Named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Dougga illustrates the synthesis of local and Mediterranean cultures that have left their mark on the ancient city throughout the ages.
Burial sites in the southern quarter of the site indicate that Dougga was founded during the Neolithic era (2000 BC).
The choice of the site was appropriate. It’s easily defensible against outside attack with its steep slopes and high cliffs as well as ideal for human settlement with fertile lands for agriculture and plenty of raw materials nearby for industry.
In the 4th century BC, the Greeks of Sicily led by Agathocles decided to fight the Carthaginians in their own territory. The city of Toccai was taken by Greeks in the campaign according to historical records and has been identified by modern-day scholars as Thugga, the ancient name of Dougga,
In 202 BC, capitalizing upon the weakness of Carthage at the end of the Second Punic War, the Numidians took control of Thugga, which became the capital of their kingdom, according to some historians. The Numidian Kingdom extended from northwestern Tunisia across northern Algeria. Under the reign of Massinissa (202-148 BC) and his son Micipa, Thugga witnessed a golden age in which the arts flourished.
Furthermore, this period in Thugga’s history has provided a significant collection of epigraphic and archaeological insight to the way of life at that time. In fact, it has provided the most ancient Lybic inscriptions known to date.
The mausoleum of Dougga, in the southern edge of the site, is the only intact structure that displays official Numidian architecture
One century later, Thugga was conquered by the Romans, and the Roman province of “Africa Proconsularis” annexed the Numidian city. During Roman times, the city was composed of two districts – one for local inhabitants and another for Roman settlers. The Roman influence swiftly made an impact on the nature of the town, but the original layout inherited from the Numidian kingdom remained unchanged.
Local inhabitants assimilated Roman deities into their worship. For example, the Roman temples of Saturn and Caellestis were built over the ruins of previous temples to local deities – Baal and Tanit – respectively. Both of these Roman temples are found outside the cities’ walls while those of other major Roman deities are in the center of the city.
Monuments were erected as displays of Dougga’s loyalty to Rome, and the remnants of ancient Roman structures are testimony to the city’s golden age in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Dougga’s theater, which is the best preserved in all of Tunisia, was built under the reign of the Antonian dynasty in the 2nd century. The Capitol, or the Temple of Jupiter, occupied the center of the city as a sign of Roman unity. The worship of Jupiter was the official religion at the time, and it was incumbent upon any respectful citizen to make sacrifices there.
Under the reign of the Severan emperors (193-235 AD) Thugga became a Municipium, a Roman city ruled by its own citizens, and even achieved the status of a colony in which all citizens were granted Roman citizenship.
When the Byzantines took over the administration of the city in the sixth century, they channeled enormous effort to fortify the city. Many stone blocks were removed from their original structures to be inserted in huge walls that would enclose the forum and the temple of Jupiter. Latin inscription can be found on these Byzantine walls.
Like the rest of the Roman cities in the province, Thugga declined with the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. Despite this decadence, it remained inhabited, and archaeologists have discovered ceramics and potteries from the 11th century. A small mosque, built a few centuries ago, rests on the eastern side of a pagan temple.
An old tradition with pagan origins survived the arrival of Islam and continues to this day. It’s the Lalla Mokhola along the ruins of Dougga’s Ain el-Hammam cisterns. Curious visitors can discover whitewashed walls bearing handprints, henna, the remains of burnt out candles, and brownish traces of dried blood from a chicken sacrificed to Lalla Mokhola, the Mistress and patron saint of the inhabitants. Lalla Mokhola was a lady, who arrived to the city in time immemorial. When she wanted to depart, she was obliged to stay by Dougga’s residents due to the prodigious, mystical powers she possessed.
At the end of the spring, a Zarda- a celebration involving sacrifice – is organized. The inhabitants collect money to buy a white ox
|A Local Paying Respects in the modern-day Shrine to Lalla Mokhola|
The procession of Lalla Mokhola is a legacy of the Roman cult to the water spring. A Roman aqueduct, built in 184 AD, brought its water supply to the city. This cult is even mentioned in Latin inscriptions found near the aqueduct.
In 1960, a new village was built to shelter the inhabitants, who used to live amidst the ruins of the ancient city. It’s located on the road that links Tunis to el-Kef (GP5) and known as New Dougga