of various provenance.
From the Christian era, several basilicas have been
found and cleared: that of Dermech, situated in the
archaeological park, that of Damous el Karita, behind
the plateau of the Odeon, and to the NE on a cliff dominating the gulf, that of St. Cyprian.
Apart from the houses, which have been despoiled
of their most beautiful mosaics, the most complete recovery of the lost city has been carried out in the necropoleis, which surround the town; the numerous furnishings that have been recovered from there constitute
the essence of the archaeological documentation of ancient Carthage.
Audollent, Carthage Romaine
G. C. Picard, Carthage
(1964; Fr. ed. 1956); La Carthage de Saint Augustin
; Lézine, Carthage—Utique
; M. Fantar, Carthage, la prestigieuse cité Ellissa