previous next

THELEPTE (Medinet-el-Kedima or Henchir Houri) Tunisia.

Situated in the valley between the Jebel Fériana and Jebel Fej-en-Naam chains, with the Thelepte railroad station to the N and the station and camp of Fériana to the S. One of the first cities in the N section of Proconsular Africa, Thelepte was founded by citizens, probably veterans, of the Papiria tribe. It may have been made a municipium under Vespasian before being promoted to a colonia under Trajan. Owing to its position on the Ammaerada-Capsa road, it became an important military stronghold and guarded the road from the borders of Byzacena to the S Sahara. It was situated on the edge of a vast territory of which it became chief city. Thelepte was also the seat of a council in 418; it boasted a long line of bishops that continued to the 9th c. and was the birthplace of Fulgentius, Bishop of Ruspe.

It is a large site with imposing ruins, abandoned and cruelly ravaged since the late 19th c. To the E it stretches from the left bank of the ech-Charrik, Ras-el-Aïn, and Bou Haïa, over the foothills of Jebel Fériana, covering an area more than 2 x 1.5 km and 5 km in perimeter. Today route GP 23 from Gafsa to Kasserine and the railroad run through the middle of it.

Settled close to an important spring, Ras-el-Aioun, the city seems to have been founded on a grid plan. Although no systematic excavations have ever been carried out to confirm it, the plan of the streets, the alignment of the toothing-stones of the ruined monuments, as well as aerial photography, all provide ample proof of a consistent NE-SW orientation.

Although travelers and scholars continually noted and described the importance of the site, scientific investigation has been slight.

Among the monuments is the Byzantine citadel, a rectangular structure (350 x 150 m) built of large blocks and fortified at the corners with square and round towers. It was probably built by Justinian in the heart of the ancient city (Procop. De aed. Just.), whose plan can be made out through the streets that intersect inside the fortress. Of the buildings excavated there the most important was at the SW corner, backed against the surrounding wall: a rectangular colonnaded building with a floor paved with mosaics and opus sectile, it was interpreted by some of the excavators as a praetorium and by others as a basilica. At the opposite end is another colonnaded monument, containing a well faced with mosaic.

Near the spring that supplies the city stand large baths, some of the most impressive and best preserved ruins on the site. Designed on a symmetrical plan, they are built of rubblework, their brick arches and pottery pipes still intact. The floors are paved with mosaics.

A building known as El Akhouat, because of its four columns with Corinthian capitals and carved corbels, was still standing not many years ago but has never been excavated. The columns apparently stood at the four corners of a great hall 8 m square.

NE of this monument, at the E end of the ruins, stood a basilica, presumed to be the Basilica of the Apostles, where the Council of 418 was held. It is oriented W and is built of a core of mortared rubble faced with small blocks. It has a quadratum populi of five naves measuring 51.8 x 25 m fronted by a portico 9 m deep and terminating in a great apse paved with mosaic. The colonnade was decorated with Christian motifs.

Another large basilica to the N is oriented SE and measures 45 x 18.8 m. It too had five naves and an apse. A sarcophagus was found on its porch. Its floor was paved with slabs of stone and its roof was tiled. In addition to these two large churches, several other basilicas and chapels have been excavated. On an isolated mound 300 m from the SE corner of the citadel is a basilica constructed of reused ashlar; it measures 36 x 19 m with a central nave of 7 m and two lateral ones of 4.70 m. It has an apse and counter-apse, the former paved with a polychrome mosaic (now destroyed). In front of the church, which was roofed in wood and tile, was an atrium, probably porticoed.

Another basilica stood on the left bank of the tributary of the wadi Bou Haïa. Oriented NW and measuring 25 x 10 m, it has three naves and an apse paved in mosaic which contained an inscription now at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. The choir was also paved in mosaic with a martyrological inscription. Certain tombs found in the necropolis surrounding the basilica are covered with mosaics containing epitaphs.

There are three other basilicas; one, badly preserved, 200 m SW of the great Basilica of the Apostles, is built of reused materials. Facing N-NW, it measured 28 x 12.8 m with a framed apse measuring 4.15 m. The second, W of the citadel near the wadi Bou Haïa, was oriented SW and measured 21 x 11.6 m. It was built of ashlar and had three facade entrances with a portico in front opening onto a street. The third, NE of the city and measuring 29 x 11 m, was oriented SW. It was built of ashlar and had three naves.

To this list of basilicas should be added four chapels, more or less well preserved. The first, 200 m from the great basilica, measures 16.4 x 10.8 m and has three naves built of ashlar. The second is 150 m from the NE corner of the citadel to the E. The third is to be found 200 m NE of the great baths, and the fourth to the SW, on the right bank of the tributary of the wadi Fériana.

Several large quarries are situated at the S boundary of the city (Mokta El Bethouma). Two hundred m E of the N end of these quarries, near the road from Sbeïtla to Fériana, at the 200 km mark, a slave's collar was found. The outer surface was engraved with an inscription consisting of a line underlined in red giving the name of the wearer, who belonged to a centurion of the Constantine period (between 294 and 325).

On a hill 100 m from the Sidi Ahmed Tlili marabout, inside the old military camp, was excavated a large round basin (52 m in diameter and 1.5 m deep) fed by an aqueduct. A statue of a draped figure was found there.

In September 1899, when the road was being widened N of the site, a great semicircular apse measuring 3.35 m was discovered near the Thelepte station, at the point where the road forks toward Tébessa. It was presumed to belong to a basilica. An epigraphic text was engraved in the mosaic.


P. Gauckler, Basiliques chrétiennes de Tunisie (1913) pls. XX-XXV; S. Gsell, “Edifices chrétiens de Thélepte et d'Ammaedara,” Rev. Tunisienne (1932) 5-56.


hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: