Travel Guide Africa Tunisia El Djem

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Introduction

El Djem is a town in Mahdia Governorate, Tunisia, population 48,611 (2014 census). It is home to some of the most impressive Roman remains in Africa, like the world-famous "Roman amphitheater of Thysdrus".

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Sights and Activities

Amphitheatre

El Djem is famous for its amphitheatre, which is capable of seating 35,000 spectators. Only the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome (about 50,000 spectators) and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger. The amphitheatre at El Djem was built by the Romans under proconsul Gordian, who was acclaimed Emperor at Thysdrus, around 238 and was mainly used for gladiator shows and small chariot races (like in Ben-Hur). Many tourists come here to see what it was like to be inside what was once a place where lions and people met their fate. Much of it is crumbled but the essence of it still remains. It is also possible that construction of the amphitheatre was never finished. Until the 17th century it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan, and at a tense moment during struggles with the Ottomans, the Turks used cannons to flush rebels out of the amphitheatre. The ruins of the amphitheatre were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979. It hosts the annual Festival international de musique symphonique d'El Jem.

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Events and Festivals

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Getting There

El Jem is more or less equidistant from Sousse and Sfax. Lying just off the main road and on the train line that links those two towns, it can easily be visited as a day trip from either, or as a broken journey between them.

A return ticket by train from Sousse or Sfax should be around TND10, and take around one hour. You can see the top of the amphitheatre from beyond the trees opposite the train station. The staff at the site entrance will happily mind your luggage, as will any cafe owner who you patronise.

By car, head south from Sousse (north from Sfax) for about 1 hour; the amphitheater is clearly visible as you approach the town and the turn off well signed.

By taxi is one of the most expensive options, giving you the most flexibility. Either arrange a time for your driver to return or ask him to wait for you. Arrange a price before setting out, and expect to pay 50 Dinar or higher for a return from Sousse or Sfax.

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Getting Around

El Jem is a small town and everything that may be of interest to the visitor can be reached on foot.

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Eat

There are a large number of cafes focused on tourists (complete with polite hawkers who speak several languages) near the entrance of the site. Or, try the cafe within the amphitheatre if you are feeling adventurous. You will probably get better fare at the 'hotel' near the car park.

A supermarket (super-merche) is on the main road between the train station and the amphitheater.

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Drink

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Sleep

Accommodation options are severely limited. Most visitors to El Jem visit as a day trip from the nearby towns of Sousse or Sfax - this is recommended. Day trips may be part of an organized tour, or just as easily, by train, louge, or taxi.

For those who wish to sleep here, Hotel Julius is next to the train station. It does not come highly recommended.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Public internet access is available in many cities and towns, usually using the Publinet logo. Look for a large purple sign with the Publinet logo. Access is usually 0.8DT/hour, and speeds tend to be quite low. You can also have 3G internet access through any cell phone carriers.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Tunisia's international telephone code is 216.

Public telephones are available in all towns and cities and in most villages under either the name of Publitel or Taxiphone - in cities simply look around - there is at least one on every street. International calls tend to be quite expensive (DT 1,000/minute to call anywhere in the EU). There are three mobile GSM operators, private Tunisiana, private Orange, Tunisia state-owned Tunisie Telecom all offering wide mobile coverage (including some oasis in the Sahara). Rates tend to be quite low for domestic calls, but very high for international calls (around DT 1,500/minute). Ask for a carte prépayée for a prepaid SIM card.

Post

La Poste Tunisienne is the national postal service of Tunisia. Services are generally very reliable and relatively fast as well, up to international standards. It usually takes less than a week to European countries and no more than two weeks to the USA or Australia. Opening times of post offices vary, but the larger ones in cities usually are open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Mondays to Saturdays and a few hours on Sunday morning (usually 9:00-11:00am). Note that in July and August, there are long lunch breaks (kind of like the Spanish siestas), closing between 1:00-5:00pm. Smaller officies in towns also keep slightly shorther hours, closing for lunch year round and only open during the morning on Fridays and Saturdays. Als note that during Ramadan, opening times might be different as well. Stamps can also be bought outside these times at small shops and kiosks selling postcards. For sending larger packages, you might also choose international companies like DHL, TNT, FedEx or UPS, which are about the same price but have better standards.

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El Djem Travel Helpers

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This is version 1. Last edited at 8:59 on Apr 10, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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