El Jem was formerly the Roman town of Thysdrus, one of the most important towns in North Africa after Carthage (now to be found in the suburbs of modern Tunis). The amphitheater was built around the middle of the third century AD and was thought to house up to 35,000 spectators.
Having fallen into some state of disrepair, its blocks being used for building the surrounding town and also contributing to the Great Mosque in Kairouan, the amphitheatre was declared a World Heritage site in 1979. More recently it has been used for filming some of the scenes from the Oscar winning film Gladiator.
It is worth mentioning that the site features one of the cleanest public bathrooms in Tunisia, located about 150 meters to the right of the entrance.
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