Immediately adjoining the Temple of Hathor Miskar is a Roman house, the Maison de Vénus, in which was found a well preserved mosaic depicting Venus taking off her sandals, with birds and fishes dating from the 2nd/3rd century.
On the east side of the Roman road is the little temple of Hathor Miskar (a love goddess of Egyptian origin), a Punic shrine, probably of the 1st century B.C., which was rebuilt in the 2nd century A.D. and converted into a Christian church in the 4th century. The ground-plan consists of a walled forecourt, a vestibule and the cella. An inscription gives the names of three suffetes (Punic municipal officials). The apse was presumably added in the 4th century.
Immediately beyond the Schola of the Juvenes is a necropolis which was in use for burial from the foundation of the Roman town until the fourth century, together with a number of megalithic tombs of the Numidian period.
The Schola of the Juvenes in Maktar was a kind of clubhouse and training school for young men - found also in other Roman cities under the name of Collegia Juvenum - in which, in addition to being trained in various sports and the military art, they were given instruction in politics, taxation law and commerce. They were then employed not only in the collection of taxes but also in the defense of the wealthy city of Mactaris against raids by plundering nomadic tribesmen.
The building of the Schola began in A.D. 88, on the evidence of an inscription found on the site giving the name of 70 members of the school, but it was completed only towards the end of the second century. By the early third century the Schola had become an extremely powerful Organisation, as is shown by its participation in the Gordian rising in A.D. 238. After the rising, however, it was dissolved and the buildings were destroyed. Later, in the reign of Diocletian, they were rebuilt. Particularly well preserved is the palaestra, built at the expense of a wealthy citizen named Julius Piso, with an inner courtyard surrounded by Corinthian columns and a small lecture hall adjoining.
Along the paved decumanus to the west of the Great Baths is the old Punic Forum used by the Libyan/Punic population of Maktar. Just north of this is the Temple of Bacchus (Liber Pater), of which little remains apart from a double crypt; the present masonry belongs to a later building.
South of the Basilica of Hildeguns are the imposing remains of the Great Public Baths (Grandes Thermes Publics), built at the end of the 2nd century, which are among the best preserved Roman baths in Africa. The lower floor is completely preserved. The walls of the central hall (cella media) and the adjoining frigidarium (cold bath) and caldarium (warm bath) stand to a height of 12-15m/40-50ft, as far as the springing of the vaulting. The floors are paved with fine mosaics. Amid the plant ornament of the capitals appear various fabulous animals, showing that the Libyan/Punic cultural heritage was still very much alive in Roman times. The baths were converted into a fortress by the Byzantines in the 6th century.
Beyond the Arch of Trajan in Maktar are the remains of a three-aisled basilica, much altered and rebuilt, with a baptistery flanked by four columns and the tomb of a Vandal prince named Hildeguns. It was built in the 5th century A.D.
At the south end of the Forum stands the magnificently preserved Arch of Trajan, erected in A.D. 116 in honour of the town's promotion to the status of municipium. An inscription dedicates it to "the Emperor Caesar Nerva Trajanus Augustus, the best of all Emperors, conqueror of the Germans, the Armenians and the Parthians, in his 21st year as a tribune". In Byzantine times the gateway was walled up and incorporated in the fortifications of the town.
Beyond the Maison de Vénus in Maktar, at the intersection of the cardo and the decumanus, lies the rectangular Forum, paved with marble, which was probably laid out in the early 2nd century, when Mactaris became a municipium. Nothing is left of the colonnades and buildings which stood round it. At the northeast corner is a small market which is marked out by four columns.
The amphitheatre is located near the museum and is reached by taking a path down a slight hill. You then enter into it via a wide entrance and are able to see two sets of walls with a gap of around a metre or so between them. The amphitheatre, which was built in the 2nd century A.D., has been largely re-constructed which allows you to see the size of it and feel what would have once gone on inside it.
