Kerkuan (World Heritage)

Kerkouane was founded in the 6th century BC. Founded by Phoenician refugees from Tire. It is the only Phoenician-Punic city whose remains have been preserved in their original state, as it was not rebuilt after it was destroyed by the Romans in the 1st Punic War. The horseshoe-shaped city complex, foundation walls and facilities for the purple manufacture are clearly recognizable.

Kerkuan: facts

Official title: Punic city of Kerkouane and its necropolis
Cultural monument: horseshoe-shaped city layout with old, now exposed street network and foundations as well as foundation walls of the residential buildings built around an inner courtyard; nearby »Purpurmanufaktur« and city of the dead
Continent: Africa
Country: Tunisia, see findjobdescriptions
Location: Kerkouane, Cap Bon, between Kelibia and Sidi Labiadh
Appointment: 1985, expanded 1986
Meaning: the only remaining original Phoenician-Punic city monument in North Africa

Kerkuan: history

from the 6th century BC Chr. Grave field with 50 children’s graves as an indication of early settlement
310 BC Chr. Landing of Agathocles of Syracuse and his men at Cap Bon and partial destruction of Kerkouane
264-241 BC Chr. 1. Punic War
around 260 or 256 BC Chr. Destruction in the campaign of Marcus Atilius Regulus against Carthage
218-201 BC Chr. 2. Punic War
183 BC Chr. Suicide of the Carthaginian general Hannibal; Death of Scipio Africanus major, Hannibal’s opponent
149-146 BC Chr. 3. Punic War
439 Storm of the Vandals on Carthage
442 End of Roman rule in North Africa
1952 Rediscovery
from 1953 Excavations and scientific research

The city of purple

On some days nothing breaks the silence of the Kerkouane archaeological site but the harmony of the waves, the constant screaming of seagulls and the singing of the wind. And when the weather is clear, looking out over the emerald green Mediterranean Sea, in the distance you can imagine the delicate line of Sicily, blurring between the water and the sky.

Hardly any other people are so shrouded in mystery as the Punic, notorious for its cruel sacrificial cult. The Romans did everything to cast their competitors in the struggle for world domination in a bad light and to destroy not only the written, but also the architectural evidence.

Kerkouane, rediscovered by archaeologists in 1952, suffered the same fatal fate as Carthage during the Punic Wars, but unlike this it was never built over, so that the old settlement structures and the Punic building technology are still clearly recognizable to this day. Two gates in a massive double wall once gave access to the horseshoe-shaped city complex, which ran on low cliffs. When you walk across the excavation site, which at first glance seems unspectacular, you can see the remains of the wide, chessboard-like streets and the foundations of houses, the floor plans of which reveal a strong Hellenistic influence: from a rectangular courtyard surrounded by columns, to which a long corridor led, went from the respective premises. The bedrooms were on the first floor and were accessible by stairs. To the surprise of the archaeologists – and today’s visitors – almost all of these houses had a bathroom at the entrance with a wall cladding made of red, water-repellent cement and were connected to sewers via gutters. If you look at the stone tubs with the comfortable seat, the comfort left nothing to be desired. While the Romans celebrated their bathing culture in public thermal baths as a social event, the Punians clearly attached more importance to their privacy. Water-repellent cement and were connected to sewers via gutters. If you look at the stone tubs with the comfortable seat, the comfort left nothing to be desired. While the Romans celebrated their bathing culture in public thermal baths as a social event, the Punians clearly attached more importance to their privacy. Water-repellent cement and were connected to sewers via gutters. If you look at the stone tubs with the comfortable seat, the comfort left nothing to be desired. While the Romans celebrated their bathing culture in public thermal baths as a social event, the Punians clearly attached more importance to their privacy.

The artistic mosaic floors made of red cement dust with inlaid pieces of marble and stone, a pre-form of the famous Roman mosaic art, are also an attraction. Here and there the beholder’s gaze falls on a triangle formed from white stones with a stylized “head” and “outstretched arms”, which symbolizes the great Punic moon goddess Tanit.

Since the 6th century BC at the latest, there has been evidence of a permanent settlement whose residents lived from fishing and agriculture. They owed their considerable prosperity to the purple snail found in the coastal waters off Africa, whose hypobranchial gland, known by the Phoenicians as the “purple gland”, secretes a secretion that turns red to purple in sunlight. The fact that a production facility for purple must have been located a bit away from the Punic city was revealed to the scientists involved in the investigations by the mountains of broken “spiked shells” of this shell-shaped mollusk and the basins carved out of the rock. The snails collected were crushed in them in order to obtain the coveted color broth. The purple-violet dye was very valuable in ancient times. Therefore, Alexander the Great was lucky when he discovered purple fabrics weighing more than 10,000 kilograms in the treasury of Susa, the production of which billions of shell molluscs had to lose their lives, because 10,000 snails were needed to obtain one gram of purple !

To the north-west of the city a city of the dead was found with more than 200 up to four meters deep graves with magnificent wall paintings. The grave goods found there are now exhibited in the Museum of Kerkouane, which has the enchanting “Dame de Kerkouane” as a rare treasure, a wooden sarcophagus made from cypress wood in the form of a female figure and the largest figurative representation from Punic hands that archaeologists have seen so far.

Kerkuan (World Heritage)