Investigating the Roman hydraulic complex between Zaghouan and Carthage (Tunisia). Building research and conservation studies for the development of future preservation and presentation strategies

KoEF 02/2020

General Project Information

Cooperating countries: Austria and Tunisia

Coordinating institution: Dr. Gudrun Styhler-Aydın, Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften Wien

Partner institutions: Dr. Hamden Ben Romdhane, Tunisian National Heritage Institute

Project duration: 1 September 2021 - 31 August 2022


The ancient hydraulic complex of Zaghouan in present‐day Tunisia was built from the 2nd century to the beginning of the 3rd century and is one of the most impressive testimonies to Roman hydraulic engineering. From several springs on Mount Zaghouan (Djebel Zaghouan) the water was fed into the pipeline and transported to Carthage over a length of about 132 km. In 2012, the entire Zaghouan ‐ Carthage hydraulic complex, which significantly shapes the archaeological landscape in the rural area between Tunis and the source areas, was included in the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The present project aims to develop important scientific basics for the exploration and preservation of the hydraulic complex Zaghouan ‐ Carthage within the framework of a research cooperation between the Austrian Archaeological Institute (OeAI) and the Tunisian National Heritage Institute (INP). With targeted scientific investigations, the existing research on selected elements of the entire complex is to be continued and an expanded knowledge base for the historical classification of the ancient structures is to be created. The results will significantly support the process of inscribing the Roman Hydraulic Complex Zaghouan ‐ Carthage in the UNESCO World Heritage List by providing sound scientific and conservation documentation and analyses based on current methods. The results also serve to develop strategies for the preservation and future use of this extraordinary historical building ensemble. With its focus, the project contributes to several sustainable development goals of the United Nations.

Goal 11.4 "Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage" is addressed centrally. The project involves young female scientists in particular, whose cooperation and scientific exchange will further expand the existing partnership and international cooperation between the Austrian Archaeological Institute and the Tunisian National Heritage Institute.

Contribution to Sustainable Development

In the research project, the objectives focus on the scientific contribution to the exploration and preservation of the Roman hydraulic complex Zaghouan – Carthage. However, the project's impact goes far beyond the scientific contribution. First of all, the support of the process to inscribe this outstanding ancient hydraulic ensemble on the UNESCO World Heritage List should be mentioned here. Future conservation measures connected with this will increase the attention for the cultural heritage and can be a starting point for the further development of attractive offers of sustainable tourism in the rural areas concerned. Here it is even more interesting that sections of the ancient water supply system are still functioning today. Ancient knowledge about the construction and operation of such hydraulic systems could not be more impressive!

The function of a large part of the Roman structures as modern water supply system for Tunis since its restoration in the second half of the 19th century until today points out another related aspect of the project. Especially the project results of the condition survey can contribute to maintenance measures and preventive maintenance to secure the water supply through this pipeline for the city. The close cooperation between the Austrian and Tunisian team members enables young scientists in particular to gain international professional experience that will be valuable for their own future projects. In technical‐methodological terms, the project offers Tunisian colleagues in‐depth knowledge in the field of integrated high‐tech building survey and analysis. The Austrian team members benefit from the cooperation by discussing different approaches of research and long‐term preservation of architectural ensembles of this unusual size and by exchanging corresponding experience.

The project contributes to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations:

  • Goal 11 is addressed centrally: „Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”, in particular 11.4: “Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage”.
  • Through the planned transfer of knowledge and integrated training for young Tunisian scientists, the project also addresses Goal 4: "Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all".
  • Furthermore, the project results support Goal 8: „Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all“, and especially 8.9: „By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”.
  • Last but not least, the project results are also important in the context of the current water supply for Tunis, as they provide further bases for the maintenance and preservation of the sections of the aqueduct that are in use. Goal 6 is addressed here: "Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all".