The ruins of Timgad lie on the slopes of the Aures Massif, about 35 km east of the town of Batna, in modern-day Algeria. Built nearly 2,000 years ago, by the Roman Emperor Trajan, the city is laid out in great precision and is one of the best surviving examples of the grid plan used by the ancient Roman city planners.
Timgad is one of the best surviving examples of the grid plan used by the ancient Roman city planners
After the fall of the Roman Empire, Timgad was abandoned and forgotten. It wasn’t until 1,000 years later that its ruins, primarily preserved by the desert, were rediscovered. Indeed, the ruins of Timgad are so well-preserved that some visitors call it the Algerian Pompeii.
The city’s original design was a perfect square, 355 meters long on each side, with an orthogonal design highlighted by the decumanus maximus (east-west-oriented street) and the cardo (north–south-oriented street) lined by a partially restored Corinthian colonnade. The plan was to provide space for 15,000 residents, but the city quickly outgrew that number and spilled beyond the orthogonal grid in a more loosely but organized fashion. The city grew for the next 300 years as new quarters were added to the original ground plan leading to a quadrupling of the original size.
The ruins of Timgad are so well-preserved that some visitors call it the Algerian Pompeii
Timgad’s construction served two purposes. First, the Roman colony housed veterans of Trajan’s mighty armed forces. Secondly, it functioned as a show of Roman power against the Indigenous Berber tribes that populated the northern and western regions of the continent. After its founding, Timgad quickly became an important center of commerce and trade. Its residents enjoyed peace and prosperity for several centuries.
All these centuries lying under the sand of the Sahara, Timgad remained exceptionally well preserved. At the west end of the decumanus maximus still stands a 12-meters-high triumphal arch, called the Arch of Trajan, which was partially restored in 1900. There is a temple dedicated to Jupiter that is of approximately the exact dimensions as the Pantheon in Rome. A large Byzantine citadel stands to the southeast of the city. There are also a 3,500-seat theater in good condition, a library, a basilica, and four public bathhouses.
Subsequent excavations of the city led to its designation as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1982. Many Timgad ruins still stand today, including its signature arch—known as the “Arch of Trajan”—and its theater, which still hosts the occasional concert.