All You Need to Know About The El Djem Colosseum

The immediate thought when most people come across the term “Colosseum” is Rome. Fortunately, there’s more to life than just this Italian city and if you make the trip to Tunisia, you’ll find one that’s in equally as good condition.

el djem

The El Jem Colosseum is world-renowned, and rightly so. It’s been preserved fantastically well and while its location might almost be questionable, it makes for an excellent day trip.

When we talk about the location-factor, we’re really just suggesting that it’s all a bit random. The area is certainly very pleasant, but it’s quite remote. Few houses exist, and are seemingly replaced by thousands of olive trees. The town itself is now quite focussed around tourism; from the individual sellers who are looking to trade souvenirs to the stores which are doing the very same thing. Large buses pass in and out, while there are two car parks for those that decide to make their own way there. Suffice to say, it does attract the crowds.

The site has just one entrance and for those of you who are looking to reach it as quickly as possible, try and access it via the front. Unfortunately, you will have to venture down a steep 25m slope which can be difficult for those of you who might be wheelchair-bound or have a baby in-tow. Once you do reach the entrance, it’s quite a simple process. If you happen to be a local, it’s completely free, while for everyone else it will cost about 8 dinars.

Of course, for those of you who are already familiar with Tunisian tourism, the costs don’t have to stop there. For example, some people decide to pay 3 dinars to get access to the electronic guide.

Once you have finished with the formalities, be prepared to be enlightened. El Jem is regularly compared with the Colosseum in Rome, and it’s no surprise why. Large parts of it are accessible, and it has been preserved in a manner which means that you can almost feel as though you are stepping back in time and imagining lions and chariots gallivanting by. Back when it was first built, it had a capacity of up to 35,000 spectators. Sure, it’s current state hardly demonstrates this, but you can still sense the size of the colosseums and appreciate the beauty of what was brought to Tunisia.

The vast size of El Jem means that there are plenty of areas to explore for all, regardless of your mobility. With that being said, it is possible to climb to some very high parts of the structure, and this is something that is obviously not going to be practical for those who might have a disability or small children. On the subject of the latter, the site hasn’t specifically been designed for little people, meaning that they really should be accompanied at all times to avoid the risk of falls.

As well as the upper levels of the structure, which often receive the most attention, we should give a special mention to the other areas which can be explored. For example, there is a VIP section, which is still accessible to tourists. Elsewhere, in the centre of the structure, you can venture to the playing surface and absorb everything around you. Sure there aren’t going to be tens of thousands of people dazing at you, but on a popular day you might have thousands of tourists mulling around the structure and this can at least give an insight of what life used to be like for those competing on the centre stage.

Some areas of the structure you just have to look a little more closely at. For example, if you look at the walls in the centre of the arena, you’ll quickly find that they are constructed of marble. It is the small details like this which simply highlight the prestige that surrounds El Jem, and shows just how highly it was regarded back when it was first constructed.

We should also add a small note about how the structure has been preserved. In short, it’s impeccable. Unfortunately, a lot of people do look back and suggest that it could have been even better, had it not been for an altercation between the Turks and Mohammed Bey. This altercation resulted in several walls being blown up, with the stone then being stolen to build surrounding buildings.


What is the history of the amphitheatre?

el jem

The fact that EL Jem was the largest ancient stadium, apart from the Colosseum in Rome of course, speaks volumes about its history.

It’s at this point when many people question just why such a large amphitheatre was chosen for Tunisia. Well, if we cast our minds back a couple of thousand years, this was a country that was a big player. Alongside Rome, it was regarded as one of the most dominant places in the world. Carthage in particular was very prominent, and if we turn to the El Jem region this was major because of its olive oil trade. It was based closer to the sea than it is now, and completely independent from Rome and Carthage. This gave it a lot of leverage, and resulted in the amphitheatre heading its way.

It’s understood that the amphitheatre was first talked about in AD230 by a man called Proconsul Gordian. He would incidentally commit suicide in the structure, following his failed rebellion against Emperor Maximus.

It was created to both entertain the public, and enter as a centre for politics. In relation to the former, this meant that it attracted people from afar as the capacity of the arena was significantly higher than the local population. As such, when sporting, civic or judicial functions were held, people travelled from a long way to see them.

One of the most interesting elements of the amphitheatre is the way in which was designed. Those behind it wanted it to reach capacity quickly, whilst also empty quickly. To do this, they created various passages that meant people could quickly find and access exit routes.


The Festival of El Jem

el djem festival

On a slightly more modern note, we have to give a mention to the Festival of El Jem. If you happen to be visiting the local area around the time that this is being held, then it is most definitely worth a visit.

In short, it’s all about classical music. Thousands of spectators flock to it every year and it really is a way to celebrate not just the music, but also how the amphitheatre can still be used very well to this day.


The fine print

All in all, El Jem is certainly worth a visit if you find yourself in the area. Fortunately, even though it might be located very remotely, it is easily accessed. Most hotels will offer tours that take you to it, while renting a car is easy and will only take an hour from the likes of Sousse or Mahdia.

