Punic Town of Kerkuane and its Necropolis

Kerkuane, which has never been reinhabited since it was abandoned, bears exceptional witness to Phoenician town planning and daily life in a Punic city.

At the tip of Cap Bon, the archaeological site of Kerkuane has enriched knowledge in the area of Punic town planning thanks to the discovery of a city (Tamezrat?) which was fossilized after being abandoned during the first Punic War (c. 250 BC). Unlike Carthage, Tyre or Byblos, no Roman city was built upon this Phoenician city whose port, ramparts, residential districts, shops, workshops, streets, squares, temples and necropolis clearly remain as they were in the 3rd century.

The rectangular houses have a single entrance and a corridor which afford access to an interior courtyard containing a well, a washbasin and a bath; around the courtyard there are reception rooms. In proving the repetitive nature of this particular plan, which was taken to be a typical plan, the excavation made it possible to confirm the existence of an authentic town-planning programme that gave considerable importance to hydraulics and hygiene.

Through the study of small artefacts and structures, it is possible to understand a city that was cut off from the hinterland and lacking in agricultural and pastoral occupations, preferring to focus its efforts on industry (manufacture of purple dye through murex processing) and arts and crafts (stonecutters, masons, stucco workers, potters, and makers of clay figurines abounded there). It is believed that this Phoenician port traded with the Punic cities of Sicily, particularly Motya, as early as the 6th century.

The links between Punic culture, Hellenic culture and natives cultures can be analysed over three centuries on the basis of architectural forms and on a number of iconographic documents illustrating Assyro-Babylonian, Phoenician, Greek and Sicilian, etc., influences.

The necropolis of Arg el Ghazouani, located on a rocky hill less than 1 km north-west of the city, is the best conserved portion of the great Kerkuane necropolis whose tombs are scattered throughout the coastal hills at the extreme end of Cap Bon. In the protected area there are approximately 200 tombs, including 50 that have not been excavated. Investigations of the site revealed two types of tomb: these hewn in rock and these comprising a funerary chamber, with dromos in tiers and an antechamber. No other example of this type of tomb with steps has been found outside the area of Cap Bon.

The funerary chambers reveal a rich collection of seats, niches and dug-out sarcophagi never before found in other necropolises. Decorations painted in red ochre and inscriptions of the name of the deceased engraved above the entrance doors are a basic source for the study of funerary rites. Exceptionally rich furnishings (ceramics, bronze artefacts, jewellery, coins, etc.) add to the value of the site. Burials at the site cover a long period, from the 6th to the mid-3rd centuries BC.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC


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