TUNISIA – Carthage

  • Project: Cultural and enviromental park of the Maalga and the Punic Ports in Carthag
  • Site: Carthage
  • Project manager: Giorgio Gullini

The project for the cultural and environmental park of the Maalga and the area of the Punic Ports, which got under way in October 2003 and terminated in December 2005, consisted of a feasibility study for the management of the Maalga area and the Punic Ports in Carthage, on the basis of archaeological, topographic, geologic, geomorphologic, urban and financial surveys, and with the help of field surveys, geophysical prospections, remote sensing and computerized elaborations.

The programme – originated by an Italian-Tunisian cooperation with the contribution of Centro Scavi di Torino, MAE, MBAC, Parco Appia Antica, CNR and INP – is the answer to a specific request by the Tunisian government in March 2001. Its purpose is to represent a component of the larger project for the National Park of Carthage-Sidi Bou Said, whose perimeters and studies relating to how the terrain was developed take into consideration the system of cultural, archaeological and environmental values defined in the UNESCO campaigns of the 1970s. The multi-disciplinary analyses carried out were particularly important, and, in addition to basic considerations of a historical nature, also provided a structured research model that can be applied to other archaeological studies.

The programme

The idea for the project, aimed at creating, at an international level, a model of research and management of the landscape in a cultural sense, had among its main goals:

  • the creation of tools aimed at exploiting, protecting and managing the archaeological heritage in the two sites (the Maalga and the Punic Ports) and at facilitating the comprehension of the historical context (with special reference to the study of the urban settlement and, principally, the whole area of Punic Carthage, little known even today);
  • the achievement of tangible results in strengthening and increasing cultural tourism in the Carthage area;
  • the realization of an immediately recognizable green area, aimed at attracting not just mass tourism but also local tourism from Grand Tunis itself.

These objectives were achieved through a multi-disciplinary approach, involving collaboration and synergy that, in addition to creating a highly innovative cultural product, also represented a solid commitment in training the local Tunisian personnel involved in the various phases of the research. The surveys carried out and the financial study of the territory in question made it possible to identify the goals and the mission of the Park. Subsequently, the medium- and long-term strategies to be adopted were defined in order to create effective methods of management.

Financial study

Three scenarios were conceived that differ in relation to two key variables: the initial investment and the complexity of the objectives and strategies that determine the form of the management.

  • Short term or conservative: a Memorial Park that provides for the protection and exploitation of the existing status quo, with the goal of increased use.
  • Average term or development: a Thematic Park for cultural and business activities within the park through the use of the available premises (or to this end acquired and restored) and a stimulating marketing function carried out by the management.
  • Long term or development of a system: a Multimedia Archaeological Park able to develop certain structural exploitation projects and to bring services to the entire area, as well as development and territorial marketing carried out by the management.

The Maalga

The landscape of the Maalga extends for approximately 150 hectares in the area to the north-northeast of the Roman centre of Carthage. Since the Punic period, it constituted the fertile extra-urban landscape – the ancient Megara -, bordered by the Sidi-Bou-Said and Gammarth promontories, and preserves the two Arab villages of the Maalga (Maâlka) and Douar ech-Chatt on the northwestern and southwestern sides, delimiting the site of the cisterns, the Roman amphitheatre and circus, which were still visible at the end of the 19th century and which provided produce for the settlements. This is the reason why it was probably included within a control system which, although presumably lacking in architectural grandeur, such as the walled circuit found on the side of the city facing the sea, must have been constituted by trenches and observation posts to defend the settlement and its immediate rural-productive area from any attacks from the hinterland.

In all probability the monumental complex of the Large Cisterns and the numerous isolated reservoirs, found during the archaeological survey and scattered over the entire area, date back to this period. The Maalga also maintained its vocation for agriculture and as a filter for the city even in the Roman period, when it was included within the centuriatio that is still clearly discernible on the territory when viewing satellite images and aerial photographs. In the late Roman period, the area was chosen by the first Christian communities as a place for prayers and burials: on the basis of archaeological data (Basilica of Bir Ftouha, Basilica Maiorum, Damous el Karita-Domus Caritatis) it can in fact be observed that the entire eastern portion of the area in question constitutes a clear route of the Christian cult from the city centre towards the burying basilicas in the suburban and distant areas.

The scant proof of the subsequent Vandal presence in Carthage can instead be found in the Maalga, whether in analyzing the pottery shards from the “Christian circuit” or in the presence of defensive walls built under Emperor Theodosius that have been discovered or that are in any case visible in the terrain, in certain parts of the area near the Abidine mosque. At the present time there are no certain traces of how the area was used under Arab domination, although a few small farming fields seem to remind us today of the traditional “kitchen garden” that sustained Arab families.

