History

Inside Timgad, The Roman Ruins That Were Buried In Algeria's Desert For 1,000 Years

inside timgad, the roman ruins that were buried in algeria’s desert for 1,000 years
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Explore the lost Roman city on the edge of the Sahara Desert in Northern Africa that remained hidden beneath the sand for a thousand years.

It's not often that an entire city vanishes, but the Roman outpost of Thamugadi did.

Before Algeria's desert sand buried it, Thamugadi, also called Timgad, was a thriving colony of the Roman Empire in Africa.

But after the city's invasion in the 700s, leading to the fall of the Roman Empire, Timgad was abandoned and forgotten.

It wasn't until 1,000 years later that the Scottish explorer James Bruce discovered its ruins in 1765.

inside timgad, the roman ruins that were buried in algeria's desert for 1,000 years

The desert sand preserved the ancient city so well that some visitors call the ruins the Algerian Pompeii.

A Roman City in Africa

The Roman Empire territory stretched beyond Europe and all the way to the heart of Africa. And Timgad was one of its vast colonial cities.

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Emperor Trajan, who ruled between 98 AD and 117 AD, built the city in modern-day Algeria around 100 AD.

He built the city as Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi in memory of his mother Marcia, eldest sister Ulpia Marciana, and father, Marcus Ulpius Traianus.

inside timgad, the roman ruins that were buried in algeria's desert for 1,000 years

Timgad's construction also served two purposes. First, the city housed veterans of Trajan's mighty armed forces.

And second, it functioned as a show of Roman power against the Indigenous Berber tribes that populated northern and western Africa.

After its construction, the city quickly became a thriving center of commerce and trade. And its residents enjoyed peace and prosperity for about 400 years.

However, the peace didn't last for long. Timgad's good fortune took a turn from the year 430 after vandals invaded the city. This led to economic instability.

The city also struggled with mismanagement, lack of an independent army, and later loss of territory.

Afterward, the city collapsed, and people abandoned it.

Timgad's Urban Planning

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The ancient Roman city boasted a number of temples and bathhouses.

It also had various residences for different classes of society, a forum area, a public library, markets, a theatre and a basilica.

inside timgad, the roman ruins that were buried in algeria's desert for 1,000 years

Before the emperor Trajan built the city, there was no previous settlement on the grounds. So, they built it from scratch using the Roman grid system.

It had a perfectly square shape, with many major intersections inside the city that allowed traffic to flow smoothly.

Like all Roman cities, the street that ran north to south in Timgad was called the cardo, while the street that ran east to west, decumanus.

Unlike other Roman cities, however, Timgad's cardo didn't cross through the entire city. Instead, it ended at Timgad's center, at its forum.

Like in other Roman cities, the forum area was a public square where residents traded goods and public gatherings were held.

Not far to the south of the forum was Timgad's theater.

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inside timgad, the roman ruins that were buried in algeria's desert for 1,000 years

The Romans built this theatre around 160 AD and it could hold about 350 people for each performance.

The theatre appears to have been cut directly from a nearby hill, and it remains largely intact to this day.

More than two thousand years later, Timgad stands as one of the world's most remarkable archaeological sites.

Timgad Excavation

After Byzantines conquered Timgard in the 6th century, they revived it as a Christian city.

However, Berbers sacked it in the 7th century, and residents abandoned it again.

Soon afterward, the Sahara Desert moved in, burying the city in sand.

1,000 years later, two explorers came upon the site while traveling through North Africa.

The team was led by James Bruce, a Scottish nobleman who served as the British consul in Algiers in 1763.

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Bruce and his friend, Luigi Balugani, reached the site of Timgad on Dec. 12, 1765. They were the first Europeans to visit the site.

Based on what he knew about North African history, Bruce was confident that they had found Emperor Trajan's long-lost city.

However, when Bruce returned to London to share his incredible find, nobody believed him.

He then left for Scotland and spent his retirement writing about his travels in Africa and his Timgard discovery.

Soon, Bruce's notes turned into a five-volume book titled Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile, published in 1790.

A century later, Robert Lambert Playfair, a British consul to Algiers in 1875, retraced Bruce's steps in North Africa.

And he found Timgad just as Bruce had explained.

Playfair's confirmation of Timgad's existence led to the excavations of the city. And in 1982, UNESCO designated the city as a World Heritage Site.

Many Timgad ruins still stand today.