Carthage was founded in the 9th century B.C. on the Gulf of Tunis. From the 6th century onwards, it developed into a great trading empire covering much of the Mediterranean and was home to a brilliant civilization. In the course of the long Punic wars, Carthage occupied territories belonging to Rome, which finally destroyed its rival in 146 B.C. A second – Roman – Carthage was then established on the ruins of the first.
Site of Carthage
© Yvon Fruneau
Outstanding Universal Value
Founded by the Phoenicians, Carthage is an extensive archaeological site, located on a hill dominating the Gulf of Tunis and the surrounding plain. Metropolis of Punic civilization in Africa and capital of the province of Africa in Roman times, Carthage has played a central role in Antiquity as a great commercial empire. During the lengthy Punic wars, Carthage occupied the territories that belonged to Rome, which then destroyed its rival in 146 AD. The town was rebuilt by the Romans on the ruins of the ancient city.
Exceptional place of mixing, diffusion and blossoming of several cultures that succeeded one another (Phoenico-Punic, Roman, Paleochristian and Arab), this metropolis and its ports have encouraged wide-scale exchanges in the Mediterranean. Founded at the end of the 9th century BC by Elyssa-Dido and having sheltered the mythical love of Dido and Aeneas, Carthage produced a warrior and strategy genius in the person of Hannibal, the navigator-explorer Hannon, and a famous agronomist, Magon. Carthage has always nourished universal imagination through its historic and literary renown.
The property comprises the vestiges of Punic, Roman, Vandal, Paleochristian and Arab presence. The major known components of the site of Carthage are the acropolis of Byrsa, the Punic ports, the Punic tophet, the necropolises, theatre, amphitheatre, circus, residential area, basilicas, the Antonin baths, Malaga cisterns and the archaeological reserve.
Criterion (ii): Phoenician foundation linked to Tyre and Roman refoundation on the orders of Julius Cesar, Carthage was also the capital of a Vandal kingdom and the Byzantine province of Africa. Its antique ports bear witness to commercial and cultural exchanges over more than ten centuries. The tophet, sacred place dedicated to Baal, contains numerous stelae where numerous cultural influences are in evidence. Outstanding place of blossoming and diffusion of several cultures that succeeded one another (Phoenico-Punic, Roman, Paleochristian and Arab); Carthage has exercised considerable influence on the development of the arts, architecture and town planning in the Mediterranean.
Criterion (iii): The site of Carthage bears exceptional testimony to the Phoenico-Punic civilization being at the time the central hub in the western basin of the Mediterranean. It was also one of the most brilliant centres of Afro-Roman civilization.
Criterion (vi): The historic and literary renown of Carthage has always nourished the universal imagination. The site of Carthage is notably associated with the home of the legendary princess of Tyre, Elyssa-Dido, founder of the town, sung about by Virgil in the Aeneid; with the great navigator-explorer, Hannon, with Hannibal, one of the greatest military strategists of history, with writers such as Apulée, founder of Latin-African literature, with the martyr of Saint Cyprien and with Saint Augustin who trained and made several visits there.
Although its integrity has been partially altered by uncontrolled urban sprawl during the first half of the 20th century, the site of Carthage has essentially retained the elements that characterise the antique town: urban network, meeting place (forum), recreation (theatre), leisure (baths), worship (temples), residential area, etc. The conservation of the site guarantees the maintenance of the intact character of the structures. However, it continues to face strong urban pressure that has, for the most part, been contained thanks to the national listing of the Carthage-Sidi Bou-Said Park.
Restoration and maintenance work carried out over the years is in accordance with the standards of international charters and has not damaged the authenticity of the monuments and remains of the site of Carthage. The site benefits from a maintenance protocol.
Protection and management requirements (2009)
The site of Carthage benefits from the listing of a large number of its remains as historic monuments (since 1885). Its protection is also guaranteed by Decree 85-1246 of 7 October 1985 concerning the listing of the Carthage-Sidi Bou-Said site, Law 35-1994 concerning the protection of archaeological and historic heritage and of traditional arts, and by the Order of 16 September 1996 for the creation of the cultural site of Carthage. A conservation unit attached to the National Heritage Institute is responsible for the safeguarding and management of the site. The management of the property is currently integrated into the urban development plan of the town. A Protection and Presentation Plan, presently under preparation, shall ensure the management of the site.
Carthage is one of the most famous historic sites of the Roman Empire. The Roman Julia Carthago illustrates the splendour and wealth of Rome, and exerted considerable influence on the development of structural architecture and of characteristic Punic and Roman town planning. It is also important testimony to Punic history and constitutes an interesting example of the Punic city.
The state takes its name from the city of Carthage, out on the coast, 10 km from modern Tunis. Carthage was founded in the 9th century by Phoenician traders from Tyre, in today's Lebanon; it had two first class harbours, and therefore an advantage in possessing the most efficient means of communications of those days, the sea. The Carthaginians soon developed high skills in the building of ships and used these to dominate the seas for centuries. The most important merchandise was silver, lead, ivory and gold, beds and bedding, simple cheap pottery, jewellery, glassware, wild animals from African, fruit, and nuts.
In the 7th century, with the establishment of Greek trading colonies in Sicily, the position of Carthage was seen as inconvenient, and a conflict became inevitable. In the 6th century Carthage had conquered the territory of the Libyan tribes and the old Phoenician colonies and had control over the North African coast, stretching from today's Morocco to the borders of today's Egypt, plus Sardinia, Malta, the Balearic Islands, and the western half of Sardinia.
The town was fighting the Greeks and the Romans for control over territories. The war against the Greeks lasted more than 200 years, ending with success for Carthage. The wars against Rome, known as the Punic Wars, were divided into three periods, from 264 to 146 BCE. In 146 BC Carthage was almost totally burnt to the ground, and strict controls over further settlement were imposed on the remaining population.
In the 1st century CE, Augustus founded Colonia Julia Carthago, a city that once again proved the skills and the power of the people of this region. Within a few years it prospered and soon became only second to Rome in splendour and wealth. In 439 the Vandal king Genseric occupied Carthage and made it his capital. In 637 Carthage was captured by the Arabs and destroyed, and since then never regained its importance, largely owing to the concentration of power in nearby Tunis.
The Punic port is the best place to visit, as Carthage was a seaport that was stronger on the seas than the Roman Empire for many years.
Most modern archaeologists agree that child sacrifice was performed by the Carthaginians at the site of the Tophet, just a few hundred metres from the Punic port. The Tophet (not the original name, but the biblical name for sanctuaries for child sacrifice in the Middle East) lies next to a sanctuary dedicated to Baal Hammon and Tanit, but little remains of this.
An example from the period of Roman rule is the Antonine Baths, constructed from AD 145 to AD 165, which reflect the extent to which Carthage was an important and rich city even after the Roman conquest.
Also remarkable is the presence of the Cathedral of St Louis on the hill overlooking Carthage: it was built in the 1890s on the spot where the French King Louis IX died in 1270. Today the cathedral is used only for cultural purposes. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC