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The Ruins of Timgad

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25 May 2019

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The Ruins of Timgad

The ruined city of Timgad stretches into the horizon. During the winter months, the city is cold and desolate and during the summertime, it is hot and dry. Due to the fact that it is so well preserved, Unesco placed it on the World Heritage Site.

As soon as you enter the city, the path will automatically lead you past the museum – which has been closed for the general public for many years now and is only accessible for scientists. Many people are in opposition to this rule because the museum contains an impressive collection of more than 200 mosaics which is almost the size of a modern house. Among the mosaic pieces is life like panel, displaying various foods; The Triumph of Venus (right-hand room) surrounded by a grand decorative border. You’ll also find the mosaic of Filadelfis Vita, this displays the god Jupiter chasing Antiope.

The Great Baths

Another wonderful site that you must not miss is the Great Baths of the North. You can reach this by traveling the path from the museum that leads northwest. This is an enormous public place with approximately 40 rooms built outside of the original camp walls. The baths were designed symmetrically, with the same latrines. On both side of the complex were warm and hot rooms that lead to a central frigidarium, which is a cold room with an icy plunge pool. At both ends of the complex, there is a room that was intended for relaxing after the bath. A little further from here are the remains of a large private villa. This villa had a collection of spacious rooms and the owner had his own luxurious baths in the hot room where once stood the mosaic of Filadelifis (now on display in the museum).

The Town Centre & Library

Back towards the museum, the path, which was once the road to Constantine (then Cirta. Traveling down the path that was once the road to Constantine (then Cirta), brings you to the town’s northern gate. This gate sits in the middle of the northern wall of Timgad which was designed as a perfect square, 355m long on each side. The cardo maximums – the main north-south street passes in front of the town. Along this road, you’ll see a long straight stretch of chariot-rutted pavings that runs uphill to the center of the town.

Timgad holds many historical buildings. When you enter the gate, the first building on the left was one of Timgad’s 14 baths or spas. The building next door – which has become one of the hundreds of sites that have been excavated – was turned into a Christian chapel at a later date. Along this street, there is a very intriguing building – the most interesting building on this street to some. This building lies five insulae, or blocks, in from the northern gate, before reaching the center. This building is a Roman-era public library constructed in the 4th century using an earlier structure. Only two of these types of the Roman public library exists; one in Timgad the other one in Ephesus (Turkey). The easiest recognizable aspect of the public library is the bookshop – a semicircular room where the sections in which the different book niches were stored (actually manuscript pages or parchment rolls) are still evident. A little further down the street, the cardo ends at a T-junction with the decumanus Maximus, the town’s main east-west artery. Strolling along the west side of the street you’ll have a magnificent view of rows of columns which ends in the Trajan’s Arch in the far distance. 

The paved path on the east leads to the east baths which were built in AD 146. Along this same road is the Mascula Gate, which marked the eastern end of town and the start of the road to what is now Khenchela. On the south side across the decumanus you’ll find a large open space which was the 50m by 43m forum. A row of shops was situated on the street side of the forum with public latrines on the left. The forum is surrounded by limestone Corinthian columns, statues, temple, municipal offices and a large basilica which was built on a later date. The forum was seen as the epitome of living an abundant life because on the steps the following slogan was engraved: Venare, lavari, ludere, ridere, occ est vivere – hunt, bathe, play, laugh, that is life.

The Theatre & Fort

The theatre was the prominent entertainment site of Timgad. The theatre was built in the 160st by carving into a hillside and creating seating for as many as 3500 people. The theatre as it stands today is not the original as it was reconstructed by the French. The original theatre was completely made out of stone by Emperor Justinian’s soldiers while they were also building the nearby fortress in 539. Today visitors are mostly enthralled by the great view (from the gods), the view from the highest seating. You can walk from the theatre to the pitted path to the fort. The fort was built outside of the original settlement where earlier a shrine was built in near proximity of a divine guardian of a water source. The 112m by 67m fort was built typically military style limestone walls 2.5m thick, with high towers on every corner and at the gate. Inside the fort, there were officers on the right, on the left and around the divine water source. Today you can still see the remains of barracks and several other rooms. Like many other places in Timgad. A lot of excavation is happening in this area.

The Capitol & Market

While in Timgad, check out the remains of the capitol. The capitol is easily identified by two sturdy pillars still standing on their raised platforms. The capitol was built as a dedication to Roman gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva.

It was completed in AD 160 and was a holy place for pagan worship and had a larger enclosing space than the forum which could be reached by climbing the staircase of 28 steps. Today, this impressive building is completely gone except for the two 14m-high columns and some fragments.

Trajan’s Arch

Timgad was built with a western gate similar to the gates at the other cardinal points. But the start of the third century marked a change for Timgad, as the town was spreading westward beyond its original grid getting close to a new triumphal gate, the original gate was replaced by Trajan’s Arch. This arch joined the new town with the old one and is one of Timgad’s most marvelous surviving structures. Only chariots were allowed to pass the high central passage, pedestrians had to go through the arches on either side and could easily gaze on the many imperial statues.