Dougga Archaeological Site in Tunisia

If you only see one of Tunisia’s archaeological sites, make it this one. It is not only the largest and best preserved of the country’s Roman remains, it is also the most dramatically set. This Roman city covers a large part of a hillside, overlooking acres of olive groves in the valley beneath. It is so well preserved that it is quite easy to picture Roman life here, from entertainment in the theatre to entertainment of a different kind in the city’s brothel, not to mention worship in the temple and the everyday life in the shops and houses. You can even still see the ruts made by chariots as they careered through the streets (with anti-skid devices on the street corners), and visit the public latrine, which is actually a lot nicer than many you might see elsewhere in Tunisia.

The most beautiful and imposing building on the site is undoubtedly the Capitol, which is considered to be easily the finest Roman building in North Africa. It dates back to the 2nd century AD, and the temple is dedicated to Jupiter. Viewed head-on, looking towards the three niches at the back of the temple, it is easy to appreciate its geometric perfection.

The first building you come to, however, is the theatre. It is not as big as many other surviving Roman or Greek theatres, but it is excellently preserved and from a seat in the economy rows at the back there is a terrific view of the surrounding countryside. When in use this could hold 3500 people, in 19 rows of seats.

What is best about Dougga, though, is not the grand buildings, which have survived in many other places, but the ones which show the ordinary lives of the people who lived here. The public latrine, for instance, with its near-circle of seats where people could chat as they went about their business. A trough in front of the seats held water which was used for cleaning purposes (you dipped into it with a sponge on a stick), and the sink for washing your hands afterwards also survives. The houses at Dougga and elsewhere did have their own toilets, and these public ones were partly for the use of visitors or if you were caught short while out in the city, perhaps when on your way to the city brothel, which has also survived. This has a main entrance door, inside which the remains of the cashier’s office can be seen, while alongside this is a smaller and more discrete entrance, which was used by the married men. The brothel was on two floors and built around a central courtyard, off which were the necessary small, private rooms.

There are numerous other buildings that survive in very good states of preservation, such as the public baths and various private houses, from which the stunning mosaics have been removed to the safety of the Bardo Museum in Tunis. No matter how long you spend wandering round the site, you can guarantee it will not be long enough.

Allow extra time for taking lots of photographs as Dougga is a very photogenic site.

A tour to Dougga takes a full day and does involve a lot of time spent driving, especially from the southern resorts around Sousse and Monastir. However, it is a journey well worth making and will be broken up by visiting some other remains on the way.