Utica in Tunisia – Archaeological Site and Museum

Utica Archaeological Site

Utica, also known as Utique, is one of the oldest and well-known Phoenician settlements. The name Utica means “old town” in the Punic language.

Today, it is an impressive archaeological site with ruins from the Punic, Roman, and Byzantine Empires. The Utica site is located about 30 kilometres northwest of Carthage in Tunis in the governorate of Bizerte, and it is the largest archeological site in the region. If you’re staying in Tunis, it makes a great day trip excursion to explore Utica which is one of the last remaining remnants of Tunisia’s past.

A Brief History of Utica

Utica was founded by the Phoenician sailors of Tar in 1101 B.C., and is known as one of the oldest cities of the western Mediterranean. The Mediterranean Sea actually reached to the city in ancient times, but the city is now located further inland due to many years of deforestation and agriculture upriver. This ancient city was strategically located in close proximity with other cities of historical importance, and it was one of the key trading posts between ancient cities of Tyre and Cadiz.

Utica often changed sides during the course of time. The city remained faithful allies to Carthage during the first Punic war (264-241 B.C.) and the second Punic war (218-202 B.C.). During the third Punic War (149-146 B.C.), Utica surrendered to the Romans and allied with the Romans against Carthage leading to its destruction in 146 B.C. As a token of their alliance, Roman granted them the status of a “free city” in 111 B.C. and the capital city of the newfound province of Africa.

Visit the Museum Before the Archaeological Site

Like many archaeological sites in Tunisia, one single admission ticket grants you access to both the archaeological site as well as a museum showcasing numerous artifacts excavated from the site. One ticket costs 8 Tunisian Dinars. Tunisian residents and visitors from the Arab Maghreb can purchase a discounted ticket at 5 Tunisian Dinars. Some museums such as those in Sbeitla and Makthar are within walking distance from the archaeological site. Other museums such as those in Utica and El Jem are located some minutes away by vehicle from the actual archaeological site. When visiting Utica, we would highly recommend you visit the museum first to learn about the history of this ancient city before stepping foot to the city ruins to imagine it in its former glory.

Entrance to the Utica Museum
Entrance to the Utica Museum
Mosaic Flooring Outside the Utica Museum
Mosaic Flooring Outside the Utica Museum

What to See at the Museum

A tour of this ancient city cannot be complete without a visit to the National Museum that was established in 1990. The museum houses collections from Punic and Roman periods including:

  • Mosaics – 316 mosaics were found at the site which characterizes great typological and chronological diversity
  • Punic Commercial Amphorae – these are small ceramic containers that were once used for commercial transport by land or sea
  • Cinerary urns in the form of a casket
  • Potteries which confirm the city was once actively trading with Phoenicia, Egypt, and Greece
  • Other artifacts such as lamps, jewelry, and statue bases
Mosaics in the Utica Museum
Mosaics in the Utica Museum
Punic Commercial Amphorae in the Utica Museum
Punic Commercial Amphorae in the Utica Museum

What to See at the Archaeological Site

Once you are finished with the museum, you can drive for a few minutes to the archaeological site. The admission ticket you purchased at the museum will also grant you access to explore the archaeological remains at this site.

Utica Archaeological Site
Utica Archaeological Site
Exploring the archaeological remains
Exploring the archaeological remains

Archaeological Remains from Roman Utica

You will notice that the town was designed in a grid pattern with fairly wide streets. Many private buildings excavated from this site, and many are decorated with mosaic or opus sextile floors. As you walk throughout the site, you will see various houses such as House of the Hunt, House of the Treasure, etc. The House of the Cascade (Maison de la Cascade) at Utica is typical of most Roman houses excavated in North Africa. Most of the rooms are arranged and built around a central courtyard.

House of the Cascade

The city has two theatres – one built in the open and another built into the side of the hill. Direction to the latter theatre is not very clear so you may need to walk further out to see it.

Other Roman remains include a large forum, several temples, amphitheatre, extensive Roman baths, and a circus.

Archaeological Remains from Punic Utica

There are two Punic cemeteries, known as Ile and La Berge, that have been excavated at Utica. Both of these cemeteries include monumental tombs resembling Phoenician architecture. Although Utica is close in proximity to Carthage, it is interesting to note that the city does not have a tophet, a sacred precinct used for sacrifices and burials. This may be evidence that Utica was closer in culture to the Phoenician colonies of southern Spain than it was to Carthage.

Plan a Visit to Utica

Utica is conveniently located almost exactly half-way between Tunis and Bizerte – about 30 km away from either of these cities. Whether you’re staying in Tunis or in Bizerte, it would make for a wonderful day trip to visit the Utica museum and archaeological site.

If you’re interested in a guided tour of Utica, our team of Tunisia travel experts can help customize a tour itinerary for your holiday vacation to Tunisia.

About the author

Joshua Mok has been living in Tunisia since 2016. He has traveled extensively throughout the country, and has firsthand experience with the language, people, and culture of North Africa. It is his passion to introduce to others some of the best destinations in North Africa that he has experienced.
4 Responses
    1. Joshua Mok

      Here is the description written in the Utica museum regarding its mosaic collection.

      The 316 mosaics found on the site of Utica are, as a whole, characterized by their great typological and chronological diversity.
      No decorative pavements have been found from the Punic period or from the early Roman occupation. The Utica mosaics represent four phases:
      – The first : (1» century A. D.) is characterized by the use of ceramic floors of the Hellenistic type (House of the Treasure and House of the Cascade).
      – The second (end 1% -mid 2d century A. D.) sees a continuity in ceramic floors with the introduction of black and white Italian type and polychrome pavements.
      – The third (second half 2nd – mid 3rd century A. D.) with the coexistence of two distinct styles:
      • Geometric patterns, finely drawn with very sober motifs.
      • Very colourful, with a rich vegetal decoration and figurative panels.
      -The fourth phase (second half 3rd – end 4th century A. D.) with essentially figurative panels.

  1. B Cannon

    I see that 316 mosaics have been found at Utica. Of these 316, how many are available to be seen by the public? Are many outdoors or are most in the museum?

    Thank you.

    1. Joshua Mok

      There is just a small collection of mosaics at the Utica museum. When you visit the archaeological site, you will find several Roman villas that are decorated with mosaic floors which are preserved in relatively good condition. Some of the more impressive mosaics from Utica are on display in the Bardo Museum located in Tunis. When visiting the Bardo Museum, keep an eye out for one particularly large and impressive mosaic that was found in Utica in 1914 which depicts Oceanus’ head, Neptune and his wife Amphitrite and two Nereids, and sea nymphs.

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