The Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is actually the fourth largest Roman amphitheater in the world.
It is one of the best-preserved and most impressive Roman remains in Africa. The ancient amphitheater sits amidst the arid Tunisian countryside close to the city of El Jem and has been a popular attraction with tourists for decades.
Here’s a complete guide with information for visitors about opening hours, tickets, history and interesting facts about El Jem, also nicknamed the African Coliseum.
El Jem Tickets
|Half-day excursion from Sousse to the amphitheater of El Jem||£41|
|Full-Day Kairouan and El Jem Tour from Tunis||£90|
*This fee includes entrance to the local museum in town.
While general entry to the amphitheater allows you to explore the grounds at your leisure, a guided tour offers the chance to hear tales of the building’s rich history.
The amphitheater of El Jem is open to the public at the following times:
- Monday – Friday: 7:30am – 6:30pm
- Saturday – Sunday: 8am – 6:30pm
History & more information
The Amphitheater of El Jem is Tunisia’s biggest historical attraction and is considered to be one of the most impressive displays of Roman architecture in Africa. Located in the modern-day city of El Djem the amphitheater is thought to have been built around the year 238 and was once the stage for bloody battles between gladiators.
Stretching 149 meters long by 122 meters wide, the oval amphitheater is thought to have been built to seat over 30,000 people and once featured great canvas veils to protect the audience from the red hot sun.
While originally used as an arena with brutal battles between gladiators and other public events, the amphitheater has also been used as a quarry yet somehow it stands almost unscathed.
The building’s facade is made up of three levels of arcades of Corinthian and the majority of the internal supporting infrastructure remains in good condition. The podium wall, the arena area, and the underground passageways are almost wholly intact.
Get ready to wander through the arcades, venture down into the unnerving underground passageways, and explore the cells where gladiators would prepare for battle on a guided tour of the amphitheater.
Points of Interest
The south-side of the amphitheater is the side most intact and offers a fantastic sense of how spectators would enjoy observing the sports.
Climb to the upper seating area and gaze down on the arena!
Explore the two underground passageways that were once used to hold animals, prep gladiators, and dress other unfortunate warriors in their last moments.
When leaving the amphitheater, walk north along any of the side streets and turn back to enjoy uninterrupted views of the amphitheater. There’s a number of coffee shops here and it’s worth getting a drink and sitting outside to enjoy the views.
Hole in the Wall
As you explore, you’ll notice one of the sides of the amphitheater is missing. This was blown out in 1695 in order to uncover the hiding places of descendants against the Ottomans and to prevent the amphitheater from being used as a stronghold/place of hiding.
How to get to El Jem
The amphitheater is located in the middle of El Jem city and is pretty difficult to miss on approach due to its sheer grandeur. The city is equidistant from Sousse and Sfax and can be reached in just over an hour’s drive from both.
Alternatively, take a train from Sousse Voyagers Station or Gare de Sfax and you’ll arrive at El Jem Station in approximately 1hour30 minutes without changes. From El Jem Station, the amphitheater sits just a 5-minute walk away.
Best time to visit the Amphitheater of El Jem
The amphitheater never gets overcrowded but you want to try and time your visit to avoid the heat of the midday sun. Arriving as the doors open is always a good idea, as is arriving late afternoon an hour or two before closing.
Alternatively, spring (March to June) and autumn (September to October) have far cooler temperatures than the height of summer making your visit a little more enjoyable.
Facts about El Jem
- The amphitheater was built in the early 3rd century and was modeled after the famous Colosseum of Rome. The monument has conserved, without alteration, most of its architectural and architectonic components.
- The Amphitheatre of El Jem was built in the early 3rd century under proconsul Gordian and was mainly used for gladiator shows and small chariot races.
- Until the 17th century, the amphitheater 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.
- Its size (big axis of 148 meters and small axis 122 meters) and its capacity (judged to be 35,000 spectators) make it without a doubt among the largest amphitheaters in the world.
- The Amphitheatre of El Djem is a free-standing monument and is built entirely of stone blocks without foundations.
- It is one of the largest Roman amphitheaters ever built and was designed to seat 35,000 people.
- The amphitheater has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
- Because of its good acoustics, it hosts the annual Festival international de musique symphonique d’El Jem.
- In the Middle Ages, it served as a fortress, and the population sought shelter here during the attacks of Vandals in 430 and Arabs in 647.
- The amphitheater has been used as a location for a number of TV programs, movies, and adverts including Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the TV show Long Way Down, and a Nike advert in 1996.
FAQ’s (Things to know before you go)
How long should I spend at the amphitheater?
Two-hours should be the perfect time to explore all aspects of the amphitheater and to make your journey worthwhile. Allow yourself at least an extra hour in El Jem to visit the nearby Archeological Museum.
Is there a dress code to enter the amphitheater of El Jem?
There’s no dress code to enter the amphitheater but note that it will be hot in the sun, so make sure you’re covered from the heat and were adequate sunscreen/ sun protection.
Are there any facilities inside?
Yes, you’ll find toilets and a souvenir shop close to the exit.
Are there any restaurants nearby?
Yes, there are several restaurants at El Jem for you to choose from.
Do you have more questions before visiting El Jem in Tunisia? Leave a comment below!