The museum is the first thing you'll come to after paying the entrance fee. The Museum has a fine collection of gravestones and stelae of the 1st century B.C. - 3rd century A.D., some of them with Punic inscriptions and symbols (crescents, pigeons, peacocks, grapes, pomegranates, fishes, etc.). The Roman period is represented by sculpture and fragments of architecture, the Byzantine period by bronzes, oil lamps and a 6th century pavement mosaic with figures of animals and an inscription. Behind the museum are the remains of an ancient temple which was later converted into a basilica.
Admission: TD4 plus TD1 for camera.
A Numidian settlement was established here in the 2nd century B.C. in a commanding situation which offered safety from attack and enabled it to control the routes between the uplands and the steppe; and the abundant summer rainfall guaranteed a water supply for the adjoining valley.
After the destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. many Punic refugees came to Maktar, since the town, by now fortified, lay outside the Roman province of Africa (until 46 B.C., when it was incorporated in the new province of Africa Nova). The remains of a tophet and numerous funerary stelae and Punic inscriptions are evidence of an enduring Libyan/Punic influence. As in other towns, the two communities - the old-established Libyan/Punic civitas and the Roman pagus - lived in harmony side by side. It took almost 200 years until the Romanisation of Mactaris (as the Romans called the town) was complete. In the reign of Trajan, at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., it was given the status of a municipium; and in 180, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, it became a colonia and its inhabitants were given Roman citizenship.
For me, these were the most impressive ruins. Impressively dilapidated, but still recognisable as a bath house, you can still see plenty of mosaics on the ground. Its all columns and archways, a great place to pretend to be good at photography and take all of those arty shots of shade and light.
Do be careful of the pigeons though. They like to perch among the baths, looking for modern-day bathers to drop on. I feel a quote coming on...a Tunisian one, no less:
"Then, all of a sudden, a bird drilling in air manoeuvres dropped a bomb on my fez that I didn't notice. If it weren't for the passers-by laughing and pointing at my venerable head, I wouldn't have realized that there was something there that was arousing the curiosity of all these distinguished people. I took off the fez and found it decorated from that damned bird's bomb. Who was it who described the bird as an angel? If I found him, I'd show him a devil."
(Ali Du'aji " Sleepless Nights ")
As I said, watch your fez.
Just behind the museum is a small amphitheatre. Don't go imagining Rome's Colosseum or El Jem's enormous gladiator ring...when I say small, I mean small. You could maybe fit ten wild beasts and a couple of unarmed savages in the arena, though it would be nose-to-nipple in there. Still, it is shaped like an amphitheatre, and they even have grooves in the wall where cage doors might have kept the wild beasts beforehand.
Around the amphitheatre, the guardiens have tried to create something of a garden, with flowers in rows and seats and odd bits of ruin strewn about the place. Some of them look like gravestones, and have some quite cute pictures of gods and goddesses carved into them.
I did take a photo (paid for, I hasten to add) of this amphitheatre, but for some reason I can't find it on the CD. Unfortunately the camera batteries were breathing their last at this point, so my attempts at capturing the funny-looking carvings were thwarted. Damn those batteries.
Modern Makthar holds little excitement, unless you're the type to go doolally over vegetable markets and contemporary Tunisian urban architecture. However, if you do have time to kill, you could try to hunt out the few remaining Colonial buildings (a hint....they're the ones with red-tiled roofs).
The market area looks vaguely Soviet and very out of place here...a huge set of concrete steps leading up to a bleak concrete precinct with strange French slogans all over the walls, it is a strange thing to find in a Tunisian mountain town.
Down below town, by the triumphal arch opposite the museum, a large park in the ravine was due to open the day I visited the ruins. From a secret vantage point in the amphitheatre, I watched as busloads of local schoolkids waited patiently, then impatiently, then riotously for the gates to be unlocked. After an hour, all but the most determined had given up and gone home, or else they had jumped over the fence and started their own party inside the park. It looks quite pretty from above, so might be worth a look if you have time.
Makthar has no proper restaurants, just a couple of fast-food type places and a rotisserie or two. There are several cafes, a popular one being by the petrol station behind the hotel. If its all a bit much for you and you wish to drown yourself in Celtia beer or something a little stronger, the Maktaris hotel bar is a raucous place to intixicate yourself.