15 April 2013

The ruins of Utica

As with any visit to the ruins of an archaeological site it helps if one has read up about the history of the place prior to visiting it.  It also helps to use one's imagination. 
The ruins of Utica are located 30 km southeast of the modern day town of Bizerte.  Coordinates: 37°03′23.5″N 10°03′44.13″E .  The Wikipedia entry wrongly states that the site of the original Utica no longer exists.  It does indeed exist and here it is in the photographs below.  What is incredible about this site is that this it used to be on the coast and Utica used to be a major port town.  However, the gradual silting of the Medjerda River over the ages has meant that Utica is now inland by about 37km if my memory serves me correctly.
There is a good museum with archaeological artefacts excavated from Utica about 800m before the actual site of the ruins.  I expect the reason why the museum could not be located any nearer to the archaeological site is perhaps due to the fact that this site is spread across a very large area.  I came across this useful link in English describing the Museum of Utica, here it is for your information:

Utica is an ancient city northwest of Carthage near the outflow of the Medjerda River into the Mediterranean Sea, traditionally considered to be the first colony founded by the Phoenicians in North Africa.  Utica was founded as a port located on the trade route leading to the Straits of Gibraltar and the Atlantic, thus facilitating Phoenician trade in the Mediterranean. 

The actual founding date of Utica is controversial. Several classical authors date its foundation around 1100 BC. The archaeological evidence, however, suggests a foundation no earlier than the eighth century BC. Although Carthage was later founded about 40 km. from Utica, records suggest “that until 540 BC Utica was still maintaining political and economic autonomy in relation to its powerful Carthaginian neighbor”.  By the fourth century BC, Utica came under Punic control but continued to exist as a privileged ally of Carthage.

The site of the ruins of Utica is set on a low hill, composed of several Roman villas. Their walls still preserve decorative floor mosaics. To the northwest of these villas is a Punic necropolis, with Punic sarcophagi 20 feet (6meters) below the Roman level.  

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