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Timgad is a town as well as the ruins of a Roman city in Northeast Algeria. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Timgad lies on the northern slopes of the Aurès mountains and was created as a military colony by the Emperor Trajan in 100 AD. It is an excellent example of the grid plan as used in Roman town planning.

Understand

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View of the Timgad ruins

The city was founded as a military colony to serve primarily as a Roman bastion against the Berbers in the nearby Aures Mountains. At first, it was populated largely by Roman veterans and colonists. Although most of them had never seen Rome before, and Timgad was hundreds of miles away from the Italian city, Trajan invested heavily in Roman culture and identity. The full name of the city was Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi. Trajan named the city in commemoration of his mother Marcia, eldest sister Ulpia Marciana, and father Marcus Ulpius Traianus.

At the time of its founding, the area surrounding the city was a fertile agricultural area, about 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) above sea level. Located at the intersection of six roads, the city was walled but not fortified. It was designed for a population of around 15,000, but the city quickly outgrew its original specifications and spilled beyond the orthogonal grid in a more loosely organized fashion.

The city enjoyed a peaceful existence for its first several hundred years. It became a centre of Christian activity starting in the 3rd century, and a Donatist centre in the 4th century. In the 5th century, the city was sacked by the Vandals before falling into decline. Timgad was then destroyed at the end of the 5th century by Berber tribes from the Aurès Mountains. In 539 AD, during the Moorish wars, the Byzantine general Solomon retook and rebuilt the city, incorporating it into Byzantine North Africa. The reconquest revived some activities in the city, which became part of a line of defense against the Moors. However, the early Muslim conquests brought about the final ruin of Timgad as it ceased to be inhabited by the 8th century.

British explorer James Bruce reached the city ruins on 12 December 1765, likely being the first European to visit the site in centuries and described the city as “a small town, but full of elegant buildings.” In 1790, he published the book Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, where he described what he had found in Timgad. The book was met with skepticism in Great Britain until 1875 when Robert Lambert Playfair, Britain's consul in Algiers, inspired by Bruce's account, visited the site. In 1877 Playfair described Timgad in more detail in his book Travels in the Footsteps of Bruce in Algeria and Tunis. According to Playfair, “These hills are covered with countless numbers of the most interesting mega-lithic remains”. The French colonists took control of the area in 1881, began investigations into the site and maintained it until 1960. Timgad was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982.

Get in

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By car

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From Constantine you can arrange a private car and driver for the day for around DA10,000.

By bus

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From the Constantine bus station (Gare SNTV, or "Santivi", sometimes called Gare Routiere Est), take a bus to the Batna north bus station. Then take the local bus number 7 from the front of the north station to the Batna east bus station. From the east bus station, take the bus to Timgad, which will drop you off at the ruins. The entire journey will take about 3 hours. To return from Timgad, the bus will not pick you up at the ruins, so you need to walk back up the road (Rue des Ruines Romaines), past the petrol station, until you reach a run-down bus station. Once you arrive in Batna, you may need to take a shared taxi back to Constantine for around DA300, as there are no buses to Constantine in the afternoon.

Get around

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Map of the ruins

The town is small and walkable. The ruins you will tour on foot.

See

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Public Library
Trajan's Arch

The entrance fee for the ruins is DA100. You can obtain a guide for US$5-10, and you may even be able to find one that speaks a bit of English. There are guidebooks sold at the entrance gate for DA400, but know that these contain mostly pictures with little textual information.

  • 1 Timgad Museum. Reopened in the late 2010s after being closed for many years due to vandalism, the 4-room museum holds a sizable collection of Roman mosaics.
  • 2 Large Northern Baths. A huge 40-room bath complex.
  • 3 Public Library. Dates from the 3rd or possibly the 4th century. Consists of a large semi-circular room flanked by two secondary rectangular rooms, and preceded by a U-shaped colonnaded portico surrounding three sides on an open court.
  • 4 Forum. The centre of the city, surrounded by Corinthian columns.
  • 5 Theatre. The 3,500-seat theater is in good condition and is used for contemporary productions.
  • 6 Trajan's Arch (Arch of Trajan). Built in the 3rd century to replace the original western gate, partially restored in 1900. A 12 m (39 ft)-high triumphal arch made principally of sandstone.
  • 7 Sertius Market. Contains visible slabs used by traders to display their wares.
  • 8 Capitol. A temple for the worship of the gods Jupiter, Juno and Minerva. Features two tall columns atop a raised platform.
  • 9 Byzantine Fort (About 300 m south of the main city ruins). Built by the Byzantines outside the of the city, the fort measures 112 by 67 m (367 by 220 ft) and has walls 2.5 m (8 ft) thick.

Do

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Buy

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Eat

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  • 1 Restaurant Boubon, +213 771 13 25 56. M 09:00-12:00, Tu-Sa 09:00-23:30, Su 09:00-00:00. Good quality Algerian food.
  • 2 La Casa del Pizza, +213 664 30 65 93. Daily 10:00-22:00. Chicken or tuna pizzas.

Drink

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There are cafes along the main road (RN 87) through town.

Sleep

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  • 1 Trajan Hotel, 1, rue des Ruines Romaines, +213 33 21 14 14, . Check-in: 13:00, check-out: 11:00. A lovely hotel with a restaurant. Can arrange tours of the ruins. DA8000 single room; DA9000 double room.
  • 2 Auberge De Jeunesse, +213 33 21 11 46. A reasonably clean and well-kept youth hostel. Beds from DA500.

Connect

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Go next

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  • Batna — the nearest large city
  • Constantine — one of Algeria's must-see cities, famous for its setting and its bridges


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