The Roman trading city founded by the Phoenicians about 70 km west of today’s Tripoli had a natural harbor and once played an important role as the starting and end point of the Sahara trade. Together with Oea and Leptis Magna, it belonged to the three cities of ancient Tripoli. Today the remains of the forum, the basilica, the amphitheater as well as temples and thermal baths are worth seeing.
Sabratha Ruins: Facts
|Official title:||Sabratha ruins|
|Cultural monument:||Roman city complex, including with the forum and theater, the southern forum temple (2nd century), the temple of Antoninus, with the basilica on the west side of the Cardo, which served as a courtroom and market hall, the capitol in honor of Junos, Minerva and Jupiter, the basilica of Justinian, the temple of Liber Pater, which was consecrated to Dionysus, the Temple of Hercules on Decumanus Maximus, the sea baths and the amphitheater built for gladiator fights|
|Country:||Libya, see smber|
|Location:||Sabratha, west of Tripoli|
|Meaning:||the originally Phoenician trading post at the end of the Transsahara trade route and western Roman city complex as an important testimony to the Roman Empire in North Africa|
Ruins of Sabratha: History
|around 500 BC Chr.||Established as a trading post of the Carthaginians|
|146 BC Chr.||Roman provincial city after the destruction of Carthage|
|2nd and 3rd century||The heyday and layout of the new town with the theater|
|193||Septimius Severus (146-211) from North Africa becomes Roman emperor|
|455||Destruction of Sabratha in the course of the vandal invasion|
|643||Invasion of Arab armies|
|1911||Annexation by Italy|
|1924||first archaeological research work|
Ancient theater on the shores of the Mediterranean
The Circus Maximus in Rome is tossed by traffic noise and the parking lot in front of the Delphic Oracle is chaotically overcrowded by countless coaches – a visit to Sabratha, on the other hand, seems like a stop in an oasis of calm and contemplation, an immersion in the depths of ancient times: you can only hear the mild, constant rustling of the Mediterranean surf, now and then the bleating of sheep grazing between the ruins, or the barking of dogs in the remote palm groves. In the sky, feather clouds move down from the coast to the south, float over the Jifarah plain and over the ridges of the Dahar or the Nefusah towards the Sahara and dissolve more and more. After the winter rains, lush flower meadows bloom between ancient columns in spring.
In the valleys with cisterns, dams and irrigation canals were and still are the terraced fields, whose wheat and olive oil once established the city’s wealth. Skilled borderland farmers, the “limitanei”, produced the important food for the metropolis of Rome there. In the port, the sailors cast off, who, in addition to everyday basic food, also transported the luxury goods of what was then pre-Saharan Africa across the sea to the north, some of which were brought in with caravans. Gold, ivory, slaves or even lions and panthers for the “circus games” in the big city set out from here on their journey. In Rome’s port of Ostia, the “statio Sabratensium” testifies to the importance of trade with mainland Italy. Mosaics in the mansions of the citizens, in bathing establishments or church halls give eloquent testimony to the activities.
Founded by the Phoenician Carthage as a trading base, it was expanded to become a city after the final defeat of the Phoenicians by the Romans after the Third Punic War. The trading post in Leptis Magna quickly grew into the most important city on the coast of Roman North Africa. The city and region flourished when one of the country’s sons became emperor in Rome: Septimius Severus gave his homeland every conceivable support. The theater, one of the highlights of Roman architecture and construction technology, is a personal gift from him to the region from which his family emerged. Today it is considered the most beautiful Roman theater in the world, but it is certainly one of the most impressive scenes that all of North Africa has to offer: An extraordinary three-story backdrop is built with the help of over a hundred Corinthian columns, allegedly a replica of the Severer Palace in Rome. The style of the building reminds some visitors of the buildings in Petra, Jordan. The head-high stage front is decorated with wonderful reliefs made of white marble, on which mythological or theatrical scenes – such as the “Judgment of Paris” – are depicted. As you climb the steps of the rows of seats in the amphitheater, the cheeks of which are lined with marble dolphins, your gaze wanders over the ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean: a perfect harmony of nature and culture. The head-high stage front is decorated with wonderful reliefs made of white marble, on which mythological or theatrical scenes – such as the “Judgment of Paris” – are depicted. As you climb the steps of the rows of seats in the amphitheater, the cheeks of which are lined with marble dolphins, your gaze wanders over the ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean: a perfect harmony of nature and culture. The head-high stage front is decorated with wonderful reliefs made of white marble, on which mythological or theatrical scenes – such as the “Judgment of Paris” – are depicted. As you climb the steps of the rows of seats in the amphitheater, the cheeks of which are lined with marble dolphins, your gaze wanders over the ancient city on the shores of the Mediterranean: a perfect harmony of nature and culture.
But today, in view of the impressive ruins, Sabratha should not only be seen as a cultural center and as an administrative and commercial metropolis. The juxtaposition of temples and churches also allows conclusions to be drawn about the religious conflicts of that time. According to Heinrich Schiffers, the mosaic of Justinian’s Basilica, now open to the public in the museum of the excavation site, represents “(…) the most beautiful, largest and best-preserved mosaic work of art in North Africa.” Generous bathhouses and erected phalluses are evidence of brothels and give an impression of Sabratha as the center of lust and vice.
With the destruction of Roman North Africa by the Vandals, Sabratha also fell to rubble. A phase of renewed prosperity followed during the heyday of the Eastern Roman Empire. Eventually, however, the invasion of Arab armies ended the existence of the “ancient place of pleasure”.