Needless to introduce Ancient Romans. Italy is one of the most want-to-visit places for travelers and tourists. People have always been tempted to visit the indelible traces of this ambitious empire that once acquired half the size of modern Europe. But, on the other side of the Mediterranean, there are hidden roman ruins that are less trodden but absolutely worth the visit. 


Tunisia was deemed Africa for the ancient Romans, and it was the breadbasket of the empire throughout the centuries. In modern-day Tunisia, there are some intact ruins and ancient cities scattered throughout the country. Today, we’re walking you through one of our favorite remnant of Rome: the water temple in Zaghouan. 


Known under the name Zaghouan - Carthage aqueduct, the water temple served as an innovative and effective solution to transport water from Zaghouan to Carthage. 


Zaghouan: The only surviving water temple 

The Ain, or Spring 


The Ain, or spring, in zaghouan-carthage aqueduct has a funny story, as it comes as a result of a mistake made when building the level of the temple. But after centuries, this mistake helped experts to know the ins and outs of the temple and the nature of the Zaghouan massif. 


Indeed, as the massif rises above the surrounding plains, the clouds are keen on clinging easily to the slopes. This way, the rains are relatively important on the sides of the Jebel (mountain).


The massif has a particular geology where limestones are traced back to the Jurassic, meaning  to 201.4 million years ago. Every geology enthusiast (and other related science branches)  will enjoy being here, contemplating every rock and chasm. 


You can see the spring at the water temple as the water is about 17m under the plate. 


The Water Temple 


Stretching back to the era of the emperor Hadrian, the construction of a temple started off to be continued for a few decades till reaching the level of the main spring. 


zaghouan temple


A few years ago, a restoration program has been initiated, resulting in reestablishing this monument as a main attraction for people to visit while they are in Zaghouan or wanting to go for a day trip from Tunis. To be fair, the water temple has always been well-preserved. 


The only missing part in the whole temple is the statues that once served as a decoration and now are displayed at the Bardo Museum. 


In the Water Temple of Zaghouan, there are two components: the Small Temple and the Great Basin. Both were believed to be built in order to house Ziqua, Zaghouan's ancestorwater ,'s source.


The good news is: they are both still almost entirely intact.


The Zaghouan-Carthage Aqueduct


The history of the  Zaghouan-Carthage Aqueduct


The Zaghouan-Carthage aqueduct is a hydraulic complex labeled as one of the most magnificent works of architecture. The aqueduct illustrates the creative genius of humans by both its vastness and the variety of its parts. 


zaghouan water temple


Unfortunately, there is little to nothing proof of when it was built due to the scarcity of literary or epigraphic references. But, the date is believed to be around the middle of the second century AD, as numerous hints point to the emperor Hadrian as the project's instigator.


It’s still functional till today


The National Water Company, aka SONEDE, continues to use it on extremely long stretches now, as it has done for millennia. Don’t forget that it was initially constructed with the intention of supplying water to Carthage. 


The Miliane wadi plain and the depression of Manouba comprise 17 km of the aqueduct's total length, which includes the main branch running from Zaghouan to Carthage (90,431 km), to which we must also add the most upstream branch, known as A'n Jouggar, which is just over 40 km long.


The Longest Roman aqueducts that are known to exist


The main branch runs from Zaghouan to Carthage. Thus, of the Roman aqueducts that are known to exist, it is the longest. The aqueduct, which was restored in the 10th century and given a diversion to Tunis in the 13th century, to carry water to specific portions of the city, has undergone several repairs and additions throughout history.


zaghouan roman ruins


One of these branches is the Bardo’s which still spans Tunis today on extremely tall arches.  But, Its upkeep was neglected after the Hafsides. On the recommendation of the French consul at the time, Sadok Bey had it repaired in 1852 with the aid of French engineers.



Where to Go near Zaghouan? 


Nearby Berber Villages: Zriba, Jradou & Takrouna



When crossing Zaghouan and Enfidha and contemplating the vanishment of the Altas group into the vast Sahel of Tunisia, there are a few lone mountains to discover. The communities of Takrouna, Jradou, and Zriba cling to mountainous peaks.


If you swear by oral tradition, then these three settlements have a shared past. According to legend, three brothers from the Ben Guiga clan of Morocco arrived in the area and each chose a steep hilltop to establish a hamlet atop. 



Like many of the berber villages, these three hilltop villages were built to serve a defensive function. Many decades ago, the region of Zaghouan, where the water temple is located, served as an easy-to-reach gateway for anyone approaching from the sea and attempting to travel inland to traverse. 


The accord that connected "Zriba," "Takrouna," and "Jeradou" in their defense strategies as well as in their customary manufacturing of green soap and esparto products is sometimes attributed to their shared beginnings.


In these three villages, you can go for one of a kind strolling to discover them and talk to locals. It’s not that common to find yourself in a berber village, so we don’t think you want to miss this. We highly recommend including at least one of them when you’re designing your itinerary to explore the water temple in Zaghouan. 


Nearby Archeological sites



Unfortunately, Uthina continues to be overlooked by most tourists, despite being the best assemblage of Roman ruins nearest to Tunis. Although little is known about the specifics of Uthina's way of life, it is one of the original cities of the Roman Empire in North Africa, and its reconstructed Hadrian-era 16,000-seat amphitheatre is among the best in the nation.


The amphitheatre's basement, where criminals and wild animals hid out before being thrown in front of the audience to fight until the bitter end, is now open to visitors thanks to recent investment. Check out the lararium, a painted niche where the forced entertainment offered sacrifices in exchange for safety.


uthina site tunisia


The columned Capitole is located at the top of the site. Unbelievably, a French colonist from the 20th century erected a farmhouse here unattractively; it wasn't until Uthina was designated an official archaeological site in 2008 that it was torn down. There are additional remnants of World War II history in Uthina. The large bathhouse was used to store weapons, but explosions destroyed it, leaving behind the crooked fallen brickwork east of the Capitole.


Tuburbo Majus


The archaeological site of Thuburbo Majus is situated in northern Tunisia, some 60 kilometers southwest of Tunis, close to the modern city of El Fahs. At Henchir Kasbat, one can view its ruins from the banks of the Miliane wadi.


Tuburbo Majus


Even though tongue-twisting Thuburbo Majus is blissfully remote and only a one-hour drive from Tunis, it receives few visitors. It can resemble a true nature reserve in the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom and the only sounds are the chirping of birds and the wind rustling through the long, waving grass.


This city was built in the second century AD as a colony for Roman military veterans, many of whom bolstered their egos by paying for public structures and mosaics (so that their names could be engraved on them for eternity).


The Palaestra of the Petronii, which was built in AD 225 with funding from Petronius Felix' family, is the best surviving example of this custom. One row of its Corinthian columns, which supported the portico and were constructed of a rare yellow-veined grey marble, is still standing today with the use of scaffolding (it still holds aloft a Latin inscription). A game for learning the alphabet has several letters cut into the floor in the southeast corner of the structure.


The Water Temple, a great departing point to explore the region


The water temple with its surviving aqueduct is a great attraction for anyone living or coming to Tunisia. It’s the longest aqueduct built by the Romans. Exploring its parts and contemplating its history will form a memorable visit for you to always remember. Better, you can design a one-day itinerary including berber villages or nearby archeological sites. If you don’t prefer going from one place to another in just one day, a visit to Zaghouan can give you the peace of mind you are looking for.