Thousands Visit El Jem Amphitheater for Annual Family-Friendly Festival Filled To Celebrate Tunisia’s Roman History

Articles / 05-06-2023

The 2023 edition of the Roman Days of El Jem Festival took place from April 29 to May 1, 2023 in the magnificent El Jem Amphitheater. Bringing together 14,000 people from across Tunisia, attendees enjoyed three days filled with local artisan showcases, family-friendly activities, and unique performances that celebrate Tunisia's Roman history. The event received significant coverage in local media, amplifying its impact and importance within the community. Through initiatives like the Festival Incubator program, USAID Visit Tunisia aims to build a resilient tourism industry and showcase its cultural richness to both domestic and international visitors.

Getting to Know the Magnificent El Jem Amphitheater

The El Jem Amphitheater is one of the world’s most remarkable and well-preserved Roman amphitheaters. Built in the 3rd century AD, this UNESCO World Heritage site stands as a symbol of Tunisia’s rich historical and cultural past and present. The site showcases impressive architecture and engineering with the potential to attract tourists who marvel at its grandeur and historical importance.

The site serves as a gateway to Tunisia's ancient past, providing visitors with a tangible connection to Roman civilization. It offers insight into the daily lives, entertainment, and architectural prowess of the era. It is a perfect place for a gathering to share history and gather together.

Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID

Support through the Festival Incubator Program

The USAID Visit Tunisia Smithsonian Folklife Festival Incubator is a comprehensive, multi-year endeavor designed to offer tailored support and guidance to six selected Tunisian festival organizers. Each participating festival receives specialized technical assistance and one-on-one mentoring from industry experts with the Smithsonian Institute and USAID Visit Tunisia. The program focuses on improving various aspects of festival management, including programming, community engagement, design, and marketing. By addressing these critical areas, the program enables cultural heritage festivals across Tunisia to enhance their overall quality, appeal, and impact. Roman Days of El Jem is one of the six selected festivals and has been going through the incubation program for the last year.
Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID

About the Roman Days of Eel Jem of Festival

The Roman Days of Eel Jem Festival, held annually each spring for three days, recognizes the power of the amphitheater to bring people together for cultural activities. The 2023 edition, which took place from April 29 to May 1, was a vibrant celebration of culture and history. The festival attracted 14,000 visitors across the three days with people coming from all over Tunisia to enjoy each day’s festivities. Highlights of the festival included family-friendly activities, reenactments in the amphitheater, and a bustling marketplace selling local artisan goods.

Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID

Supporting Local and Regional Artisans and Businesses

A large part of the event was a “Roman Forum” marketplace which featured dozens of local artisans selling their wares and demonstrating their processes. By facilitating direct sales between artisans and visitors, the El Jem Festival encouraged economic growth within the local community. The festival's support of the private sector allowed artisans to generate income and sustain their businesses. This, in turn, contributed to the overall economic development of the region, fostering entrepreneurship and empowering artisans to continue practicing and preserving their traditional crafts.

The marketplace also served as a platform for cultural exchange, allowing visitors to engage with artisans, learn about their heritage, and appreciate the value of handmade products.

Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID
“We implemented some of the best practices and ideas we learned through the Festival Incubator program. For instance, we installed a first aid tent to consider the weather conditions and the participation of children. We also developed a map featuring all the festival’s activities and workshops to improve the visitor experience. We also successfully created a separate marketplace for artisans to sell their products and a separate exhibition space where artisans connect directly with the visitors and share their “savoir-faire” and stories. Thanks to this venue, the visitors were given the opportunity to touch the raw materials of the products and understand the work behind the scenes. This experience evoked powerful emotions and encouraged visitors to buy products directly from the artisans. Creating these spaces for experiences and sales was an important organizational improvement for this year’s edition. We are looking forward to receiving more improvement ideas and recommendations for next year. Thank you for your support."- Ridha Hfayedh, Director of the Roman Days of El Jem Festival

Integrating Family Fun into Historical Heritage

At the heart of the festival, family-friendly activities created an atmosphere filled with excitement as children and their families gathered to participate in engaging workshops. The kids' domain buzzed with youthful energy as children immersed themselves in the world of ancient Rome, donning gladiator costumes and emulating the bravery of Roman warriors. This integration of children into cultural events is vital for sustainable tourism as it fosters a deep connection with El Jem's historical roots and Tunisia's legacy as a historic cradle for the world. By involving children, we ensure the preservation of cultural heritage as they develop a greater appreciation and understanding of their own traditions from an early age. Additionally, integrating children into cultural events promotes inclusivity, intergenerational bonding, and community engagement, creating a sense of shared pride and fostering the continued celebration of cultural traditions for generations to come.
Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID

Spotlight on Roman Days of El Jem

In the aftermath of the festival, the event, along with its actors, attendees, organizers, and artisans, received significant coverage in local newspapers, radio stations, and television outlets. This attention from the local media plays a crucial role in amplifying the impact and importance of the festival within the community. By featuring the event on various media platforms, it brings wider awareness to the festival, its cultural significance, and the efforts of the individuals involved.

Screenshot from the Roman Days of El Jem Facebook page, highlighting artisan Shukri Makhloufa being featured in local media

Building Tunisia’s Resilient Tourism Industry Through Quality Festivals

By combining the expertise of industry professionals with the passion and creativity of Tunisian festival organizers, the program fosters a collaborative environment where knowledge is shared, ideas are nurtured, and innovative approaches to festival design and management are explored.
The collaboration under the Festival Incubator program sparks a dynamic exchange of ideas, expertise, and inspiration. It cultivates fertile ground for growth, enabling festivals to evolve into vibrant showcases of Tunisia's cultural richness, fostering a deeper sense of pride among Tunisians, and leaving lasting impressions on both domestic and international visitors.
This was the fifth festival supported through the Festival Incubator. Stay tuned until September for the last festival in the series: the Zaghouan Mountain Film Festival.
Photo ©Montassar Lassoued/USAID

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