Save Carthage

 

Roman baths at CarthageCarthage, a city both mythical and real, was founded in the 9th century B.C. by the legendary Queen Dido (also known as Elissa), who hailed from Phoenicia. It became the Mediterranean’s most formidable maritime trading power until the rise of the Roman Empire.

 

"Delenda est Carthago!" Senator Marcus Porcius Cato used to cry in urging Rome to destroy its old enemy. And so it was to be. By 146 B.C., the Romans had driven out Carthage's 500.000 inhabitants, razed the city, and sowed salt in the rubble so that nothing would ever grow there.

 

Only ruins are left of the Phoenician city, but the remains of Roman and Byzantine Carthage are more abundant and give a good idea of what one of the biggest cities of ancient times was like.

Ancient building in Carthage

Since independence in 1956 Tunis expanded rapidly. President Habib Bourguiba located his new official residence in Carthage, and some 60 high-ranking diplomats live near by. Hundreds of seaside villas were built on the unexcavated ruins that lie below the surface.

 

In the early 1970s awareness began to spread, both in Tunisia and abroad, that the remains of Carthage were in danger of disappearing forever. On 19 May 1972 UNESCO Director-General René Maheu launched an international campaign to save the site, which was put on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979. Rescue operations soon began. As a dozen teams of archaeologists from several countries got to work, the Tunisian government took steps which led in 1985 to the declaration of a 600-hectare zone of Carthage and Sidi Bou Saïd as a protected area where new construction was mostly banned. To encourage foreign archaeologists to excavate Carthage, the Tunisian government has promised them that they can keep or borrow a portion of their Punic and Roman finds.

 

Over the years, six orders have cut back the area of the future archaeological park planned in 1985. Two zones were reclassified as part of the urban area and were quickly built on, while luxury villas have sprouted around the famous Phoenician ports. Some land has been given to the Polytechnic Institute to expand its campus. Squatting by poor people in the Ellil district on the edge of Carthage has also been allowed.

 

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization - stamp World Heritage Tunisia 1985Since 1991, a cabinet committee chaired by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has overseen the Carthage project, for which the president has always expressed strong support. Officials are working on a preservation and development plan for the park which is expected to be much more detailed and restrictive than the 1985 preservation order. It will authorize public expropriation of any part of the site, enabling the government to buy the land, most of it still privately-owned. It will ban division of plots of land and the building of housing estates and, with the 1994 Heritage Code, will complete the country’s set of preservation laws.

 

 

Links

 

Address by UNESCO Director-General René Maheu at the start of the campaign, 19 May 1972 (pdf-document).

The UNESCO Carthage medal issued in 1976.

 

 

Stamp catalogue

 

Tunisia                        6 May 1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Up - Home

 

 

last revised: 14 February 2008