the mysterious mausoleum of mauretania

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Among the more interesting and mysterious archeological sites in Algeria is a structure that, while archaeologists claim they know the origins, they really can’t be certain. The structure could actually be much older than originally thought.

I am referring to what is called the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania, a funerary monument in northern Algeria located between the cities of Cherchell and Algiers. Conventional wisdom asserts that the Mausoleum is the tomb where the Berber Juba II and Cleopatra Selene II, king and queen of Mauretania, are buried. The monument is entirely built from stone, while its main structure is in a circular form with a square base topped by a cone or a pyramid.

As it is told, the structure was built in 3 B.C.E. by the last King of Numidia, and later King of Mauretania, Juba II, and his wife Cleopatra Selene II. Cleopatra Selene II was an Egyptian Greek Ptolemaic princess, the daughter of the Queen Cleopatra VII of Egypt and Roman Triumvir Mark Antony. Through her marriage to Juba II, she became the last Queen of Numidia and later Queen of Mauretania.

This UNESCO-recognized monument is sometimes known as the Mausoleum of Juba and Cleopatra Selene. In the French language the mausoleum is known as Tombeau de la Chretienne or “the tomb of the Christian woman” because there is a cross-like shape of the division lines on the false door. In Arabic, the mausoleum is called the Kubr-er-Rumia or Kbor er Roumia, which means the “tomb of the Roman woman.”

In the mid- sixteenth century, the Pasha of Algiers gave orders to level the mausoleum. After large black wasps swarmed out and stung some of the workers to death, the effort to destroy it was abandoned. At the end of the eighteenth century, Baba Mahommed tried in vain to destroy the monument with artillery. Later in the nineteenth century, when the French occupied Algeria, the monument was used by the French Navy for target practice.

This structure is just one of the many monuments on the road between Cherchell and the ruins of Tipaza on Algeria’s north coast, many of which are in desperate need of preservation. Accordingly and sadly, UNESCO has included this site on the “List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.”

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