The Romance of Timgad

Berbers and Arabs dominate the history of Algeria, but the country also has a splendid remnant of the Roman civilization. It is not very convenient to reach Timgad, but the grand spectacle of the town and fortification built there some two thousand years ago, makes the rigors of Algeria travel worthwhile. The entire area is about one thousand meters above sea level, so it is pleasant even during the hotter months. The countryside around Timgad is desolate, and serves as an object lesson for the benefits of conservation, for it was once a thriving eco-system.

While some of the taller structures such as the famous victory arch strike the eye at first glance, it is the layout and planning of Timgad which is more impressive after one spends some time amidst the ruins. The spirits of the Berbers must repent at having laid waste to Timgad, for they destroyed a precious asset for themselves! Whatever remains of the Roman settlement is due to the absence of any habitation for centuries, rather than because of the conscious efforts to preserve the community which once lived here. Even the most patriotic citizen of Algeria will feel bad after spending time at Timgad, that such a splendid settlement has been needlessly destroyed.

Many modern cities lack the foresight of the people who planned Timgad. This applies as much to Batna, which Timgad visitors have to use as a base station, as to comparable towns which are outside Algeria. Timgad was laid out in grid fashion, which must have made it as easy to locate addresses as in the Manhattan of today! The other impressive aspect of Timgad is how the planners catered to diverse needs in their layout. Though Timgad was meant to be a fortification of the Romans against the Berbers, it also had a theater where people could enjoy the performing arts. It is ironic that the theater is in use to this day, and one of the more pleasant aspects of a Timgad visit.

Visitors who are not conversant with biology may find claims of the agricultural bio-diversity of Timgad unbelievable today. The desert has clearly taken over, and is the victor as much as the Berbers! The land around Timgad was served by melted snow from the mountains in which the settlement nestles, and was once full of wild flora and fauna, and suitable for growing a wide range of crops. The loss of tree cover must have been primarily responsible for destruction of habitats, and the tragic reality of today. Timgad seems to be a symbol of the essential predicament in which Algeria finds itself today!