A slight point should be made on the climate. Depending on the time of year that you visit, it can vary considerably. Due to its open nature, it can either be exceptionally hot or cold, so make sure you take this into account as you pack for the day trip.

El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia

Djerba has become renowned for its tourism over the years and anyone who does visit this area will most likely be tempted by the El Ghriba Synagogue.

El Ghriba synagogue djerba tunisia

This is regarded as one of the most holy attractions in the whole of Tunisia and is actually the most famous of around twenty synagogues and prayer houses that are based around Djerba.

Past visitors to the synagogue are blown away by its beauty, charm and history. Bearing this in mind, we’ll now take a look at some of the history of the attraction and showcase what it’s all about.


What are the beginnings of the synagogue?

Unsurprisingly, there is more than one tradition that attempts to explain the beginnings of El Ghriba Synagogue.

The main one focusses around the establishment of one of the early Jewish settlements on the Island of Djerba. It’s understood that a group from the destroyed First Temple of Jerusalem brought a door and a stone from the alter of the temple in 586 BCE, which contributed to the construction of this synagogue.

There is at least some substance to this tradition, considering the fact that a stone is incorporated into one of the arches of the synagogue which is supposedly from this group of settlers.

Of course, this isn’t the only tradition. Another one suggests that the synagogue was built at some point during the first half of the 19th Century, with the site previously occupying a cabin that housed a beautiful, yet mysterious, young girl who had never been accepted by the locals.

It is suggested that when the girl died in a fire, the Jews of Djerba labelled her as a saint and built the synagogue in her name, where she once resided.

The final tradition is a slightly alternate version of the previous one and again focusses on the same girl. This time it suggests that she was a Jewish refugee who had arrived from Israel, bringing a Torah scroll and stone from the Temple of Jerusalem in the process.

When she arrived at the site, she is said to have died from exhaustion from her travels and the synagogue was therefore built in her memory.


How is the synagogue structured?

el griba

History suggests that the synagogue was built at some point during the second period of the 19th Century. While some traditions may suggest otherwise, the state of the site indicates that it previously housed another structure.

There are some historical anecdotes which indicate that something else existed in the early 16th Century. It was at this point that it was apparently destroyed by the Spanish military, only to be re-constructed at some point in the century.

The synagogue is structured like a lot of others in the area; boasting an inner courtyard and rooms which are constructed on arches and columns.

The nearby buildings were once used as accommodation for the pilgrims, with one of these only being erected in the early 1950s.

Other notable comments about the structure of El Ghriba Synagogue are that it doesn’t have an open-air praying hall. This is in stark contrast to a lot of other synagogues in the area, with El Ghriba having two that are both covered.

It’s understood that one of these may have once been an open courtyard which was then converted to a roofed room due to the high volume of people that used it. The two praying halls are linked by three arches.

The number of windows inside El Ghriba used to be significant; with twelve existing as this symbolised the twelve tribes of Israel.

However, if you are to visit the synagogue now, you will now see many more. This is due to recent renovations which have increased the size of the building.

Another interesting fact regarding the construction of El Ghriba is the two rows of columns which divide the main praying hall into three aisles. Quite interestingly, the final column is missing, with some under the belief that it was never constructed. Many believe that this is an act of remembrance in relation to the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem.


How is the synagogue managed?

el ghriba djerba

It goes without saying that the synagogue is one of the most important sites in the whole of Tunisia, and is therefore strictly managed.

Since the end of the 19th century, it has been managed by an independent administrative committee. While the upkeep of the synagogue is something that obviously falls within their remit, their main priority is to organize the pilgrimage to El Ghriba. This isn’t just for a religious perspective either; the pilgrimage is a huge source of income and has been for many years.


The annual pilgrimage

annual el gheriba djerba

Following on from the above, the annual pilgrimage is something that El Ghriba Synagogue is mainly renowned for. It takes place during Lag Ba’Omer, with the festivities commencing on 14 lyar right the way through to 18 lyar.

The dates are significant for two reasons; the first is that the day of commencement coincides with the death of Rabbi Meir Ba’al HaNess, while the end day is the remembrance day for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

While the pilgrimage will involve visits to numerous prayer houses through the area, the visit to the synagogue is regarded as one of the most crucial parts of the festivities.


Tourism and the modern day synagogue

Unfortunately, while the synagogue is a spectacular and undoubtedly holy attraction, it has been through some tough times.

It’s no secret that Djerba’s Jewish community is dwindling and this has resulted in some of the remaining Jews being targeted by locals who have differing religious views.

There was an attack at the Simchat Toah festival in 1985, which resulted in three people being killed. More recently, in 2002, a suicide bomber killed 21 people after driving a gas truck near to the perimeter.

Nevertheless, the synagogue still attracts a healthy number of tourists and is seen as one of the key attractions of Djerba. Many are intrigued to its history and architecture and some will come from all over the world just to see it.

Top 10 Sites You Must See in Tunisia

Over the last few years Tunisia has become one of the more popular tourist destinations featured in travel agents’ brochures.

While the hot climate and impressive array of beaches obviously contribute to this, something else that is luring tourists over is its variety of attractions.

