Ammaedara

Archaeological Site in Central Tunisia

Image by Lauren Keith Lonely Planet

The remote border village of Haidra is the site of ancient Ammaedara, once a Roman legionary outpost. It’s a wonderfully evocative place, and the atmosphere is especially magical as the sun slowly sets behind the mountains of Algeria to the west, bathing the site in a rich orange glow. Ammaedara, still not fully excavated, is haphazardly strewn with stone blocks, and shepherds graze their sheep among the ruins.

Plans to turn the former French customs house from 1886 on the main road into an archaeological museum have been in the works for years, but are yet to materialise because of a lack of funds, but you can park your car near the entrance and start your exploration here.

Although the site is dotted with the ruins of numerous small churches, the only one that warrants serious inspection is the partially reconstructed Basilica of Melleus, just west of the customs house. Two rows of columns, some made from Chemtou marble, separate the nave from the aisles, ending in a rounded apse. Originally built in the 4th century, the church was later expanded by the Byzantines. Under foot, jagged inscriptions with crosses mark 6th-century gravestones.

Ammaedara's most interesting remnant is the enormous 10m-high walled outline of the Byzantine fort, built in AD 550, the largest in North Africa. It straddles the partially excavated old Roman road and extends down to the banks of river. The ruins of an earlier Roman temple are incorporated into the southwestern corner.

Along the main road, the principal Roman monument is the extremely well-preserved Arch of Septimius Severus. It was built in AD 195 and remains in good condition because it was protected for centuries by a surrounding Byzantine wall. About 300m south of here, the mausoleum, with its portico, stands silhouetted on a small rise overlooking the river.

There's no signage whatsoever. If you want a tour or more information, get in touch with the Friends of Haidra Association (www.facebook.com/Omaidra).

The P4 road from Kalaat Khasba passes through the middle of the site, which is not enclosed and can be visited at any time. Admission is free, but the custodian, if there is one, might request a tip. You need your own transport to get to Haidra, which can be done as a day trip from Le Kef.

The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office advises against all but essential travel to this area because of its proximity to the border with Algeria.

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