Morocco // Tangier, Tetouan and the northwest //

The site

A visitor’s centre was being constructed at the time of writing but currently the site is not effectively enclosed and therefore always open and accessible. A notice by the roadside at the entrance explains the site with a useful map board. The Lower Town, spreading back from the modern road, consists largely of the ruins of factories for the production of salt – still being panned nearby – and garum fish sauce. The factories seem to have been developed in the early years of the first century AD and they remained in operation until the Roman withdrawal.

A track, some 100m down the road to Tangier, leads up to the Acropolis (upper town), passing on its way eight rows of the Roman theatre and amphitheatre, unusually combined into a single structure. Its deep, circular arena was adapted for circus games and the gladiatorial slaughter of animals. Morocco, which Herodotus knew as “the wild-beast country”, was the major source for these Roman venations (controlled hunts), and local colonists must have grown rich from the trade. Until 1998, the baths built into the side of the theatre featured a remarkable mosaic depicting Neptune’s head on the body of a lobster; unfortunately, the mosaic was irreparably damaged when the gardien’s son tried to dig it up to sell, and just about a third of it remains.

Climbing above the baths and theatre, you pass through ramparts to the main fortifications of the Acropolis – a somewhat confused network of walls and foundations – and temple sanctuaries, including an early Christian basilica and a number of pre-Roman buildings. The most considerable of the sanctuaries, with their underground cisterns and porticoed priests’ quarters, were apparently rebuilt in the first century AD, but even then retained Phoenician elements in their design.

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