Chemtou/Simitthus: Tuniso-German excavations in the Numidian and Roman town Simitthus and the quarries of the 'Marmor Numidicum'.
The quarries of the famous yellow Numidian marble (giallo antico) are to be found in the north-west of Tunisia near the Algerian border at the banks of the river Medjerda. In the 5th century BC a Numidian settlement was founded at this place and became later the Roman colony Simitthus. The quarries, the ruins of the ancient town and the new museum are easily accesssible by a good road from the provincial capital Jendouba (National Road 17 (Jendouba - Tabarka) to crossing with Road 59 (Bulla Regia - Thuburnica), then westbound via Aïn Ksir, approximately 16 kms).
The golden marble of Chimtou was first quarried under Numidian King Micipsa (149 to 118 B.C.). Under Roman rule, the marble served as decoration in public buildings all over the empire, especially in Rome itself. The massive Roman exploitation is responsible for the marvellous scenery offered by the golden Chimtou marble cliffs.
From 1965 to 1996 the Tunisian Institute of National Heritage (INP) and the Rome Section of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) set up a programme of research for the ancient quarries and the site of Chimtou. The projec at Chemtou, directed by Friedrich Rakob, focused on the quarries, the Numidian sanctuary at the top of the mountain, the temples of the Dii Mauri and of Caelestis, the Roman forum, Numdian funeral monuments (bazinas) under the forum, and the camp for soldiers, slave-labourers and the imperial adminstration of the quarries which was later transformed to a fabrica for the serial production of marble objects. Other sub-projects studied the Roman brigde over the Madjerda river, the largest bridge in Roman Africa, a turbine-powered mill and the Roman aquaeduct. The new museum of Chemtou opened its gates in 2000. In 2008, the German Archaeological Institute at Rome started a new initiative for the publication of the unpublished results of the excavations 19965-1996.
Research and publication of a) a late Roman hoard of golden solidi found during the construction of the museum, b) the Roman bridge, c) bones from the different excavations and d) the Numdian funeral monuments (bazinas) found under the Roman forum.
In course of the investigation of the quarries, a Numidian sanctuary in Hellenistic style was discovered. It was built in the 2nd. cent. B.C.E. on the Sacred Hill of Chimtou. Its reconstructed Eastern façade forms the central monument displayed in the Chimtou Museum.
In course of excavation in the quarry area, the foundations of a Numidian monument were discovered. Around the hill two pagan temples and the remnants of a 5th cent. Christian church were found.
Most important excavation result was a set of buildings North of the marble hills, a Roman quarry service camp. At its center were six halls of a prison for forced labourers, to the East the quarters of the military watchmen, to the West a complex for the imperial administration of the quarries.
The marble hills of Chimtou are surrounded by the site of ancient Simitthus. The joint Tunisian German excavations there found a cemetery dating from before 400 to 1st cent. B.C. underneath the Roman forum. The graves were preserved and partly reconstructed. The forum itself presents its hillside boutiques and, towards the riverside, a forum basilica and remains of a fountain.
Furthermore, remains of many buildings customary to a Roman city still exist. The rests of a small amphitheatre, a theatre , the forum basilica, another three nave basilica and the city baths still stand above ground.
The water supply of Roman Chimtou was part of the Tunisian German research programme. The aquaeduct drew its water from a small stream dam in the hills to the North. It was 14 kms long. About 2,5 kms before its end it ran through a large subterranean reservoir, which is still fairly well preserved. Towards the town end it rose into a fully bridged aquaeduct ending near the public baths. Many of its arches are still visible.
A cooperation of the Tunisian Institute of National Heritage (INP) and the Rome Section of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).
F. Rakob (Hrsg), Simitthus I. Die Steinbrüche und die antike Stadt (Mainz 1993); Simitthus II. Der Tempelberg und das römische Lager (Mainz 1994) [mit Bibliographie]; M. Mackensen, Militärlager oder Marmorwerkstätten : neue Untersuchungen im Ostbereich des Arbeits- und Steinbruchlagers von Simitthus. Simitthus III (Mainz 2005). - F. Rakob, Chemtou - Aus der römischen Arbeitswelt, Antike Welt 18, 1997, 1 ff.- M. Mackensen, Erster Bericht über neue archäologische Untersuchungen im sog. Arbeits- und Steinbruchlager von Simitthus/Chemtou (Nordwesttunesien), Römische Mitteilungen 107, 2000, 487-503.