The splendour of Carthage provides inspiration
Carthage, Tunisia - Overlooking the harbour, marble statues and decaying walls welcome visitors to the ancient city of Carthage, which once rivaled powerful empires and ruled the Mediterranean. The panoramic view from the city reminds onlookers of battles fought by men seeking to rule this land. Today, it rests in reverent silence, undisturbed.
Dating to the ninth century BC, Carthage is now a residential sea-side suburb endowed with beautiful scenery and historic value. The ruins of Carthage remain one of the area’s most popular tourist attractions for the unique collection of Punic and Roman archaeological sites. Since 1979, the ruins of Carthage have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Carthage was founded by Phoenicians from Tyre under the leadership of Princess Dido. Fleeing her brother’s rule, Dido and her companions found refuge in a place where she established the city of Carthage or Kart-hadasht — the New City. Accounts of the foundation of Carthage vary. One of the most popular myths was that Dido was granted by a Berber chieftain as much land as could be covered with a single oxhide. Dido is said to have cut an oxhide into strips that she used to circle the hill.
“The story of Dido is surrounded with myths but there is always some truth to the myth. The archives of the city of Tyre by historian Justine suggest that Dido fled the dictatorship of her brother. In this account, the story of Dido comprises all the elements necessary for the birth of a new civilisation: knowledge of politics, intelligence and strategising,” said Abdelaziz Belkhodja, whose writings about Carthage delve into distinguishing facts from myth.
Carthage became the capital of an empire under Dido’s reign. It was built on a triangular peninsula with low hills. The location offered access to the Mediterranean but still shielded it from threats.
The rise of Carthage resulted in rivalry with Syracuse, Numidia and Rome leading to a series of invasions. It was during the lengthy Punic wars that Carthage occupied territories that belonged to Rome until it fell in the hands of the Romans. Carthage was destroyed and rebuilt.
Carthage was an example of one of the earliest forms of democracy. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, wrote on Carthaginian politics and deemed it one of the best governing systems, along with some Greek states.
“Aristotle mentioned that the republic of Carthage had one of the best constitutions in the world. This constitution was specific to the republic of Carthage and not an imitation of the Greek one. The republic of Carthage is possibly the first democracy in the world,” Belkhodja said.
“Aristotle also said that Carthage has never seen a tyrant or witnessed an uprising against the ruler of Carthage. All this gives a fascinating portrait of the political system of Carthage.”
In addition to Dido, Carthage gave birth to the warrior Hannibal, the navigator Hannon and the famous agronomist Magon.
“Carthage was the richest country in the world back then. It was a cosmopolitan country where people talk all languages. It was a museum city, where people showcased the artefacts. They did not put them in museums but showcased them in public,” Belkhodja said.
Different civilisations succeeded in Carthage, creating a unique history characterised by diversity. Today, visitors can explore the richness of the history and culture of Carthage through Punic, Roman, Vandal, Paleo-Christian and Arab ruins that testify to the multiculturalism of the city.
The major known components of the site of Carthage are the Punic ports, the ruins of Byrsa, the Punic Tophet, theatre and amphitheatre. The ruins of Carthage contain the Antonine Baths, one of the largest Roman baths outside of Rome. Carthage’s Punic heritage can also be explored in the kiln and cemetery.
“Today, there is only little left of the city as Rome destroyed Punic Carthage and built on the old ruins. But the archaeological site still contains the Hannibal neighbourhood… It showed that Carthage remained strong after the war,” Belkhodja said.
“We are still uncovering the truth about the history of Carthage. There was a myth that Carthage people used to sacrifice their children. We found out it was a lie by Rome to justify the destruction of the town.”
In 1985, the mayor of Carthage and the mayor of Rome signed a symbolic treaty to officially end the conflict between their cities, which technically lasted more than 2,100 years due to the absence of a peace treaty.
“Today we need the heritage of Carthage to strive for a renaissance and to revive the old values, Belkhodja said. “This is what we need now: to be reminded of the beauty and greatness of Carthage.”