The Amphitheatre of El Jem in Tunisia will soon be restored to its former glory, thanks in part to a U.S. grant.
“El Jem is a very important part of Tunisia’s history, but it’s also an important part of human history,” said Sara Ferchichi of the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia. “It’s important that we preserve this piece of everyone’s heritage.”
A vestige of the Romans’ presence in North Africa, El Jem is the second largest colosseum in the world — after its famous counterpart in Rome — and can seat up to 35,000 people. El Jem was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.
Martin Perschler, director of the U.S. State Department’s Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, helps decide which grant proposals are accepted. He explained that the $430,000 grant to restore and preserve El Jem was a project that excited both the U.S. and Tunisian governments.
The funding will go toward a five-year restoration project. A team of expert preservationists — brought in by the Tunisian government — will not only maintain the outside facade of the colosseum but also conserve the original water drainage system, which still works after 1,700 years.
Perschler explained that, hopefully, the restoration of El Jem will increase tourism in Tunisia and help boost local economies. More importantly, the U.S.-Tunisian collaboration on the site’s restoration represents a “statement about our growing relationship with Tunisia,” he said.