Ruined City of Tiddis Attests to The Power of Rome In North Africa
There are many important Roman ruins in Algeria. One of the least well-known is Tiddis, which is located in the northwest of the country, in the province of Constantine. It is situated on a mountain plateau and was built on a steep slope that once overlooked a fertile valley. The ruins are approximately 19 miles from the modern city of Constantine and they cover some 30 hectares. Although, it may not be as impressive as other ruined cities in Algeria, it is relatively well-preserved and could well be the most important from an archaeological perspective. However, because of its location, it has not been systematically excavated and only a small area has been studied by archaeologists.
Tiddis: A Beautiful City of Vibrant Reds
The awkward terrain led to much of the city being built on terraces cut into the mountain. The Romans built ramps as well as stairs to connect the buildings and the streets with the result that Tiddis lacks the elegant regularity of a typical Roman urban settlement. Rather, the Roman settlement can be likened to the Berber hill-villages in the region. The city was dependent on catching and storing rainwater in cisterns, which are a common sight.
What is impressive about the city is that the ruins are set in red earth and many of the buildings have a red-orange color, which can be breath-taking at certain times of the day.
The Cisterns of Tiddis (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The Sights in The Ruined City
A necropolis containing tombs from the prehistoric period right through to the Roman era is evident before entering the city. Some of the most spectacular are circular tombs that were built by early Berber communities hundreds of years before the Romans conquered the region. To the north of the city is the notable Roman era mausoleum constructed by the Lolii family, perhaps the most important one in Tiddis for many centuries.
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The Tiddis Arch ( robnaw / Fotolia)
The main entrance to the site is via a Roman-era road and a classic arch. The arch is well-preserved and where the gates once hung can still be seen. Although a pile of rocks is the first encounter upon entering, there are still many traces of interesting buildings. The most impressive remains are in the lower end of the ruins in the so-called ‘Villa of the Mosaics’, the entrance of which is flanked by pillars. Despite its name, there are few traces of mosaics left, but there are fine examples of private baths and an olive press. At the upper end of the city remain three large stone cisterns which were essential to the city’s water-supply. There are also some remnants of watchtowers and fortifications that were added by the Byzantines.
Religious Sanctuaries Dedicated To A Host Of Gods
Tiddis is often referred to as ‘The City of the Gods’ because of the number of shrines and sanctuaries found and many of the artifacts discovered are now on display in the Museum in Constantine. Of special importance are the two stelae which were dedicated to Saturn.
Mithra Temple in Tiddis (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The temples dedicated to other Roman gods are numerous. One was dedicated to Ceres, the goddess of the underworld, and another to Vesta, the virgin goddess of the hearth, home and family. The god Mithra had an impressive sanctuary and his popularity once rivaled that of Christ in the Roman world. The Phoenician God, Baal had a shrine and, on a crag that overlooked the town, there is a most impressive sanctuary dedicated to the Roman god, Saturn, although it is thought to originally have been a shrine to an ancient Berber deity. Remains of Christian baptisteries from the 4 th and 5 th century have been found amongst the temples to the other gods.
History of Tiddis
The presence of a shrine to Baal indicates that Tiddis fell under the Carthaginian cultural influence and possible political control and is believed to have been a settlement founded by the Berbers. After the Romans annexed this part of North Africa, they rebuilt the city and it became known in Latin as Castellum Tidditanorum. They added many public monuments and by the 4 th century AD the town was Romanized, and later Christianized.
Thanks to the rich farmland in the valley and because it became an important industrial center, Tiddis was a very affluent urban town. The Lolii family was one of the wealthiest and Quintus Lollius Urbicus became Prefect of Rome in the 2 nd century AD. He was instrumental in building the Antonine Wall in Scotland under Emperor Antonius Pius.
Emperor Antonius Pius (CC BY-SA 4.0)
The town, once part of the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa or at least under the Germanic Vandal influence, was later occupied by the Byzantines who strengthened its defense, probably against marauding Berber tribes. But Tiddis eventually went into decline due to a problematic water supply. Based on pottery finds, it appears there was a village within the town walls until the 11 th or 12 th century AD, but little is known about its history after the Arab invasions.
As there are no direct transport links to the ruins of Tiddis, the most convenient way to visit would be to rent a car or book a tour of the Roman cities in Algeria.
Top image: Tiddis, Constantine Algeria Source: (Benzerari, A. / CC BY-SA 3.0)
By Ed Whelan
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