Lambaesis once served as the capital of Roman Numidia and was, for a long time, the partner and sometime rival of nearby Timgad. Yet the site has disappeared from most itineraries and, if seen by visitors at all, it is usually glimpsed from the window of a car or bus as they shuttle between Batna and Timgad. A shame because this is a quiet, melancholic site that in the spring is ablaze in wild flowers.
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. 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 a nearby prison which is still in use today.
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 facade 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, the nearest village, 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, and take in Timgad at the same time, taking lunch with you to share with the ghosts of Roman legionnaires.