The Punic Ports

The project also includes the entire area of the Punic Ports of Carthage, now identifiable as a general mass, visible in the contours of the terrain (primarily with respect to the circular port, which is still visible), surrounded by a residential area with villas and gardens. Little remains of the images taken around the turn of the 20th century that showed the two waterways immersed in an immense barley field. The original system (dating to late Punic times, based on the presence in the area of abundant pottery shards and an artificial canal which pre-dates it) included a circular water basin with a central islet, connected to a fairly rectangular water basin, which gave on to the sea (according to old literary sources, in particular Appian, and on the basis of the surveys conducted by the English mission in the 1980s). At the present time the complex no longer has the original access to the sea. The water basins channel waste water from nearby constructions towards the sea, as seen from the funnels laced along the circumference of the circular port, which presents a recent artificial opening on the side towards the sea, originally protected by the mighty walls, the ruins of which are still visible all along the coast.

The Punic Ports complex can presumably be dated between the Second and Third Punic Wars (between 202 and 146 BC) and the two water basins, commonly known as the military port (the round basin) and the commercial port (the rectangular basin), seem in fact to constitute the pre-eminently military and naval shipyard part of the city that defied Rome, while the commercial outlet was probably represented by the Lac de Tunis inlet, already known and frequented in the Mycenaean period. The archaeological survey conducted by the English mission in the circular port and partially confirmed by the German excavations in the so-called Magon quarter, further north, and by the Italian survey implemented for the project along the entire coastline to the east, highlighted the pier foundations and the walls (of which the secondary positioned stone blocks with cramps are still visible) and, principally, among the various pilasters of the structures, traces of the inclined ramps for a series of shipsheds or basins used for wintering the ships.

The distance between the ramps, positioned radially with respect to the circumference of the port and to the islet (although with some divergences in order to conform to the terrain), provided the basic information to demonstrate the presence of 25-30 ramps on the islet and 135-140 on the perimeter, as well as to theorize on the general measurements of Carthaginian boats. As for the latter, the average width of 5.30 metres and the length of approximately 30 metres of the coves on the islet leads us to presume that they were used to berth the triremes. The other moorings, approximately 7.30 metres wide and 38-40 metres long, instead, must have been used to berth larger-sized ships. In Punic times the Ilot de l'Amirauté was occupied by a hexagonal structure lengthened by a central courtyard to provide light and air to the internal rooms: more than likely, rather than the Admiralty building described by Appian, it is an observation platform. Moreover, in the northern sector of the islet a structure with red terracotta and white marble mosaic tiles was discovered, interpreted as a bridge that linked the islet to the mainland. An analysis of the artifacts also demonstrated the presence of traces of metallurgical activity, perhaps pertinent to a phase in the naval yards concomitant with the construction of the ports.

In Roman times the circular port was included in the urban area in sectors XIV E and XV E: in the NE sector of the excavated area a many-roomed construction in opus Africanum, datable to the last quarter of the 1st century BC, was brought to light. Between the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD structures that do not seem to be linked to naval use in the area start to appear: in particular they suggest porticoes on the side facing the port. Even in Roman times the Ilot de l'Amirauté had a public function, although of a different nature: two edifices were built that have been interpreted as temples. Less information is available on the rectangular port although American and Tunisian excavations have brought to light a series of public structures of Roman times, connected by a street, superimposed over Punic levels, of which there are only a few traces of the wharf (Punic and Roman). On the side facing the sea, there are traces of the mighty city walls, recognizable by the Italian sea survey and coherent with the ruins found all along the coastal area.

Multi-disciplinary analyses

The surveys relating to the Cultural and Environmental Park of the Maalga and the area of the Punic Ports were jointly conducted by archaeologists, geophysicists, topographers, computer experts, urban planners, botanists. One of the first and most important steps of the archaeological analysis was the creation of a GIS that collected all the data and that was functional for the project. The database relating to the areas surveyed was inserted in the geographic information system. These had been georeferenced and related to the basic cartography as well as the satellite images, which in turn had been subjected to elaboration by the project’s cartography sector. The creation of databases relating to the bibliographical and archive material and their implementation turned out to be fundamental aspects for structuring subsequent field surveys, not to mention a constantly updated, open analysis system, comparable with information collected on the field.

