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Bulla Regia is an archaeological site in northwestern Tunisia, a former Roman city near modern Jendouba. It is noted for its Hadrianic-era semi-subterranean housing, a protection from the fierce heat and effects of the sun. Many of the mosaic floors have been left in situ; others may be seen at the Bardo Museum, Tunis. There is also a small museum connected with the site. In the unique domus architecture developed in the city, a ground-level storey, open to the warming winter sun, stood above a subterranean level, built round a two-story atrium. Open-bottomed terracotta bottle-shapes were built into vaulting. Water sprinkled on the floors brought the colors of the mosaics to life while they provided cooling by evaporation.
In the House of the Hunt, the basilica, with an apse at its head, a transept and dependent spaces opening into what would be the nave if it were a church, has been instanced (Thébert) as an example of the conjunction between public architecture and the domus of the ruling class in the fourth century, spaces soon to be Christianized as churches and cathedrals. The subtle colors and shading and the modelling of three-dimensional forms of the finest mosaics at Bulla Regia are not surpassed by any in North Africa, where the Roman art of mosaic floors reached its fullest development. The mosaic of a haloed Amphitrite (House of Amphitrite) is often illustrated.
Decline and destruction
After its season of flourishing, Bulla Regia was slowly degraded under Byzantine rule. As elsewhere in the Late Empire, the local aristocracy found themselves in a position to increase the extent of their houses at the expense of public space: the House of the Fisherman was adapted to link two separate insulae turning a thoroughfare into a dead end. Finally an earthquake destroyed Bulla Regia, collapsing its first floors into the subterranean floors.
Drifting sand protected the abandoned sites, which were forgotten until the first excavations were begun, in 1906, in part spurred by the destruction of the monumental entrance to the Roman city. The forum, surrounded by porticoes, was excavated in 1949-52. Its public basilica had an apse at each end. As a cathedral it had a highly unusual cruciform baptismal font inserted the center of the rear (west end) of its nave (Jensen).
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