The Glorious Roman City of Djémila, Algeria

If you've followed the blog for anytime at all, you'll know we are fans of the ancient Roman world and we love to visit Roman sites; whether it's Palmyra in Syria, Jerash in Jordan or Ostia Antica outside Rome. However, we were particularly entranced by the situation of Djémila, a delightful town that is wonderfully preserved in the green hills of of the Petit Kabylia in Algeria. Indeed the drive from Algiers, though long, is captivatingly lovely and gives you a sense for the diversity and physical beauty of this country.
Algeria and Tunisia are home to multiple Roman sites and Djémila is only one of a number of UNESCO recognized Roman towns in this part of the world. Indeed the  density of Roman sites is a reflection of the importance of this region which became the bread basket of the empire,  exporting vast qualities of  grain, olive oil and wine to Rome. This trade  generated considerable wealth locally and  this can be seen in the roads, villas, temples, fora, baths and marketplaces of the various Roman towns and cities.
Built into a steep hillside, Djémila doesn't have the classical symmetry of a city like Timgad where you can see the perfect Roman city plan with long Cardo (street running North-South) and Decumanus ( street running East-West). In Djémila by contrast, the Roman city grew up around a Berber town and it was therefore shaped by pre-existing settlement and the particular geography of the site. 

Unlike the Greeks (who often built their theaters into hillsides for support) the Romans had the technology to build them anywhere. But in Djémila the  theatre is built into the hill, beyond the town walls because the site gave them few alternatives. 
The city rises magnificently along the slope and it must have been breathtaking in its day, even as a ruin it's an impressive sight. The first glance as you turn the corner and look down from the mountain road seems both romantic and dramatic.

Originally founded as a Roman garrison   in the first century AD the city site was chosen for it's defensive importance in a small spur of land between two steep drop offs. Named Cuicul the settlement grew along with the population. According to UNESCO, "Around the beginning of the 3rd century, it expanded beyond its ramparts with the creation of the Septimus Severus Temple, the Arch of Caracalla, the market and the civil basilica."
You can see Latin inscriptions at the site above and below, along with the impressive Arch of Caracalla. Built in 216 AD this triumphal arch was built in honor of  the Emperor Caracalla, son of the first North-African-born Emperor Septimus Severus, and his Syrian wife Julia Domna. Plans to disassemble the arch and transport it to France were suggested in the Nineteenth Century  but luckily didn't materialize.
By the fourth century Christian structures can be seen including a Basilica and baptistry. Indeed these Byzantine ruins can be seen at most Roman city sites in north Africa. It is worth noting that Djémila is the Arabic name for the city although  it was not settled by Arabs during the conquest.
Fun amongst the ruins...
We were in Djémila in late December and at this time of year you'll see lots of local people on their holidays including scout groups and  families visiting the Roman ruins. 
We were lucky to run into these musicians! If you visit outside the holidays you may have it almost to yourselves but I doubt you'll find any buskers.
Travel Tips: 
Don't miss the quaint onsite museum which is charmingly old fashioned and a treasure trove of mosaics found at Djémila.
I loved the sepia toned mosaics which went with the entire retro feel of the place!
If you are traveling by car and driving on from Djémila I'd recommend ordering lunch at the small guesthouse before you see the site, they'll have it ready for you when you return.
Mosaic depicting the hunter and various wild animals...
These large, slightly naive later provincial mosaics don't have the mastery of those you might find at the Bardo Museum in Tunis but they have a particular charm nonetheless. 

I highly recommend taking a local or National Guide at these Roman sites. We learnt a great deal from our wonderful guide Samia and  she didn't hesitate to suggest a specialist local guide if she felt they knew more about the particular location.


Comments

The Travelling Dane said…
Great pictures. Will have to go.
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