Utica

Utica
Utica

Heading north from Tunis, 37km away is the site of the ancient city of Utica. It is rather neglected compared to the major sites south of Tunis, but as it is only about 3km off the Tunis-Bizerte road it is worth stopping off to see.

Utica was possibly founded by the Phoenicians in 1101BC and this makes it 300 years older than Carthage. This date was in an account by Pliny the Elder, but no archaeological evidence older than the 8C BC has been discovered. Whichever date is accurate, Utica owed its importance to the fact that it was a port, which is easy to forget as it is now some 12km from the sea. After the founding of Carthage Utica came under its dominance, but when the Romans arrived Utica allowed itself to be used as a base and after the Roman triumph it was given the status of a free city. Its fortunes ebbed and flowed, until the irreversible ebbing of the tides left it land-locked, though the full reasons for its decline and eventual abandonment are not known. Much excavation is still taking place at the site, so its full secrets may one day be unearthed.

At present, the finest remains are the Roman baths, villas and the Punic cemetery with graves dating from the 7-4C BC. Some of the villas still have mosaics in situ, one of the best being the large floor of the Maison de la Cascade (House of the Waterfall), whose two courtyards each have a fountain at their centre, the northern one with its waterfall effect giving the house its name. Some of the mosaics and other artifacts have been moved to the museum, about 1km back towards the Tunis-Bizerte road.