Recently I visited the famous Roman amphitheatre, El Djem (literally ‘the place’), in Tunisia. This is a well preserved serried mass of stone arches surrounding the elliptical space where gladiators once fought wild beasts. Once there was seating for 30,000 spectators and, despite today’s tranquillity, it is easy to ‘hear’ the roar of the crowd as they witnessed gory combats to the death.

Three centuries later the amphitheatre was converted into a fortress and used by the Berber Queen of the Mountains (how romantic is that?).  It is here, according to some accounts, that she made her last brave, but futile, stand against a vast Arab army.

As late as 1695, El Djem was used by nomad tribes in armed resistance against Ottoman tax inspectors. The Ottoman janissaries blasted down a section of the wall and slaughtered all the defenders.

So, this place has witnessed much anguish and bloodshed. Only the stones remain and they stay silent. I sat there wondering where the cacophony went. Dispersed, I suppose, by centuries of desert breezes. Or, perhaps, noise only exisits via the ears that were there at the time?  No ears, no noise?

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