After spending a night in Sétif, and finding the museum with the famous Triumph of Venus and the Triumph of Dionysos mosaic closed, I look forward to moving on to Djemila. Within minutes after arriving at the bus station, my bus leaves; to my surprise, because it is not full at all. I am even more surprised when I pay my ticket: it is absurdly cheap. I have understood that getting to Djemila from El Eulma can be difficult, and I am wondering how much a taxi would cost, and how much I am willing to pay. I ask around anyway, and again, I am lucky. It turns out the minibus leaves within minutes. We drive north, then take a turn to the east, driving higher into the mountains. In some parts, there are still pockets of snow at the roadside. It turns out the bus stop is right next to the entrance of Djemila, and the guard is more than happy to store my bag in his small office.
First stop: the museum. On the outer walls, I already see large mosaics. Inside is even better. Enormous mosaics which once embellished the floors of this Roman city are plastered on the wall. Hunting scenes, the Bacchus mosaic (interesting to see the lavish use of grapes and wine drinking of this god of wine in an islamic country), and the taking of Europe are but a few of the masterpieces that have been painstakingly attached piece by piece to the walls of this small museum. There are a few statues, too, as well as artefacts found at the ruins. Unfortunately, the friendly supervisor accompanies me the whole time, and taking pictures is almost impossible. After enjoying the small museum, one of the employees is kind enough to walk with me to the baptistery, which is normally closed. He explains me about the history of the building, and also shows me some remains of mosaics on the floor. Outside, the sun starts to pierce through holes in the clouds, and my temporary guide returns to his office, leaving me alone among the Roman ruins of Djemila. I am about to discover why Cuicul, the original name, was changed to Djemila, which means The Beautiful One in Arab.
Walking down the Cardo Maximus, I visit the thermae, where some mosaics still lie on the floor. These great baths lie in ruins: there are some arches left; you can imagine the benches, you can visualise where the water was providing people their bathing experience - after all, one of the most quintessential Roman things to do. I walk backstreets of the old city, and arrive back at the Cardo Maximus, the main street running north-south at the unique conical fountain. From here, the Arch of Caracalla looms over the main street. It is one of the main sights of the ruins: a largely intact arch that once provided entrance to Djemila for those coming in from the west. From here, the visitor would have directly entered the Severus Square. On the other side: the Septimius Temple - which I leave for later. I first walk down the big stones of the Cardo Maximus. There is plenty to see: more arches, lintels, columns with inscriptions in Latin, the Venus temple; the forum where some of the market stalls can still clearly be seen, the House of the Donkey, a basilica, baths, temples, and yes, obviously, also the ruins of houses. I walk back, while above my head dark clouds sail through the sky. Djemila is special in that the Romans were forced, due to the geographic constraints, to adapt their grid pattern of streets to the triangular shape of the plateau on which Djemila lies. I pay a visit to the Septimius Temple, and walk a little further to see the amphitheatre. While contemplating the history of Djemila back at Severus Square, and trying to imagine how the Romans used to live here, I hear the call to afternoon prayer from a nearby mosque. A sound they certainly never heard. Two locals give me an orange - my first of many experiences of Algerian hospitality. I am sure the Romans would have approved.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Djemila (Algeria). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Djemila. Read more about this site.