Lonely Planet review
The road from Batna towards Timgad and Khenchela makes a slight detour around the modern village of Tazoult, infamous as the location of a high-security prison, the latest incarnation of a penitentiary built by the French in 1855. But military presence here goes back much further than the French because all around (and beneath) Tazoult lie the remains of a settlement that once served as the capital of Roman Numidia and was, for a long time, the partner and sometime rival of nearby Timgad. Lambaesis has disappeared from most itineraries and, if seen at all by visitors, it is usually glimpsed from the window of a car or bus as they shuttle between Batna and Timgad. There was a small army post at Lambaesis around AD 81, manned by detachments from the Third Legion, properly called Legion III Augusta. Although the legion built a colony at nearby Timgad in AD 100, it built its main military base here in the late 120s, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian. The legion was the only Roman force stationed in Numidia at the time, made up of some 5000 men, all Roman citizens, and their local support teams. The Emperor Septimus Severus gave the legion the title, ‘Faithful Avenger’. The base at Lambaesis had two functions: the legion had responsibility for maintaining the Pax Romana along the Saharan fringe, from Numidia (southern Algeria) across what is now Tunisia and southern Libya, and it was expected to control traffic and collect tax along the important trade route. Lambaesis consisted of a military camp – not unlike a modern military base, with barracks, armoury, hospital and so on – surrounded by a wall and watchtowers, and civilian camps outside the perimeter. The most visible remains of the camp is the four-sided arch, often called the praetorium, erected in 268. This massive, two-storey limestone structure, which is 23m by 30m, stood in front of the ancient parade ground and is now less than 100m from the prison. The amphitheatre, due east a couple of hundred metres, was built in AD 169 and could hold up to 12,000 spectators. It was quarried by the French to build the prison. The remains of the town that built up around the military camp are spread over a considerable distance. Northeast of the amphitheatre lies a large cemetery; archaeologists were able to piece together some of the camp’s history from the inscriptions they found. South of here, at the edge of the modern village, the remains of an arch dedicated to Septimus Severus mark the beginning of the ancient town. Beyond are the ruins of baths and a temple to Asclepius, the god of healing, of which only some stones and fragments are standing; the temple was yet another victim of quarrying – in the 19th century, the entire façade was intact. The nearby capitol, dedicated as ever to the trinity of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, is recognisable by its pedestal and surviving sections of walls and columns, with others laid out in front of it. Lambèse-Tazoult is a little over 10km from Batna. Buses run to the village of Tazoult from Batna. The best way to visit is to drive, or arrange a taxi (count on DA1000 to DA1500 for the return ride, depending on how long you spend there), and take in Timgad, taking lunch with you to share with the ghosts of Roman legionnaires.