At the crossroads of the highways from oases to the S to the great
plains to the N, and of the mountains of the interior
to the low steppes and the sahel, the city is at the heart
of the high steppes. Mistress of the communications
among these diverse regions, it was also at one time
a center of olive culture. The site of the ancient village
extends between the wadi Sbeitla to the NE and on
both sides of the road from Kasserine to Sbeitla.
Founded, if not already in existence, in the era of
Vespasian, it was the theater of the great confrontation
between the Byzantines and the Arabs in 646. The defeat of the patrician Gregory marked the end of the town and that of the Empire.
Because of its extent and the fine preservation of some
of its monuments, the site of Sufetula was often visited
by travelers, beginning as early as the 18th c. with
Ximenes. In 1883, Saladin and Cagnat gave an important description of it. At the end of 1904, the site was
excavated and published. Numerous buildings have been
uncovered: the forum, presided over by the triple capitol
at one side and by the triumphal gateway at the other.
This homogeneous ensemble, probably built in the
middle of the 2d c. at the center of the site, was excavated and restored between 1906 and 1921.
The forum is surrounded by porticos on three sides
and hemmed in by an enclosure. The capitol is made
up of three juxtaposed temples, prostyle, tetrastyle, and
pseudo-peripteral; the middle one, of the composite order, is more elevated than the other two, which are
Corinthian. They stand on podia sheltering vaulted cellars. The triumphal gateway has a large center arch
flanked by two smaller ones, carrying on the attic a
dedication in honor of Antoninus Pius. In the Byzantine
period, this whole complex was converted into a citadel,
the openings closed, the walls raised or strengthened
with reused material, among which inscriptions have
been found. In the immediate neighborhood is a Byzantine cemetery.
Several streets started at the forum. Even before
excavations had uncovered them, the grid plan of the
town was suggested by the alignment of the visible
remains of walls. Excavation confirmed this observation,
but it has established that the plan of the grid was not
always strictly followed.
Although few of the individual houses have been excavated or published, one of them was so extensive and
rich that it has been thought to be possibly a public
edifice or even a basilica. It is the Building of the Seasons, excavated partially in 1909-10 and completely uncovered in 1964; the plan which appeared from it is a vast peristyle with a great oecus with double apses.
Among the other buildings uncovered, the most important form the episcopal group; these are two large
basilicas called Vitalis and Bellator, parallel to each
other and separated from each other by the Jucundus
Chapel. This complex is surrounded by annexes, among
them small baths and probably the dwellings of the
clergy. The Church of the Bellator excavated in 1907
has three naves and a double apse; it is built in part on
the foundations and with the large-scale blocks of an
earlier edifice. It includes several levels, which bear
witness to long occupation. The Church of Vitalis seems
to have been the later one, and excavations were begun
in 1911 and finished in 1963. It is larger, having five
naves and double apses and including several occupation
levels. Its mosaic pavements are among the most varied
that exist at Sufetula. Numerous tombs with epitaphs occupy the floors of the naves, among them that of the
priest Vitalis, whose inscription is preserved today at the
Bardo Museum in Tunis. Behind the SW apse is the baptistery, oblong in form, entirely sheathed with mosaic. Between the two basilicas, the funerary chapel of Jucundus was excavated in 1911.
The Church of Servus, several meters to the E of
the Arch of Antoninus, almost square in plan, was originally a temple of African type; a large peristyle court
surrounding a square cella enclosed by two exedrae
opening on the area. This plan was converted to a
basilica with five naves and the cella changed to a
baptistery. Close to this church is a monumental fountain excavated in 1955, a large rectangular basin surrounded on three sides by a thick stylobate of worked stone.
Lower to the E-SE, in the direction of the street which
leaves from the forum, is the quarter of the theater
and the great baths. The theater, built against the bank
of the river, was excavated completely in 1923; it appears not to have been completely finished. Later on, a
statue of Dionysos on a panther was found there.
The great baths, constructed in the 3d c., were excavated during several campaigns in 1916-17, 1922,
1946-49. Several inscriptions were found there. The
triumphal arch of the Tetrarchy, SE of the town, appears to be a mediocre imitation of the one at Ammaedara.
Finally, there should be mentioned the existence of
an amphitheater, and a bridge-aqueduct over the wadi
which, by means of three arches resting on enormous
pillars, spans the ravine and led the water from the
mountain towards the town.
Merlin, Forum et église de Sufetula
; P.-M. Duval in CahTun