Carthage was an ancient North African city, the ruins of which now sit on the outskirts of modern-day Tunis in Tunisia. But Carthage was much more than just a settlement. Its incredible influence and affluence grew Carthage from a city into the capital of the fearsome Carthaginian Empire.
Ancient Rome’s early rivals, the Carthaginians came to rule huge swathes of the western Mediterranean.
Given the sprawling influence of the Carthaginian Empire, its historic sites and landmarks can be found across Europe and North Africa.
There are the extensive ruins of the famed city of Carthage itself, of course. And there are also battle sites, monuments and museums relating to the ancient empire.
Here are 9 of the most important Carthaginian sites to visit.
The astounding ruins of this once-mighty city are vast, varied and hugely atmospheric. Carthage was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world and the capital of the Carthaginian Empire, which dominated much of the western Mediterranean. However, 3 long and brutal wars with Rome eventually led to the downfall and destruction of the city in 146 BC.
Today, the archaeological site has a vast range of ruins to explore and the best way to begin is probably by visiting Byrsa Hill and the Carthage Museum. Among the best-preserved Punic remains at the site are the Magon Quarter, Punic Port and unnerving Sanctuary of Tophet.
2. Cannae Battlefield
Cannae marks the site of the famous victory of Hannibal’s Carthaginian army over a huge Roman force led by Consuls Varro and Paullus in 216 BC. It stands as Hannibal’s greatest victory and Rome’s greatest defeat. Hannibal used a new tactic, known today as double envelopment, and massacred the Romans. One historian has compared the result to an atomic bomb: 80,000 men died that day.
Today, the site has a monument to the battle of Cannae within the archaeological site of Cannae di Battaglia. If you stand at this column and look north over the countryside, this is the area where most historians feel the battle was fought. The entrance to the site has some relevant information and memorabilia.
3. Carthage Punic Port and Museum
The Carthage Punic Port and Museum hold the remains of the ancient military naval base of the Punic city of Carthage. Originally destroyed after the Roman capture of the city in 146 BC, it was later revived by the Romans themselves to serve the growing commercial needs of the now-Roman city of Carthage.
Today, there are a handful of ruins on the site as well as the small Punic Port Museum which has a number of models reconstructing what the port would have looked like in its prime.
4. Nora Archaeological Site
One of many Carthaginian ruins in Sardinia, the Nora Archaeological Site houses ancient Phoenician, Carthaginian and Roman ruins. Prior to Phoenician settlement, Nora may have even previously been a nuraghi site (the people of Sardinia credited with building hundreds of defensive structures).
Conquered at one time by the Carthaginians, Nora became a Roman settlement in the 3rd century BC. Some Phoenician ruins can still be seen today, including a temple and some fortifications.
5. Leptis Magna
Leptis Magna is an incredibly well preserved archaeological site in Tripoli, Libya. Originally founded by the Phoenicians, Leptis Magna later became part of the Carthaginian Empire.
While many of the remaining structures now found at the site date from the later Roman era, there are some Punic remains that can still be seen. Today, Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
6. Sanctuary of Tophet
The Sanctuary of Tophet is an ancient Cartheginian burial site containing a vast number of children’s graves. Historians have hypothesised that the Carthaginians practised child-sacrifice during times of hardship, though this point is hotly disputed.
Today, this eerie site can be found near the Punic Port in Carthage. The Sanctuary of Tophet also contains a Roman necropolis.
7. Trebbia Battlefield
Trebbia marks the location of the first significant clash of the Second Punic War. Fought in 218 BC, the battle was the first real example of Hannibal’s ingenuity and a resounding defeat for Rome. The Carthaginian general sent his cavalry into action to harass the Roman camp and lure them out. The Romans attempted to cross the swollen and freezing river towards the Carthaginian army but were ambushed and crushed.
The river is little more than a stream now, but the area is very atmospheric. The exact location of the battlefield on the river is not known, however it is thought to be somewhere north of Rivergaro. There are numerous references to Hannibal in the area and there’s even a statue of a war elephant standing as a monument to the battle.
Tharros, in Sardinia, was founded by the Phoenicians and contains mostly Roman and Carthaginian ruins. Founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians, the site today contains a series of ancient structures, especially its two standing Corinthian columns.
Among the other highlights of the ruins are the remains of the Carthaginian tophet – a sacred space sometimes used for burials – as well as the remains of the thermal baths and the foundations of temples, houses and shops.
9. Carthage National Museum
Carthage National Museum contains a wide selection of artefacts and exhibitions from the Punic, Roman and Byzantine periods of Carthage. Among the many exhibits are displays examining life in ancient Carthage, the conflicts with the Roman Republic and the eventual destruction of the Punic city by Rome.
The museum includes a range of interesting relics, from jewellery, weaponry, tombs and funeral masks to Roman mosaics and day-to-day household items. Additionally, there is an interesting model of the Punic city.
10. Trasimene Battlefield
Trasimene Battlefield marks the site of the Battle of Trasimene, fought in 217 BC between Hannibal of Carthage and the Consul Flaminius of Rome. It was one of the major battles of the Second Punic War and a crushing defeat for Rome.
Today there are picture boards describing the events of the battle all along the former coast of Lake. These markers wind past Sanguineto (named after the battle, literally meaning ‘running with blood’) and on to Tuoro.