Dougga - History and Facts | History Hit


Beja, Beja, Tunisia

Dougga is an impressively well-preserved and UNESCO-listed ancient site in Tunisia.

Peta Stamper

18 May 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Dougga

Dougga in Tunisia is the location of the extremely well-preserved ruins of an ancient site inhabited by a series of cultures: notably the Numidians, the Punics, the ancient Greeks and the Romans.

The incredible state of preservation of Dougga combined with its mix of cultural influences led UNESCO to list it as a World Heritage site in 1997. Grand and full of fascinating sites, Dougga is one of Africa’s most magnificent archaeological sites.

Dougga history

The walled and tangled streets of an ancient Numidian settlement known as Thugga existed prior to the Roman presence in Dougga. The city was a thriving Numidian capital first established in the 5th century BC, later incorporated into the Roman Empire in 46 BC as part of Julius Caesar’s annexation of eastern Numidia.

The Roman city blended into the hillside surrounded by olive groves and backed by forests. Extensive building – a form of Romanisation – helped to bring together Dougga’s Punic and Roman communities. In 168 AD an outstanding theatre that could hold 3,500 spectators was built by one of the wealthy residents, Marcius Quadratus.

A glorious Temple to Saturn dominated the northern approach to the city, standing over the site of an earlier temple to Baal Hammon, a Punic deity reinterpreted as Saturn in Roman Africa.

During the Byzantine period, the area around the forum was turned into a fort made with materials harvested from nearby buildings. The Muslim era saw Dougga continually inhabited, evidenced by remains of a mosque.

Dougga today

Make sure you reserve a good few hours to wander Dougga’s impressive ruins amidst 70 hectares, including the theatre, an amphitheatre, temples such as those of Juno Caelestis and Saturn. Below the forum, explore a wealthy neighbourhood boasting public baths featuring intricate mosaics and columns, as well as a villa known as the House of Trifolium. Look out for the phallic relief on the street by the house, a sign of good luck.

Pass under the triumphal Arch of Alexander Severus into the shadow of the imposing Capitole, built around 166 AD. The temple is in remarkable condition and boasts 10 metre-high walls lined with fluted columns, once home to a giant statue of Jupiter. If you look closely, you can see a carved frieze depicting the emperor Antonius Pius being carried off by eagles.

Whilst most of its existing remains date back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, one of the oldest ruins at Dougga are those of a 6-tiered Punic-Libyan mausoleum thought to date back to the 2nd or even 3rd century BC. French and English guided tours are available.

Getting to Dougga

Around a 2 hour drive from Tunis, through beautiful Tunisian hills along the A3 and P5, Dougga is well worth the journey. You can also get a train from Tunis to Gaafour (which run 5 times daily) and then a 30 minute taxi to Dougga, or a SNTRI bus to Jendouba and an hour long taxi.

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