El Djem is famous for its amphitheater, often incorrectly called a Colosseum (roughly translated from Latin as 'that thing by the Colossus'), which is capable of seating 35,000 spectators. Only the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome (about 45,000 spectators) and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger. The amphitheatre at El Djem was built by the Romans under proconsul Gordian, who was acclaimed Emperor at Thysdrus, around 238 and was probably mainly used for gladiator shows and chariot races (like in Ben-Hur). Many tourists come here to see what it was like to be inside what was once a place where lions and people met their fate. Much of it is crumbled but the essence of it still remains. It is also possible that construction of the amphitheatre was never finished.
Until the 17th century it remained more or less whole. From then on its stones were used for building the nearby village of El Djem and transported to the Great Mosque in Kairouan, and at a tense moment during struggles with the Ottomans, the Turks used cannons to flush rebels out of the amphitheatre.
The ruins of the amphitheatre were declared a World Heritage Site in 1979.
Drifting sand is preserving the market city of Thysdrus and the refined suburban villas that once surrounded it. The amphiteatre occupies archaeologists' attention: no digging required. Some floor mosaics have been found and published, but field archaeology has scarcely been attempted.
In the world of writing materials, Thysdrus lay in the Empire of Papyrus, which preserves remarkably well if kept as dry as at El Djem..
The amphitheater was used for filming some of the scenes from the 1979 Monty Python film The Life of Brian and was also used for filming some of the scenes from the Academy Award (Oscar) winning film Gladiator with Russel Crowe. In the old days when it was used for real gladiators, the gladiators would be kept in dungeons under ground. The star shaped holes in front being their only lightsource. Hope you all have a great weekend!