A Phoenician trading-post that served as an outlet for the products of the African hinterland, Sabratha was part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa before being Romanized and rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D.
© Editions Gelbart
A Phoenician trading-post of the Tripolitanian coast, Sabratha funnelled the products of Africa to the Gulf of the Lesser Syrtis, thanks to the route linking it to the continent via Cydamus (now Ghadamès). It was part of the short-lived Numidian Kingdom of Massinissa, together with Leptis and Oea, before being Romanized and absorbed into the Roman province of Africa, and subsequently rebuilt in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD.
Sabratha enjoyed its greatest prosperity during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. This period saw the construction of grandiose monuments, of which the most renowned is that of the theatre, probably built during the reign of the Emperor Commodus (AD 161-92), with its three orders of columns of the frons scenae.
The best conserved part is the scena, recomposed with original fragments and subdivided on three levels with overlapping marble columns. The theatre had a capacity of 5,000 seats. The pulpitum has a series of decorations in bas-relief representing divinity, historical and theatrical scenes, and a series of rectangular and semicircular niches. In the central niche stands the goddess Rome with helm and shield, dressed like an Amazon. On her flank there is another divinity that represents Sabratha.
Near the theatre stands the amphitheatre with the arena where once the gladiators faced the ferocious wild animals, fighting until death. The underground corridors that were used in order to make enter can still be seen.
Other monuments and areas of interest include the Temple of Liber Pater, Basilica of Justinian, and Mosaics of the House of Jason Magnus, Capitolium, Temple of Serapis, Temple of Hercules and Temple of Isis.
The decline of Sabratha began with the 4th century: commerce with Africa was less active, the city was wracked by religious quarrels, and much of the city was destroyed by earthquakes, particularly that of AD 365. A rebuilding programme followed but the city was now to occupy a much smaller area. The Vandals invaded Sabratha in 455 and tore down its walls. The Byzantine reconquest did not, however, mark the beginning of a real renaissance and the city was definitively abandoned after the Arab invasions of the 7th and 11th centuries.
Two museums on the site house objects found during excavations, such as funerary objects, coins, china, mosaics from the Byzantine period, statues from the Roman era and Phoenician relics. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC