Tebessa - Encyclopedia




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TEBESSA (the Roman Theveste), a town of Algeria in the department of Constantine, 146 m. S.E. of Bona by rail and 12 m. W. of the Tunisian frontier, on a plateau 2 9 50 ft. above the sea. Pop. (1906) 5722. The modern town, which is within the walls of the Byzantine citadel, boasts nothing of interest save a church built out of the ancient ruins. The Byzantine walls, pierced by three gates, are in tolerable preservation. They are strengthened by numerous square towers. One of the gates is formed by the quadrifrontal arch of Caracalla, a rare form of construction. The arch, erected about A.D. 212, is in good preservation. A pair of monolithic columns, disengaged, flank each facade. An inscription on the frieze gives the history of its construction; it was built by two brothers as a condition of inheriting the property of a third brother. The most important ruins are those of the great basilica. This building, one of the finest Roman monuments in Algeria, bears evidence of having been built at various epochs; the earlier portions probably date from not later than the beginning of the 2nd century A.D. The basilica was partially destroyed by the Berbers in the 5th century, and was rebuilt in A.D. 535 by the Byzantine general Solomon, who surrounded it with a wall about 25 feet high, still standing. The main building, consisting of a nave with apsidal end and two aisles,. was approached through a peristyle, which was surrounded by an arcade. Many of the columns of the basilica have fallen, but the bases of all are in their original positions. A quatrefoil chapel on the east side of the basilica is a Byzantine addition. The tessellated pavement which covers the basilica proper is in almost perfect condition. It is kept covered, for purposes of preservation, by a layer of earth. Next the basilica (and within the same enclosing walls) are the ruins of the forum, converted into a monastery in the 4th or 5th century, and regarded by Sir R. Lambert Playfair as the oldest known example of the monasteria clericorum. The whole of the basilica and its dependencies have been cleared and are kept in order by the Service des Monuments historiques, the principal work having been accomplished by Heron de Villefosse. Noteworthy among the buildings within the ancient citadel is a small tetrastyle temple, variously ascribed to Jupiter and Minerva, the portico supported by six monolithic columns of cippolino, four being in front. After the French occupation in 1842, the building was used successively as a soap factory, a prison, a canteen, a parish church, and, lastly, as a museum.

Theveste was founded towards the close of the 1st century A.D. In the succeeding century it was connected with Carthage by a great highway. In the 5th century, under Vandal dominion, it declined in importance. Refounded by the Byzantines in the 6th century, the city disappeared from history at the time of the Arab conquest of the country in the 7th century. In the 16th century the Turks placed a small garrison of janissaries in the place, but Tebessa continued to be but a small village until the establishment of French rule.

Nine miles from Tebessa are the extensive phosphate quarries of Jebel Dyr, where is also an interesting megalithic village. See Sir R. Lambert Playfair, Handbook for Travellers in Algeria and Tunis (London, 18 95), pp. 2 33-4 0, Guides-Joanne, Algerie et Tunisie (Paris, 1906).

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