Carthage, 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
"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
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.
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
Since 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.
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.
Tunisia 6 May 1973
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