With such a wealth of astounding places to discover, Carthaginian archaeological sites, landmarks and battlefields remain a hugely popular draw for history fans. Among the most important sites people usually visit are the city of Carthage itself, Leptis Magna and Cannae Battlefield. But the list of phenomenal Carthaginian ruins doesn’t end there and other popular places that attract a wealth of visitors every year include the Carthage Punic Port, Nora Archaeological Site and the Sanctuary of Tophet. We’ve put together an expert guide to the ruins of ancient Carthage with our top places to visit as well as a full list of Carthaginian ruins which shouldn’t be ignored if you have the time.
What are the best Carthaginian Ruins across the Mediterranean?
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, three long and brutal wars with Rome eventually led to the downfall and destruction of the city in 146BC. 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. The museum contains a collection of Carthaginian artefacts including marble sarcophagi and a model of Punic Carthage. Among the best preserved Punic remains at the site are the Magon Quarter, Punic Port and unnerving Sanctuary of Tophet.
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. With Hannibal having invaded Italy and defeated large Roman armies, the Roman leadership gathered the biggest army it had ever put in the field: more than 80,000 men. Outnumbered two to one, Hannibal used a new and brilliant 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, possibly the most casualties ever in a single battle. Today the site has one 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.
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 146BC, it was later revives 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 reconstruction what the port would have looked like in its prime.
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 third century BC. Some Phoenician ruins can still be seen, including a temple and some fortifications.
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 which can still be seen. Today, Leptis Magna is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
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 and the Sanctuary of Tophet also contains a Roman necropolis.
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 in to 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 monument to the battle at the co-ordinates marked.
Tharros, in Sardinia, was founded by the Phoenicians and contains mostly Roman and Carthaginian ruins. Founded in the eighth 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.
Carthage National Museum contains a wide selection of artefacts and exhibitions from the Punic, Roman and Byzantine periods of Carthage. It is a good place to begin you exploration of the ruins of this ancient city. 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 finds, 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.
There are several reasons to make the trip to Byrsa Hill. Firstly, it’s part of the Archaeological site of Carthage, having been the military centre of the ancient city. It’s also where the Carthage National Museum is located – a fascinating place and one of the best Tunisian visitor attractions. Then there are also the ruins of the ancient Punic city. And if none of these are reason enough, Byrsa Hill is the location of the impressive 19th century St Louis Cathedral too. Sold yet?