Unlike some destinations, which perhaps only rely on white sands and an enticing nightlife, Tunisia offers attractions targeted towards all eras.

Most of these are spread throughout the nation, meaning that a car is a necessity, although if you do have the time it’s worth cramming in as many as possible into your holiday’s itinerary. Here, we’ll take a look at the top ten sites across the country.


Tunis Medina

Medina, Tunis

The Medina in Tunis is one of the more traditional sites – but it’s still very much appropriate for tourists of all types and ages. It’s one of the most historic regions of North Africa and contained within the famous walls is a bustling market, full of local products.

Anyone looking for a souvenir is advised to take a trip to the Medina, although as well as the traditional shopping experience it’s possible to set eyes on a number of monuments including the Zitouna Mosque, Torbet el Bey and Dar Hussein Museum of Islamic Art. Bearing the above in mind, it’s ideal for a day trip – or longer.


Sidi Bou Said

sidi bou said

Sidi Bou Said is another attraction classed in the “traditional” category and again something that you wouldn’t find in your typical, popular European holiday destination. This small village is regarded as an area of natural beauty and anyone who appreciates fine architecture is in for a treat and a half.

It’s another attraction which is perfect for souvenirs, although one could suggest that it doesn’t take quite as long to negotiate and the village can be scoured in less than half a day.


Bardo Museum

bardo museum

The mosaics on show in the Bardo Museum are some of the most beautiful in the world, with this attraction boasting an international reputation. As well as the mosaics, there are numerous historic sculptures and visitors can browse both paleo-Christian and Islamic offerings.

Again, it’s a traditional attraction, but the quality and history of the works in this museum make it intriguing for anyone who walks through its dated doors.




One site that will certainly take longer than half a day is Dougga, which is located deep in rural Tunisia and once again shows some of the country’s history in its proudest form. A theatre, which is understood to have been erected as early as 168 AD is one of its premier attractions, while there is also the Capitoline Temple which is often a tourist favourite.

Arguably the best part of Dougga arrives in the form of the Mausoleum of Ateban though, with this 18m-high monument being topped with a pyramid and lion which makes it great for the camera-happy visitor.


El Djem

el djem

Out of all of the sites on our list, El Djem is probably the one that most readers will be familiar with. It’s the attraction that is always covered in those holiday brochures, with the amphitheatre being one of the best preserved in the world. It’s possible to venture around this attraction and walk up as high as the third tier, while there is also an underground area which is still completely in-tact and showcases the various tunnels and dungeons that were once the home of gladiators.

While the amphitheatre rightly grabs a lot of attention, the area’s museum is also worth a visit where it’s again possible to cast your eye over hoards of stunning mosaics. It’s not quite as comprehensive as the Bardo Museum, but if you are in the area it’s still well worth a visit.



kairouan mosque

Kairouan is one site which probably isn’t covered enough by travel agents, especially when you consider the fact that it’s regarded as the fourth most important holy city for Muslims. It also happens to hold the much-coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site tag and anyone who likes to wander through a mixture of history and culture is advised to pay a visit.

Kairouan happens to be home of one of the oldest mosques in the country in the form of the Great Mosque of Obka, while it also holds its own Medina which is ideal for those famous Tunisian souvenirs.


Matmata & the Ksour

Matmata & the Ksour

There’s every chance that a lot of you will have come across this next site on the list, with scenes from the Star Wars franchise being filmed here. To be more specific, this is seen as Luke Skywalker’s planet, meaning that it attracts thousands of movie buffs on an annual basis.

For those who are not familiar with the franchise, Matmata holds cave-like architecture, with many of the buildings being tucked underground and giving visitors the feeling of stepping back in time by centuries.


The Mountain Oasis

oasis tunisia

While the Mountain Oasis do have plenty of historical insight behind them, a lot of visitors take to this site in a bid to observe the picturesque scenery that the region provides.

Waterfalls, palm trees and streams are all the norm here, while you can also cast your eye around some of the abandoned cities from the 1960s that now appear as ruins. For any hiking enthusiasts out there, this is a must-visit region.


Mediterranean Beaches

beach tunisia

Even though Tunisia is regarded as one of the more cultural destinations in the brochures, let’s not forget that there are other reasons why holidaymakers are heading out there. The beaches certainly fall into this category and if you can make a trip to either Hammamet or Sousse you will experience some of the most extravagant sands in the continent.

As these regions typically attract the most tourists, it goes without saying that they are awash with plush accommodation and it’s easy to find a hotel within a stone’s throw of one of the mentioned beaches.


The Sahara


If you happen to be staying at any of the hotels which were touched upon in the previous section, you’ll probably be offered a trip to the “premium” destination of The Sahara. If you’re travelling alone on the other hand, make it your priority to head out there.

Once again the Star Wars franchise has donned these famous sands and it’s only recently that the region has opened up to the influx of tourists. Camel rides are naturally the attraction of choice for most visitors, although the activities are becoming more extravagant by the year with off-road jeep rides and under-the-stars sleepovers all being available in the Sahara.