The capital city of ancient Mauretania was Iol-Caesaria, which is located in modern day Cherchell, Algeria. It often helps me, when I’m writing, to have visual reminders of where my characters lived–to make the setting come alive. Frankly, very little of Selene and Juba’s reign remains. The ruins of an amphitheater where games were held has been identified as well as an outdoor theater carved into a hillside–either Juba and Selene started building this before the more advanced Roman architecture for a theater came to prominence, or Selene’s Alexandrian influence had its way.
How Romanized Iol-Caesarea looked must be constructed largely from the imagination, but I thought I’d share some of the photos with you. These are courtesy of Jean-Pierre Dalbéra or otherwise available in the public domain or for fair use.
This Roman building would later be used as a mosque by the Arabs, but it’s interesting to theorize what it may have been used for during Selene’s time. The picture also includes a fountain within the park, complete with classical statuary.
This is the remains of the mammoth tomb that Juba II and Cleopatra Selene are believed to have been buried in. While some of the construction style is said to have an older Berber cast to it, the rest is reminiscent of styles adopted by the Greeks and by Augustus, in particular. It may have been built on an older foundation. Unfortunately, the monument has been badly damaged by subsequent cultural invasions and it is believed to have been used for target practice by the French.
Note the very wide avenue marked off by columns. The building at the end of the path shows a later, Arab influence, but the terra-cotta rooftops would have been the same in Selene’s time.
This is the museum that now houses the statues and relics that remain of Romanized Mauretania.
Beautiful pictures! It’s such a help to look at pictures while writing historical fiction. It’s even better if you get the chance to go there, which most of us don’t. I was lucky enough to spend a semester in Egypt, but I never got down to Thebes (modern Karnak/Luxor), the setting for the novel I’m writing. Still kicking myself about that. I did get the chance to go to Alexandria, though.
You went to Egypt? I’m so envious I could pull out your hair. (I mean this with love, with love!)
Haha, I did. I went a few years right out of high school to study Egyptology. I just wasn’t prepared to be alone in a foreign country, so I changed my major and transferred to the U.S. after just one semester. I’m seriously thinking about going back for a masters degree in Egyptology, though. I think I can get a fellowship or some type of scholarship. That won’t happen until next fall though, because I’m getting married this fall. My wonderful fiance is actually okay with me being gone for months at a time so long as we can find a way to afford it. I feel so lucky to have a man like him!
That should say, “I went a few years *ago* right out of high school.” Whoops.
What happened to the remains of royal family entombed in the mausoleum? Are there any records of what was found or stolen from the place?
I am unaware of any evidence of what happened to the remains of those entombed there. I hope Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco do a lot more with archeology.
It seems odd to me, given all of the debates over Cleopatra VII’s ethnicity and features, that no effort has been made to find her only daughter’s remains, especially knowing the exact location where she was supposedly interred. Does it have something to do with the Algerian government?
Interesting question. I’d love to know the answer to that myself.
I’m not familiar enough with the archeological situation in modern Algeria to comment on that, alas!
Hi, Stephanie, and happy holidays 🙂
Apologies to responding to an old post, but I only recently devoured the first two books and am burning through the third, and so only recently found your blog…
When I went to Cherchell while in Algeria this summer, the same question occurred to me. Unfortunately, the museum in Cherchell was closed for renovations until after Ramadan — but I did get to visit the remains of the Baths so I asked our very nice guide. His response was that it had been pillaged in antiquity. This answer was echoed by the book I bought at the smaller museum in Tipasa: “l’absence totale due tout appareil funéraire”, wiped clean of everything, even inscriptions. The book does go on to speculate on the possibility of a secret funerary chamber, but the one that is known had 3 niches, probably for cremated remains. Given how ill-used the Royal Tomb has been through the ages, this isn’t surprising although disappointing. On the plus side, though, apparently a restoration and study program is officially going to happen.
I’m happy to hear from readers any time. How sad that it’s been destroyed but how marvelous that you had a chance to visit Cherchell! I hope there will be a thorough study of this tomb. Happy New Year!
Cherchell is a really charming town — so is the larger Tipasa (also endowed with marvelous ruins). The countryside of Tipasa Wilaya (Province) is so beautiful; i have no doubt Cleopatra Selene would have fallen in love with the place (and the people). Some of the ruins of Cherchell are in need of some TLC (though still lovely), but Tipasa’s are looking pretty good, and I would think that gives hope for the future of the Tomb and other ruins. My impression was that there are people there who are very committed to preserving this history. Maybe soon there’ll be more known about the sites…and those who lived there. Thanks for writing this story so well; I really feel you’ve evoked something true about these long-ago lives.
Thank you so very much!