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Sbeitla : Roman Tunisia

Sbeïtla - Antonine's arch

Amid Tunisian fields stands a town which used to be the capital of an empire.

In 646, a nobleman called Gregory took his independence from the Byzantine Empire, declared himself emperor and chose Sbeitla as his capital.

Although the event is not of great significance for the world and is not to be found in history books, the ruins of Sufetula, as it was known then, display astonishing and beautiful items.

Sbeïtla -paved street

A massive triumphal arch gives access to the town. Behind it, the perpendicular map of Roman streets (the 'cardi' on the North-South axis; the 'decumani' on the East-West axis) divides the city.

The Byzantine fortresses all around bear witness of the need to protect the place against attacks.

During Antiquity, the town was located only a few kilometres away from the end of the known world: 120 km South-West of Kairouan, and about 200 km away from the dunes of the Sahara.

The three temples

Lord Gregory's fancy put aside, Sbeitla's history remains rather unknown.

Like the rest of the country, it was under Arabic control from the 7th century on.

 Its key attraction is the Roman forum : a paved square closed on one side by three lined up temples.

The magnificent view from the Arch of Antonius Pius raises an issue: why three temples?

Roofs of the temples

Archaelogists and scholars of ancient art agree that the Roman gods making up the Capitol ( Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) were worshiped in only one temple.

In this Tunisian Forum, the gods are granted a temple each. Only one other place shelters a capitol with three temples: it is to be found in Andalucia!

Byzantine baptistries

The ancient Roman city has all the features of an important shops. From the 4th century onwards, many churches were built place: baths, theatres, dwellings, amphitheatre, archs and next to the Roman buildings.

The foundations are only a few steps from the forum. Have a look at the Basilica of Belator and the Basilica of St Vitalis with its five naves.

Above all, don't miss the mosaics of the Baptistries.

Fabio Benedetti-Valentini ©


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