El Jem Museum and Amphitheatres

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The museum is to the south of the town. It can get busy with coaches but most don’t stop very long. If it looks busy, visit the remains of the two older amphitheatres which are just across the road from it. They are unsigned and lie forgotten. There is a lot of building work going on in the area around and unfortunately piles of rubble have been dumped in the arena area. The older one was carved out of the side of a hill and it is still possible to see the remains of the seats in places. The masonry of the second one can still be seen, built over the remains of the first.

The museum is housed in a splendid new building round two courtyards with rooms off. There are toilets in the ticket area. There were a few rather tatty postcards on sale. The museum isn’t as large as the Bardo Museum in Tunis. All the mosaics have been found in the local area and rank equal with those on display in the Bardo. The picture mosaics are displayed on the walls of the courtyard and in the rooms. Some of these are huge and many are intact. Many concentrate on scenes in the arena and Dionyses is a popular figure in many of them. On the floor are geometric design mosaics. Labels in Arabic, English and French give basic information about the pictures shown on the mosaics and their age.

There are a couple of plans showing the development of Roman Houses and display cases with samples of pottery, oil lamps etc.

Part of a Roman villa has been reconstruction with a peristyle with a pool, water cistern, well and a huge dining room with columns and arches dividing it into three areas. It made you realise just how large some of the villas were.

Outside the museum are the excavated remains of Roman villas arranged along streets. Some still have the remains of mosaics. Footprints guide you to the site but then stop. Low wires restrict access to the site and there are no labels.

This is a very worthwhile visit. Allow 90minutes each for the museum and amphitheatre.

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