El Jem has the third largest colleseum in the world and the best preserved as it was made later and with more expertise than the previous amphitheatres.
It was built in 230-238 and could hold 30,000 spectators.
The Colosseum in El Jem is an incredible sight. It is near the size of the one in Rome and is open to explore. You can climb to it's highest point, and go undernear to the old pits. Tourists are not nearly as plentiful during the low season, so there are times that you share this huge building with only a handful of people. We spent an hour walking up and down it's stairs. I'm sure a much more informed or curious mind could do more.
The price for the museum is included in your ticket for the Colosseum and I would recommend going to see it. Our experience there rivalled the one we had at the Bardo. The museum here does not have near the collection the Bardo has, but the mosaics they do have, as well as other exhibits make it worth the 30 minutes or more you may spend in the place. Included with the mosaics you will find an acheological site on the museum grounds as well as a very nicely recreated villa.
El Djem is famous for its amphitheatre (often incorrectly called "a colosseum"), capable of seating 35,000 spectators. Only Rome's Colosseum (about 45,000 spectators) and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger. The amphitheatre at El Djem was built by the Romans under proconsul Gordian, who was acclaimed Emperor at Thysdrus, around 238 and was probably mainly used for gladiator shows and chariot races (like in Ben-Hur). It is also possible that construction of the amphitheatre was never finished.
Until the 17th century it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan, and at a tense moment during struggles with the Ottomans, the Turks used cannons to flush rebels out of the amphitheatre.
The ruins of the amphitheatre were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.
You won't be alone.
Read my El Jem page to help yourself deal with the other visitors.
Crowded or not, this site is an unmissable 'must-see'......quite apart from its historical value and significance, you can rest happy in knowing you have trod where Russell Crowe trod (some of 'Gladiator' was filmed here). :-)
You'll need to pay for a photograph permit (1 dinar in 2010) as well as for entrance.
The Amphitheatre was probably built in 238 ad under the proconsul Gordien (later proclaimed emperor in this city and then dethroned by Maximus), and used for gladiatorial fights and other shows as executions and animal huntings. It´s a huge building 138 metres long, 114 metres wide, 36 metres high and consisted of 3 stories.
The best conserved part of the Amphithetare is the southern part of the building, you can visit the third stories of the construction and enjoy the great views of the arena and the reconstructed seating tiers.
The best conserved part of the buiding is the facade, although is not so highly decorated as other amphitheatres much of the decoration survived the destruction, and it´s specially beautiful during the sunset, when the stones get that special golden color.
Until the 17th century the Amphitheatre remained whole, but then then their stones were used to built the village of El Jem and other stones were transported (as the stones of other roman ruins ) to built the Great Mosque of Kairouan. In the 1990´s the buiding was restored.
In the gallery surrounding the courtyard are exhibited mosaics and fragmentary sculptures and inscriptions. The most remarkable among the mosaics are those with geometric plant motifs, which attained their finest expression in this region in the late second and early third centuries.
Originally planned to house a large collection of mosaics discovered in 1960 and 1961, the El Jem Museum was completed and opened to the public in 1970, bringing to an end the extensive dispersion of the archeological remains from Thysdrus, that had until then been divided among the Bardo, Sousse and Sfax museums. Inspired by the design of a Roman house, the museum includes three large exhibition rooms and a reception area, surrounding a central courtyard with a garden and peristyle.
Underneath the arena run two passageways. This was the place where animals, prisoners and gladiators were kept, just until the moment when they were brought up into the bright daylight to perform what was in most cases the last show of their lives.
The arena is 65 metres long and 39 metres wide, large enough to host more than one show at a time. Note inside the amphitheatre that the decorations are rather crude. This was because the stone used was too soft for fine sculpture. The upper part of the tiers were used as a sort of VIP tribune, where roofed rooms allowed hiding from the hot sun.
The colosseum was constructed between 230 and 238 CE by the command of the Imperial official Gordian. It's believed to have given room for as much as 30,000 spectators, some estimates set it at 45,000. This in the town of Thysdrus with only 30,000 inhabitants. But was a wealthy town, probably eager to impress its visitors.
The building process is even more impressive considering that the stones were quarried 30 km away at Salakta. In 238 Gordian committed suicide after an unsuccessful rebellion against Rome, where he had claimed to be emperor. With this, the construction of the amphitheatre ended. It was never completely finished, but was of course used.