One of the earliest Roman settlements in North Africa, Haidra in Tunisia contains the remains of the Roman city of Ammaedara. Well off the beaten track, Haidra – also called Hydrah – is a hidden gem that attracts few tourists and even the archaeological excavations have been few and far between.
Founded in the 1st century AD, Ammaedara was originally a legionary outpost, used by the Third Legion Augusta during their campaign against the rebellious Numidian leader Tacfarinas – a deserter from the Roman auxiliaries who led his people in an uprising against Rome during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.
After the defeat of the rebellion, Ammaedara was settled by veterans from the campaign and grew into a thriving Roman city. Indeed, remains of the cemetery of the 3rd legion have been identified on outskirts of the site.
It is unclear as to whether a pre-Roman settlement existed at Haidra. Though the foundations of a Punic temple to Ba’al-Hamon were found near the site, there is little additional evidence of a major settlement.
The Romans ruled the region until the Vandal invasions of the 5th century AD and the ruins of Haidra contain evidence of the period of Vandal rule as well as the subsequent Byzantine period which followed after Justinian’s successful re-conquest.
Today Haïdra contains a number of interesting ruins dating from the various periods in the city’s history. Perhaps the most impressive is the imposing Byzantine fortress – built around 550 AD on the orders of Justinian, it acted as a defensive stronghold for the newly conquered Byzantine lands.
Dating to around the same period is the Church of Melleus. Standing in a reasonable state of preservation, the church boasts columns and inscriptions from the 6th and 7th centuries on the paving stones. Evidence of the Vandal period survives in the form of the Vandal Chapel – dating to the reigns of King Thrasamund and King Hilderic in the early 6th century AD.
Of the other ruins at Haïdra, the most prominent is the Arch of Septimius Severus. Built in 195 AD it remains very well preserved with decorative markings still intact. However, one of the best places to actually explore is the underground bath complex, a series of chambers and corridors which you can wander freely.
Getting to Haidra
The easiest way of reaching Haidra is by car from Tunis: 3 and a half hours via the P18. Otherwise you can take a 5 hour train between Tunis Ville to Kalaat Khabasa and then driving/taxiing the remaining 11 miles to Haidra.