Sbeitla in Tunisia was once a flourishing ancient city, the spectacular remains of which are among the best Roman ruins in the world.
History of Sbeitla
This startling site, also at times known as Sufetula, thrived as a Roman settlement from the 1st century AD, in part thanks to its temperate Mediterranean climate, which proved to be ideal for olive-growing. This export helped keep Sufetula thriving long after many of her rivals collapsed, and the city turned into an important centre of Christianity by the 4th century.
Sufetula later became a Byzantine regional capital and military stronghold. In 647AD, the Prefect Gregory declared himself to be independent of Constantinople and ruled here for a few months before he was killed by the Arabs as they destroyed much of Sufetula.
Today, Sbeitla’s ruins hint at the great city that once stood here. Most of the sites date back to the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD. The highlights include its Temples of Jupiter and Minerva, both located in the beautiful forum. There are arches dedicated to Diocletian and Antionius Pius, a bath vessel complete with colourful mosaics and evidence of street planning including dwellings and roads. There are assorted basilicas and churches which stand testament to the city’s original links to Christianity.
Sufetula is an excellent half-day (or full day, depending on your enthusiasm) excursion. Buy tickets at the Complexe Touristique for the archaeological site and museum, which looks at the history of the area and contains an array of smaller finds from Sbeitla.
There’s not much signage around the site so it’s worth taking a guidebook or reading up on the history before you go. Guides don’t loiter here – it’s far out and most people who do come bring their own guides with them.
Getting to Sbeitla
Sbeitla is pretty far off the tourist route, in inland Tunisia: the nearest town is Kasserine and the nearest city is Sfax, a 2 and a half hour drive away. Tourists will need to hire a taxi to get them here: you’ll need them to wait for you too. The town of Sbeitla has limited amenities – don’t rely on it for anything vital!
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