The site of Timgad in Algeria is one of the best-preserved Roman ruins. It has been so well preserved that many travelers have called it the ‘Algerian Pompeii” in a reference to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii which was destroyed in 79 AD due to the eruption of a volcano in Mount Vesuvius nearby. However, once the hot lava cooled, it showed remarkably well-preserved structures which had been formed as a result of people, animals as well as buildings being caught in the molten ash
Roman Urban Planning
Timgad, also known as Thamugadi was a Roman military colony situated in northeastern Algeria’s Aures Mountains. Its full Roman / Latin name was Colonia Marciana Ulpia Traiana Thamugadi. Timgad was founded by the Roman emperor Trajan in about 100 AD. Its name was probably meant to honor the emperor’s mother, Marcia, his eldest sister, Ulpia Marciana, and his father, Marcus Ulpius Traianus. The city was in all probability first built as an encampment for the 3rd Augustan Legion (Legio III Augusta). Timgad is said to have been built ex nihilio, i.e., ‘out of nothing’. As a result, it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Roman urban planning. Its plan was designed as a perfect square that was bifurcated by two major streets which were situated perpendicular to one another. The street running from the north to the south was known as the cardo, while the street running from the east to the west was known as the decumanus. The cardo ran only to the center of the city rather than the entire length. The cardo reached the forum which was located at the center of the city.
Timgad was a walled city accessible from one of its four gates, where each gate was built for one of the four directions viz. north, south, east, and west. On the western side of the city where its urban sprawl had spread beyond its original limits, the gate was replaced by a triumphal arch known as Trajan’s Arch. The arch stood at the end of the decamanus which connected the old and new areas of the city. It is regarded as one of the best remains in the city. The road leading from the arch to the new area of Timgad was decorated with columns and its central section was constructed specifically for chariots to use while pedestrians walked on either side. Timgad also contained various structures that were typically found in Roman settlements. One example of this was the forum, which was used as a public square as well as a place for buying and selling goods. It was also used as a place for various social gatherings.
The city’s theater was situated to its south. It was the place where public performances were held. It was built during the 160s by cutting into the side of a hill. It had a seating capacity of 3500 despite being smaller than other theaters in the Roman Empire. Another characteristic feature of Roman town planning can be seen in Timgad’s baths of which 14 have survived and one is situated at the northern end of the cardo. The baths were situated at the left side of the cardo and were probably used by tired travelers who entered the city from that direction.
The end of Timgad
Around a hundred of the houses of Timgad have been excavated by archaeologists over the past few decades. This has caused a lot of information to be known about the people of the city during the Roman era. Among the most interesting of the houses studied is the one which is situated next to the baths at the northern end of the cardo. The archaeologists found that the house had been converted to a Christian chapel sometime later in history. Timgad was destroyed at the end of the 5th century by indigenous tribes from the Aures Mountains. Though the city was revived to some extent by the Byzantine Empire when it occupied the city in the 6th century, Timgad was abandoned after the 8th century after the invasion of the Arabs.