1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Susa (Tunisia)

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19410241911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 26 — Susa (Tunisia)

SUSA (Fr. Sousse), a city of Tunisia, on the Gulf of Hammamet, in 35° 49′ N., 10° 39′ E., 36 m. by rail E. by N. of Kairawan, of which it is the port, and 93 m. S. by E. by rail of Tunis. Susa, which occupies part of the site of the ancient Hadrumetum, is built on the side of a hill sloping seawards, and is surrounded by a crenellated wall, strengthened by towers. Recesses in the inner side of the wall are used as shops and warehouses. The kasbah, or citadel, built on the highest point within the town, was thoroughly restored by the French after their occupation of the country in 1881, and serves as military headquarters for the district, the camp for the troops being outside the walls west of the citadel. The native town has been little changed since the French occupation, but north of the port a European quarter has been created, and here are public buildings such as law courts, a museum and a town-hall. The museum contains many archaeological treasures, notable mosaics and sculptures. The most interesting buildings in the old town are the Kasrer-Ribat and the Kahwat-el-Kubba. The Kasr-er-Ribat is a square fortress with a high tower and seven bastions. Its date is uncertain, but is not later than the 9th century. The Kahwatel-Kubba (Café of the Dome) is a curious house, square at the base, then cylindrical, and surmounted by a fluted dome. It was probably a church during the Byzantine period. Another domed building, now used as oil-mills, dates from Roman and Byzantine times. In the Bab-el-Gharbi (West Gate) a Roman sarcophagus of marble has been built into the wall, and serves as a drinking fountain. The grand mosque is in the north-east part of the town. The ancient harbours are silted up, but vestiges of the Roman breakwaters may be seen. The modern port, completed in 1901, enables steamers drawing 21 ft. to lie at the quays. Exports are chiefly phosphates and other minerals, olive oil, esparto and cereals; imports: cotton goods, building material, &c. The population, less than 10,000 at the time of the French occupation, had increased in 1907 to over 25,000, of whom 1500 were French and 4000 other Europeans, chiefly Italians and Maltese.

Susa, the Arab town which succeeded Hadrumetum (q.v.), was fortified by the Aghlabite rulers of Kairawan in the 9th century A.D. It shared the general fortunes of Tunisia and became a noted haunt of pirates, who raided the coast of Italy. In 1537 it was unsuccessfully besieged by the marquis of Terra Nova, in the service of Charles V., but in 1539 was captured for the emperor by Andrea Doria. As soon as the imperial forces were withdrawn it became again the seat of Turkish piracy. The town was attacked by the French and the Knights of St John in 1770, and by the Venetians in 1764. It remained, however, in the possession of the bey of Tunis.

Some 35 m. due south of Susa, and half way on the road to Sfax is El Jem, the site of the city of Thysdrus. Of the ancient city there are scarcely any remains save the amphitheatre—a magnificent ruin scarcely inferior to that of the Colosseum in Rome. There is no record of the building of the amphitheatre, which is usually assigned to the reign of Gordian III. (A.D. 238–244). It is made of limestone brought from Sallecta, 20 m. distant, bears evidence of hasty construction, and was probably never finished. It is of four storeys—three open arcades crowned by a fourth storey with windows. The first and third arcades are Corinthian; the middle one Composite. Each of these galleries has sixty-four columns and the same number of arches. Constantly used as a fortress since the Arab invasion, the amphitheatre suffered much, and in 1697 the bey of Tunis made a great breach in its western end to prevent it being again used for defence But even in its present condition the amphitheatre—standing solitary in a desolate district—is grandly impressive. Its major axis is 488 ft., its minor axis 406 ft. (The figures of the Colosseum are 615 and 510½ respectively.)