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10 Beautiful Roman Ruins Outside Europe
When we usually hear about Roman ruins, the city of Pompeii comes to mind, along with the various works left over by the Romans that are in Italy and the rest of Europe. Many hardly think about the rest of the world and the beautifully preserved cities of the long-dead empire that still stand today.
10. Djémila, Algeria
Formerly known as Cuicul, Djémila is undeniably one of the best Roman cities we can see in the modern day. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1982, Djémila’s sights include two arches, a forum, a theater, ramparts, and several religious buildings with temples and churches among them. At first a simple defensive town it grew into a larger establishment over time.
What makes Djémila such a fascinating work of Roman architecture is its geography; situated in a mountainous, rocky region, yet still yielding to the basic formula that every Roman city follows, it’s a testament to what lengths the ancients would do to make the earth bend to their will. Well-preserved even for ruins, Djémila is a hidden jewel in the mountains of Algeria.
9. Volubilis, Morocco
Another UNESCO World Heritage site, Volubilis was first a Phoenician city. However it ended up falling to Carthage before finally coming under Roman rule. Soon afterwards the city bloomed with prosperity due to the fertility of the region that allowed it to grown valuable crops such as olives to produce olive oil and grain to export flour to Rome.
Wealthy citizens came from all over and the remains of their wealth are still visible today, particularly in the mosaic floors that cover the city. The beauty is on the ground as well as in temple ruins, the triumphal arch, and the basilica all around.
8. Beit She’an, Israel
A city with an already rich history long before the Romans came along, nonetheless what lingers in Beit She’an today is mostly Roman. Occupied by many different people before the Romans, it was eventually captured by them and ended up becoming a great city and the capital of the Decapolis that was present in the area at the time. Since the Roman government wanted their own culture to be spread across its empire they encouraged the growth of the city while planning it out to their usual grid style that is seen in all Roman cities across the world.
Some of the buildings that have been uncovered include the largest public bath house ever found in Israel, a theater that is still in use today, a temple, streets lined with columns, a decorated fountain building that is commonly known as a nymphaeum, and a magnificent mosaic structure. A basilica marks where the center of the city used to be, wonderfully preserved throughout the centuries.
7. Sbeitla, Tunisia
Not much is known about Sbeitla before the Romans came along, the earliest human traces found there date back to Numidians and after they fell the region was mostly inhabited by nomads. There are no traces of urban life that are not Roman and when they built the basis of the city as a garrison they were the first to have ever made it into a large city. Emperor Vespasian pacified the region after a revolt of the Berbers, then the city was allowed to grow and truly shine.
The land was perfect for olives and Sbeitla quickly found its riches there, growing crops of olives and becoming a prosperous trading town from it. Because of this money Sbeitla was able to finance a number of gorgeous buildings and a large forum which had temples dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, the very same deities worshipped on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. Four public baths and a triumphal arch dedicated to Diocletian have also been found, some of the more well-preserved parts of the city.
6. Jerash, Jordan
Known as one of the most well-preserved Roman ruins outside of Italy itself, Jerash has an impressive amount of architecture to see. One of the cities in the famous Decapolis, Jerash was conquered by Alexander the Great and allowed to sit in peace for a couple of centuries before it came under Roman rule when the province of Syria annexed it. The city gradually grew in wealth, particularly after it was declared one of the cities of the Decapolis, but during the first century CE it began to rise even faster. This was because of Emperor Trajan ordering the construction of roads throughout the province , connecting it with the newly-acquired Arabia that brought an explosion of trade to the city.
Soon after the next emperor, Hadrian, visited the city itself during his travels, an event that was celebrated with the construction of an arch that is still visible even today. This was the height of Jerash’s golden times, for it soon declined during the third century CE and kept declining until it was completely abandoned by the 12th century.
5. Leptis Magna, Libya
A simply gorgeous city on the Libyan coast, Leptis Magna is another city famous for its incredibly preserved ruins. Some of the ruins are not even Roman, but date back to the Phoenician period when the city was first founded. History is prominent everywhere, from the Phoenician to Carthaginian to Roman ruins, all of it hinting at a vast and rich culture that spanned centuries before its fall. When being annexed by Rome it allowed to grow as it pleased, and from its strategic position as a natural harbor it became a center of trade.
The city’s popularity came into full force when a native born from it, a man by the name of Septimus Serverus, became emperor. He made himself a patron of the city and declared Leptis Magna a city with full rights of Roman citizenship, and under his guidance it was expanded upon and renovated into a sprawling urban center that did not decline until two centuries later. Today many of its buildings still stand and it is now considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
4. Ba’albek, Lebanon
In the times of Rome, this ancient city was known as Heliopolis, which translates to “City of the Sun” in Greek. Already it was filled a rich culture as it was a center of worship of the god Baal, whom the Greeks and Romans associated with Zeus and Jupiter, respectively. True Roman influence began in 15 BCE when the great Temple of Jupiter was constructed, following a long tradition of enormous temples throughout the city. Most of the ruins that can be seen today are, in fact, remains of temples, although traces of something much older can be seen.
Ba’albek is famous for the megaliths throughout the area, used as foundations for some of the temples. The largest stone block ever carved has been found here, weighing at a massive 1,650 tons, while others around it are about 1,000 tons. Archaeologists have been puzzled by these stones for years and the mystery of the ancient city is only deepened by their presence. The unusually large stones, along with the enormous architecture that is built upon them, make Ba’albek one of the most interesting Roman sites in the entire world, not just one that isn’t in Europe.
3. Sabratha, Libya
One of Libya’s most beautiful sights to visit, Sabratha is an exceptionally well-preserved coastal town famous for its large theater that is still mostly intact and one of the main attractions of the city. Originally a Carthaginian trading port, the Romans transformed it into a large city of trade and built many of the monuments that can still be seen today. The forum and theater are two of the splendid relics of the ancient times while a number of temples and mosaics are not to be ignored, either. Temples to Isis and Serapis and Liber Pater are the most prominent ones that exist, along with the ruins of others.
Villas and baths also are scattered across the area, including a basilica where the poet Lucius Apuleius (author of The Golden Ass) had to defend himself from accusations of black magic and was eventually acquitted.
2. Sala Colonia, Morocco
Built upon ancient Phoenician and Carthaginian settlements, Sala Colonia is known as one of the oldest human settlements in Morocco, although as of today only the Roman ruins can really be seen. An important port city, Sala Colonia is located upon a main east-west oriented road known as a Decamus Maximus, which connected the Romans to the Atlantic and other cities of the province to Sala Colonia.
Overgrown with fruit trees and converted into a garden among the ruins for tourist attraction, today Sala Colonia is a wonderful sight even when surrounded by the old remains of a great empire. The Arch of Triumph is still present along with a temple to Jupiter and a forum, even a display of sewers and pipes that is a clear example of how water was supplied and waste controlled in ancient Roman times.
1. Bulla Regia, Tunisia
This site in Tunisia holds one of the most distinct attractions among all of the other Roman ruins across the world; Roman houses that are built only partially above ground, while the rest is under the cool earth below. This was done to escape the hot summer heat, and during the winter months the portion of the house warmed by the sun could be inhabited. The greatest of these buildings is known as the House of the Hunt, considered the main attraction of the city.
Formerly the capital of a small Numidian kingdom, Bulla Regis is filled with splendid mosaics that rival any found in North Africa to date. Some of these mosaics have been moved to a museum, but it is much more satisfying to see the ones that are still in place, especially the ones in the great bath house that still stands in the city. It is the other great attraction of the site, where the colorful floors and tiles can be viewed as they were originally meant to be so many centuries ago.