Calama, a city in the Numidia region of Algeria, is a place steeped in history. Once a Roman colony, it was a major urban center in the 1st century AD and became a Roman municipium as early as Hadrian, and of a colonia later. The city was sponsored by Vibia Aurelia Sabina, sister of the Emperor Commodus (late 2nd century). Calama was, with Setifis (Setif) and Hippo Regius (Annaba), one of the granaries of Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Under Septimius Severus, Calama became one of the most prosperous in the Roman empire, with thermae and a huge theatre. Today, Calama is a city of ruins, but its archaeological remains are a testament to its rich past.

The city was founded by the Phoenicians and called Malaka, similar to their colony Malake (Punic: 𐤌𐤋𐤊𐤀, MLKʾ) at Málaga, Spain. Malaka was situated in the Berber kingdom of Numidia. When this area later came under Roman rule, the city was renamed Calama. Between the late republic and early empire, it was governed by a Punic-inspired twin magistracy of sufetes. Whether Calama is identical with the town of Suthul which the Roman general Aulus Postumius Albinus unsuccessfully tried to take in 110 BC, (cf. Battle of Suthul) is disputed, with some denying and others cautiously affirming.

The archaeological remains of Calama are a must-see for anyone interested in history. The Roman theatre, built in the first or second year of the 3rd century AD through the generosity of a certain Annia Aelia Restituta, who spent 400,000 sesterces on it, is a particularly impressive sight. It was restored, indeed virtually rebuilt, from 1902 to 1918, after having served as a quarry. It is on a slope and measures 58.05 m in width. It was built with a rubble core revetted with ashlar. The tiers of seats had virtually all disappeared; they must have numbered 10 in the lower zone and 12 in the second. The orchestra was paved in marble. Behind the stage, which was flanked by two rectangular chambers, a portico with columns formed a facade.

The public Roman baths were built of rubble and revetted with ashlar and brick. These thermae may date as early as the 2nd century AD. Only one large rectangular chamber (22 x 14 m), undoubtedly the tepidarium, can be described; it gave onto other rooms and onto the exterior by 11 passages. These baths were included within the Byzantine fortress, no doubt built on an earlier enclosure and defended by 13 towers. It measured 278 x 219 m. The existence of a forum is attested by a single inscription. There are also remains of arcades, a small shrine of Neptune, cisterns and, outside the town, a Christian church.

Calama became a Christian bishopric, four of whose bishops are named in extant documents: Donatus (not to be confused with Donatus Magnus) was accused in a council held in 305 of having handed over the sacred scriptures during the Decian persecution Megalius gave episcopal ordination to Saint Augustine in 395 and died in 397 Saint Possidius, elected in the year of Megaliuss death, took an active part in the joint Conference of Carthage (411) with Donatist bishops Quodvultdeus was one of the Catholic bishops whom Huneric summoned to Carthage in 484 and then exiled. Possidius wrote the first biography of Augustine, in which he lets it be known that he himself was one of the clergy of Augustines monastery when he was appointed bishop of Calama. When Calama fell into the hands of the Vandal king Genseric in 429, Possidius took refuge with Augustine within the walled city of Hippo Regius. He was present at Augustines death in 430. No longer a residential bishopric, Calama is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.

Calama is a city that has seen it all, from the Phoenicians to the Vandals, and its ruins are a testament to its rich past. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for a unique travel experience, Calama is a destination that should be on your bucket list. Come and explore the ancient ruins of this once-great city and discover the stories of the people who lived here so long ago.

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