CARTHAGE - The Byrsa Hill
On the Byrsa Hill, between the Cathedral of Saint Louis and the area of Punic remains there is a row of broken marble columns, including one cipollino column measuring 1.12 m. 3.78 Rf high and .23 m. /.77 Rf in diameter (Plates 6.1 & 6.2).


Antonine Baths

‘Once the biggest Roman baths in the Empire and Carthage’s best-preserved site’, according to the AA guidebook to Tunisia.


The site is entered from the top of a colourful garden which slopes gently down to the sea following the pattern of the original Roman streets. Close to the entrance are the remains of a schola, which was a kind of boys’ club for the sons of wealthy Romans, with an unusual mosaic showing children exercising. The ruins of the Byzantine Basilica of Douimes are marked by three rows of double pillars and a mosaic floor. A white marble model shows how the baths would have looked when they were in daily use 4 (Plate 6.3).


The baths are down on the beach but what remains is only the basement level of the original vast complex. ‘The central pool was as big as an Olympic swimming pool, and when the curved public latrines were first discovered they were taken for a theatre. None of the original mosaics or statuary decorating the public area has survived, but the complex remains a potent symbol of Roman imperial presence.’5


Cipollino is often to be found in the baths area of Roman sites as its colour and markings are much enhanced when wet and we were strongly reminded of this during our visit. It is a pity that nothing remains of the latrines, which were said to be the size of a theatre, as they too may have been of cipollino as is the case in many other cities.
There are two cipollino columns lying in the Frigidarium, one measuring 4.07m. /15.87 Rf long with a diameter of .69 m. /2.33 Rf. The second, smaller one, measures 2.43 m. /8.20 Rf with a diameter of .30 m. /1.01 Rf. The typical cipollino markings are clearly visible after the columns were thoroughly drenched by a sudden rainstorm (
Plates 6.4, 6.5, & 6.6).


Roman Villas
To reach the Roman Villas from the Antonine baths the route lies across Avenue Bourguiba on to Avenue 7 Novembre under the train line for 150 metres. It turns right again uphill for another 100 metres, on the track past the Portuguese Embassy. At the top of the hill is the Villa de Volière and here there is a series of mosaics, many of which have been made with fragments of cipollino. The whole area is made up of squares of marble mosaic measuring .62 m. /2.09 Rf square, with some larger pieces 1.6 m. /5.40 Rf long and .90 m. /3.05 Rf wide (Plates 6.7- 6.11).


Visits to the Bardo Museum in Carthage and the Roman remains in the city have clearly demonstrated that Tunisia is the country of mosaics. There was more proof of this on further visits. The richness and beauty of the mosaics, either in museums or still lying on sites with scarily little protection, was immense. Compared with Libya or Italy for example there is nowhere near so much marble in the shape of columns and pieces used in the building of temples, fountains, latrines or bath areas. The majority of columns and other structures remaining on the archaeological sites visited are of local stone, sandstone and limestone, often covered with a layer of lime to give the impression of marble. It is interesting to speculate on the reasons for so much less marble remaining. Was it too expensive to buy from foreign countries and to transport to areas sometimes further from the coast than in Libya, Turkey or Italy? Was there a ready and much cheaper supply of local stone available which even Hadrian in his architectural mode had had to accept? Or has the marble been removed and used elsewhere, in mosques and medreses? There are many marble columns in the mosques we visited, some of which may have been of cipollino. It was difficult to get close as we, as non-Muslims, were not allowed inside them. Also we saw quantities of fragments of marble used in mosaics. Was this perhaps because the larger pieces were partially destroyed by various invaders? Was it perhaps looted and removed altogether from the country with only the fragments left? We have to remember that there were many other invasions after the Romans, including Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, (‘who made almost as thorough a job of destroying Carthage as the Romans had done, and what was left was carted away over the next centuries for buildings in Tunis, Kairouan and elsewhere’6), Spaniards, Turks and French. This is not to mention the fighting which took place during World War Two across the northern territory of Tunisia during the ‘Tunisian Campaign’. My late husband wrote in his diary of his sea journey to India, to serve in the army in 1947:


More islands behind in the bay which sweeps round the coast to Cape Bon which we passed about 9 am. This is the bay which contains the ancient port of Carthage, but from the ship, namesake to the old and ruined town, nothing of Carthage could be seen. It was hard to think of these places as the scene of fierce fighting two years ago or less. These waters which we passed through had been the scene of so many convoy battles, submarine interceptions; for across these straits had come the supplies to the armies of Rommel, through these channels the supply routes to the 8th Army and the Middle East. Cape Bon, barren and rugged, had been the scene of the last stand of the German African army; today, deserted, red cliffs with tortured twisted strata, and not so much as a sea bird visible. Across this breadth of sea had sailed the invasion fleets and convoy ships to invade Sicily and the first stages of the European invasion.7

4 Essential Tunisia, original text by Peter Lilley, updated by Sylvie Franquet, AA Publishing, Basingstoke, 2009 , p.54.

5 Jacobs, Daniel The Rough Guide to Tunisia, p. 127

6 Jacobs, Daniel, The Rough Guide to Tunisia, p.123.

7 Personal diary of Sir Iain Sutherland, during the sea passage to India, to serve in the army in 1947.

Maps and Plates

Plate 6.1.jpg

Plate 6.1 The Byrsa Hill with the Cathedral of St Louis, Carthage.

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Plate 6.2 The author with one cipollino column among a row of broken columns, Byrsa Hill, Carthage.

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Plate 6.3 Marble model of the Antonine Baths, Carthage.

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Plate 6.4 The ruins of the Antonine Baths, Carthage.

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Plate 6.5 The first cipollino column lying in the Antonine Baths, Carthage.

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Plate 6.6 The second cipollino column lying in the Antonine Baths, Carthage.

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Plates 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10 & 6.11 Squares of marble mosaic, many of which are made up of cipollino fragments, in the floor of the Roman Villa de Volière, Carthage.

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Plates 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10 & 6.11 Squares of marble mosaic, many of which are made up of cipollino fragments, in the floor of the Roman Villa de Volière, Carthage.

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Plates 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10 & 6.11 Squares of marble mosaic, many of which are made up of cipollino fragments, in the floor of the Roman Villa de Volière, Carthage.

Plate 6.10.jpg

Plates 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10 & 6.11 Squares of marble mosaic, many of which are made up of cipollino fragments, in the floor of the Roman Villa de Volière, Carthage.

Plate 6.11.jpg

Plates 6.7, 6.8, 6.9, 6.10 & 6.11 Squares of marble mosaic, many of which are made up of cipollino fragments, in the floor of the Roman Villa de Volière, Carthage.