This ancient city which has not stolen its name (1), this flagship of national and universal heritage, takes a long time to achieve; but once in the middle of its stones and its silence, one quickly forgets the fatigue in front of so much beauty, in front of these spaces of high ancient culture inviting to the conviviality and resourcing.
Djemila has resisted all the avatars by crossing the history without too many tears: the beauty knew how to keep its charm without veiling, paradox, and mystery of this enchanting city where life ignores death, just as the peace taunts the war.
Djemila is still there on his rocky outcrop, with a distribution of architectural volumes where the heart was right of the roughness and monotony of the Roman style (grid checkerboard) characterizing the other cities, with “its sea” on its mosaics, its gods on the stelae, the smell of incense on the altars. Here, the word forfeiture has no right of citizenship, except perhaps for those who have not understood anything about the miracles of civilizations.
Encrusted in a site of unsuspected beauty, the ancient Cuicul suddenly appears to visitors relieved to have finally reached, after a long path in laces stirring curiosity. Enveloped with sweetness without pageantry, it is nevertheless of an irresistible attraction in the middle of the hills which halo their charm.
Built on uneven ground, Djemila is one of the most important Roman cities since the end of the 2nd century AD, during the reign of Emperor Nerva (96-98). Like other African colonies revealed to posterity by excavations of the colonial period (1910-1957), Cuicul is characterized by a relative chronological and monumental cohesion as revealing as varied, at least after the numerous restorations, as well as by ostentatious ostentation, detectable on mosaics and epigraphic texts.
The colony of Cuicul, Roman sentinel in the heart of a mountain range, between Sétif and Constantine, is built around a forum surrounded by public buildings such as the municipal curia (assembly of decurions), the capitol (temple reserved for the Capitoline triad: Jupiter, Juno and Minerva), the judicial basilica for justice and stock exchange transactions and the Cosinius brothers market with its eighteen shops.
In modest homes, which were initially those veterans, succeed homes much more spacious and comfortable with all amenities (fountains, reception rooms, baths, private latrines, etc …), adorned with beautiful mosaic pavements historiated or purely ornamental, from which the names of these dwellings were inspired.
On both sides of these houses called the central district (house of Europe, house of Amphitrite, home of the “conquering donkey”, house of Castorius, etc …) built on both banks of the main road to porticoes, are built other local, mainly craft, including a granary, all included in a perimeter delimited by a polygonal enclosure. Of course, these different constructions have undergone various changes over time architecturally as well as ornamental.
The reign of the Antonines (96-192) and the Severe (192-235) were, for Djemila, the happiest of antiquity. It was during these reigns that Cuicul grew rich and developed, as evidenced by the buildings evoked. As we see them today, partially and often arbitrarily restored, they would date, at least in part, from the second half of the second century and would have undergone major changes in the Christian era. It is therefore from this period (end of the 2nd, the beginning of the 3rd century) that space was missing inside the initial perimeter which was quickly overwhelmed.
The inhabitants of Cuicul, whose number was to be considerable, offered themselves the luxury of a theater that could hold up to 3,000 seats, built around 160. Twenty-five years later, during the reign of Commodus, a beautiful spa establishment about 2,600 m2 was built about 200 m from the south gate, on the extension of the great Cardo (2), as a beautiful and complex residence with a large apse room called “House of Bacchus” named after the oldest mosaic found in Djemila, representing the legend of Dionysus, the god of wine, vine and mystical delirium. Thus, a whole southern suburb was built gradually, pushing the center of urban activity towards the south.
This continuous extension resulted, in the first third of the third century, the development of a large public esplanade of 3.200 m2 (wrongly called forum novum), paved like the old forum. This vast square is highlighted by two great monuments dating all: the first is the arch of Caracalla built in 216, as evidenced by the honorary inscription on the top of the entablature, which was almost transported to Paris in 1840 by the Duke of Orleans, commander of the French expeditionary force.
The second monument that attracts attention and gives a particular aspect to the whole city is the Temple of Gens Septimia, built in 229 under the orders of Alexander Severus, deifying the Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna. A monumental fountain, a cloth market, a small remodeled temple and another judicial basilica of the fourth century, built on the ruins of the temple of Saturn, as well as a house complete framing the square lined with porticoes and arcades.
The Christian period left monuments of capital interest. The officialization of worship from 313 gave birth to another architectural boom that even Christian austerity could not mitigate. This is the case with two crypt churches, all paved with mosaics, part of the baptismal initiation chapel, a vast group of buildings which had to be used for the accommodation of the clergy and perhaps even for the devotees who came on pilgrimage and finally, a baptistery completely restored in 1922.
Cuicul thus crossed the fourth and fifth century, presumably without feeling the general hardness of the times characterizing the Lower Empire with its share of persecutions. The Donatist schism had no doubt its followers since although fundamentally African and religious, it had for leitmotiv a program of social revolution refusing any interference of the Emperor in the affairs of the Church.
Donatist cuicul? There is nothing salient to assert it. But this city of Numidia probably did not escape the persecutions, sometimes anti-pagan due to the iconoclastic zeal of the Christians, sometimes to the attacks of the official Church of which St. Augustine was one of the most prominent representatives.
In this context, the inscription on the mosaic found in the choir of the basilica of the fifth century, in memory of its founder Cresconius, evokes the righteousness of previous generations, in other words, the martyrs. Excavations in the crypt and apse cemetery in the western part of the ancient city reveal burials inside the building itself. They mention, subject, the membership of this church to the dissident sect of the Donatists, in collusion with the Berbers of the mountains that burned the whole city, except the western district.
Strongly affected by the earthquake of 419 and the ensuing plague, the city founded at the end of the first century disappeared to the sixth in very unclear conditions. She seems to have been systematically looted and destroyed. Epigraphic documents attest that until the decadence of the Western Empire in 476, Cuicul remained under the authority of Rome.
The devastating momentum of the Vandals, beginning in 429, seems to have spared it because, on the one hand, the numerous mosaics dating for the most part from this period indicate rather a revival of activity sheltered from the disturbances, on the other hand On their arrival, the city already belonged to the Byzantine Empire installed since 533. It escaped and the Vandals and Berber kingdoms that controlled the rest of North Africa.
Ecclesiastical records show that at the Council of Constantinople, convened by the Emperor Justinian in 533, a bishop named Cresconius represented the Catholic community of Cuicul, but the name of his Donatist antagonist is unknown.
After this date, we have not stopped archaeologically to prove the continuity of human permanence on the site, except perhaps some mosaics of the house of Bacchus, escaping any conventional dating, local lamps similar to those found in the Kalaâ of Beni Hammad and the presence of a marabout established on the site of the ancient forum before the excavations of 1910.
All around extended a necropolis and modest dwellings. Had a habitat tradition been maintained long enough after the 6th century? Clearly, the Djemila site can still reveal unexpected wealth, as long as it is questioned with a new problem.