El Jem


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El Jem or, as it is occasionally spelled, El Djem, is a small town in east Tunisia about halfway between the capital Tunis, and Sfax. The town itself is unremarkable but for its Roman amphitheatre, the 3rd largest in the world, demonstrating the mighty extent of the empire.

Easily reached by train, I paid a visit to El Jem for just a few hours one afternoon, en route to Sfax. It was easy to buy a ticket for the next train once I arrived at the station, and then only a short walk to the amphitheatre, which wasn't hard to find, given that it's by far the largest building in town.


The structure is largely intact, although perhaps not quite so much as the Colosseum itself. Much of the destruction of the Colosseum in Rome was inflicted by the Catholic church, who viewed it as nothing more than a quarry, being the pagan structure that it is.

Viewed from the opposite side things aren't quite so good, from where the amphitheatre was quarried. It was built around the year 200AD.



Close-up of the structure, with blue shirt wearing tourist just visible.

Albeit recently restored, there were some Roman mosaics floating around the interior.



I really like the sturdy blockwork of the amphitheatre, as if it were built from Lego.

Underneath the arena floor are the tunnels and chambers used for storage and access, and hoisting snarling beasts to the surface.


View up

Looking up from ground level, through the arches.

El Jem station, a not altogether unpleasant place to hang out whilst waiting for the next train south, and onwards to Sfax.


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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2008