The analysis of the documentation deriving from remote sensing (aerial photographs and satellite multi-spectral and panchromatic images) was certainly important. Based on models perfected by Centro Scavi, the filters applied made it possible to point out certain chromatic anomalies on the ground in question; of course these traces do not provide chronological or functional information, merely a generic indication of a different answer on the ground, in all probability an underlying anthropological presence. This is why it was important to include the information from the archaeological survey in the GIS, after having been georeferenced and related to the basic cartography and to the satellite images. The creation of a database relating to the survey was the outcome of an analysis of the experience accumulated by the archaeological study in the field (primarily the work of the Anglo-Saxon school), together with the specific needs of the project, which must combine historical data (required to properly reconstruct the area in question in ancient times) with the foreseen need to protect and exploit the area. Consequently, a survey “feature” was created, supported by appropriate graphic and photographic assistance in the field, that might be functional for the various requests in order to be interfaced, whether in whole or in part, to the computerized system for the definitive project.

The method used was a systematic field-walking in the landscape, which was uniformly monitored, proceeding by “natural” quadrants representing cultivated fields and the various features of the land. The team covered the area in parallel rows, at regular distances of 5 or 10 metres, according to the visibility and the condition of the surface, the presence of architectural protrusions of any archaeological interest, atmospheric visibility and the condition of the ground (all elements that were indicated in the appropriate survey cards), in order to provide a complete monitoring for each portion of the landscape.These independent portions, defined as “areas”, were catalogued on site and grouped to include all the environmental, topographical and archaeological data required for a subsequent elaboration in relation to history, to documentation by means of sketches and photographs and to positioning by means of palmar GPS (Garmin, GPS 45). Sectors with a higher level of archaeological interest within these areas, on the basis of the identification of a higher concentration of materials with respect to the average in that area, were identified and defined as “sites”. A detailed registration of all the documentation, according to the procedures described above, was duly conducted for these sites.

An additional positioning was conducted with a stationary GPS for the principal archaeological protrusions (in this case, in collaboration with the cartography section, Leica model SR-530, double frequency, geodetic-type GPS receivers were utilized, in order to obtain a more precise positioning). Moreover, a series of geophysical prospects were carried out with the magnetometer and with the georadar in conjunction with the traditional archaeological survey both in the area of the Maalga and in the area of the Punic Ports, which made it possible to identify anomalies readable as ancient structures. In one case (in the area of the Maalga near Boulevard de l’Environnement) the work conducted jointly by the archaeological and geophysical teams made it possible to identify materials and structures datable to the late ancient period of the city and the suburbs, in particular in one stretch of the Theodosian walls that are coherent with the ruins already discovered by the UNESCO missions.
All of the information obtained was correlated within the GIS to obtain maps for distribution, for archaeological risks or for interaction among the various archaeological and anthropological elements. It turned out to be a useful instrument not only for historical studies but also for the protection and exploitation of the landscape.

Archaeological survey

The initial survey phases aimed at correctly identifying the limits of the archaeological park that, according to the original cartography, did not appear within precise borders, primarily in the southwestern sector, where the recent construction of the Abidine mosque has considerably altered the morphology of the terrain. This appeared in scale at 25000, 5000 and 2000 used in aerial shots available from 1948-49, 1962, 1982, 1988 and from satellite images dated 2001, with the construction of a new roadbed which cut through the area to the south of Rue Roosevelt NNW-SSE, linking it to Boulevard de l’Environnement. The sector is particularly delicate due to the numerous anthropological events that took place in an area that is archaeologically at risk: in addition to a part of the so-called Theodosian Wall, preserved during the course of recent work in the area in front of the new mosque (acknowledged by the UNESCO project Italian mission as belonging to a tower on the side of the city gate that opened on to the Cardo Maximus) and also found slightly to the NNW of the area surveyed by the Italian mission in the 1970s, the entire side offers a high concentration of pottery shards, datable between Punic times and Roman-Imperial times, and a series of constructions that were initially identified as cisterns and structures for water.

The field survey produced a series of interesting areas, in which the internal, homogeneous concentration of material found, made it possible to surmise a more precise historical framework. The first area corresponded to the zone to the south of Rue Roosevelt and immediately above it, and it presented numerous structures that probably had to do with water (basins, cisterns, wells), which at this point of the research do not seem to have been organized in a unitary system as were the better known cisterns of the Maalga (although a planning similarity cannot be excluded), but they seem distributed throughout the territory and presumably linked to areas dedicated to farming located in the immediate vicinity. Abundant material was found in the sector, which a preliminary analysis determines as belonging to a period of time that goes from the Punic period to the late ancient period, most of it related to the early Roman phase and the middle-late one).

A second interesting area was identified to the extreme NE of Rue Roosevelt and covers the entire eastern part as well as a portion of the northern part: the pottery shards are fewer here but two Christian cult buildings (identifiable with the Basilica Maiorum and the Basilica Bir Ftouha) were found, partially excavated in past decades but not exploited at all. The western sector, parallel to Rue de la Marsa, also provides interesting research subjects for further study. The high concentration of Roman-Christian pottery shards in fact induces one to theorize the presence of burial grounds, nonetheless distributed in an area that is currently private property. The lower part of the sector relating to the group of monumental cisterns was found to be subject to many modern-day changes, due to the construction of the Phenix tourist-cultural complex and to the ongoing work to put the so-called Large Cisterns of the Maalga archaeological zone in order. The entire surrounding area was primarily dedicated to farming, given the presence of numerous cisterns, once again not belonging to a compact system such as that of the monumental cisterns, but presumably from the same period.

The settlements dating to Byzantine and medieval-Islamic periods are however more difficult to interpret: in fact no structures that can definitively be attributed to said periods are present and a preliminary examination of the material found, while surely pertaining to that timeframe, does not appear to be particularly significant.

Geophysical prospections

The activities of the geophysical group (coordinated by Dr. S. Piro of ITABC - CNR), envisaged in the project for the “Cultural and Environmental Park of the Maalga and Punic Ports - Carthage”, developed between 2003 and 2004, were divided in two main phases. The first phase centred on the calibration and integration of the geophysical methods to be used in the field, relative to the choice of the configuration of the Gradiometer Fluxgate FM36 (Geoscan), in order to execute the acquisitions in continuous time, as well as to the integration of the georadar instruments, for which certain systematic test trials were required in order to calibrate the units and the rest of the equipment composed of the SIR3000 and of the antennas with different frequencies. The second phase of the activities focused on the missions in the Park of the Maalga carried out for the purposes of evaluating the susceptibility of the areas to investigation with applied geophysical methods and of selecting certain sample areas for investigation with the Fluxgate differential magnetometer and with the georadar method (November 2003), intending during 2004 to carry out the full-fledged prospecting campaigns.

The area measured with the magnetometer method amounts to a total of approximately 3.5 hectares, for a total of 32,300 station points. The georadar images were concentrated in Areas 1 and 4, already investigated with the magnetometer differential method, broadening the surfaces in the area of the circular port, scouring nearly all the free surface and finally also a new area in front of the Abidine mosque. A total of 1,056 parallel profiles, with different lengths, covering the area selected, were taken into consideration. The surveys conducted in the Cultural and Environmental Park of the Maalga and Punic Ports – Carthage demonstrated the effectiveness of the high-resolution acquisitions carried out using the Fluxgate differential magnetometer system and the georadar in localizing structures still present beneath the surface. Moreover, the maps obtained from the time-slices of the georadar reflections made it possible to follow the development, as the depths increased, of these structures and to reconstruct their reciprocal geometric correlation. As previously demonstrated, this provided a total vision, both horizontally (i.e. planimetrically) and vertically (as the depths increased), of the structures in question and therefore provided useful indications for the archaeologists, prior to planning further direct surveys.

Project partners

Coordinator: Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino per il Medio Oriente e l’Asia
Partners: Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MAE), Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MBAC), Ministry of the Treasury, Parco dell’Appia Antica, National Council of Research, Institute of Technologies applied to the Cultural Heritage (CNR-ITABC), Institut National du Patrimoine de Tunis (INP).

The following contributed to the project:

Archaeological sector:
Giorgio Gullini, archaeologist
Elisa Panero, archaeologist
Francesca Colosi, archaeologist
Elisa Lanza, archaeologist
Deborah Rocchietti, archaeologist
Mohamed Abid, archaeologist
Moez Achour, archaeologist
Hamdane Ben Ramdhane, archaeologist
Souhmaia Gharshallah, archaeologist
Ali Mansouri, archaeologist
Chokri Touiri, archaeologist.

Underwater-Archaeological sector:
Claudio Mocchegiani Carpano, archaeologist
Nicola Severino, archaeologist
Luca Mocchegiani Carpano, archaeologist

Geophysical sector:
Salvatore Piro, geophysicist
Daniele Verrecchia, geophysicist.

Topographical sector:
Carlo Alberto Birocco, topographer
Paola Martinotti

Economic research:
Benedetta Stratta, economist
Francesco Palumbo, economist
Marcello Minuti, economist

Computer technology:
Andrea Bonamico, geologist

Urban landscape sector:
Giancarlo Paoletti, architect
Ilaria Ciocca, architect
Simona Messina, architect
Francesco Attorre, botanist