1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mahdia

MAHDIA (also spelt Mehdia, Mehedia, &c.), a town of Tunisia, on the coast between the gulfs of Hammamet and Gabes, 47 m. by rail S.S.E. of Susa. Pop. about 8000. Mahdia is built on a rocky peninsula which projects eastward about a mile beyond the normal coast line, and is not more than a quarter of a mile wide. The extremity of the peninsula is called Ras Mahdia or Cape Africa—Africa being the name by which Mahdia was designated by Froissart and other European historians during the middle ages and the Renaissance. In the centre of the peninsula and occupying its highest point is a citadel (16th century); another castle farther west is now used as a prison and is in the centre of the native town. The European quarter and the new port are on the south-west side of the peninsula. The port is available for small boats only; steamers anchor in the roadstead about a quarter of a mile from the shore. On the south-east, cut out of the rock, is the ancient harbour, or cothon, measuring about 480 ft by 240 ft., the entrance being 42 ft. wide. There are manufactories of olive oil, but the chief industry is sardine fishing, largely in the hands of Italians.

Mahdia occupies the site of a Phoenician settlement and by some authorities is identified with the town called Turris Hannibalis by the Romans. Hannibal is said to have embarked here on his exile from Carthage. After the Arab conquest of North Africa the town fell into decay. It was refounded in 912 by the first Fatimite caliph, ’Obaidallah-al-Mahdi, after whom it was named. It became the port of Kairawan and was for centuries a city of considerable importance, largely owing to its great natural strength, and its position on the Mediterranean. It carried on an active trade with Egypt, Syria and Spain. The town was occupied by the Normans of Sicily in the 12th century, but after holding it for about twelve years they were driven out in 1159 by the Almohades. In 1390 a joint English and French force vainly besieged Mahdia for sixty-one days. In the early part of the 16th century the corsair Dragut seized the town and made it his capital, but in 1550 the place was captured by the Spaniards, who held it until 1574. Before evacuating the town the Spaniards dismantled the fortifications. Under the rule of the Turks and, later, the beys of Tunis Mahdia became a place of little importance. It was occupied by the French in 1881 without opposition, and regained some of its former commercial importance.

During 1908 numbers of bronzes and other works of art were recovered from a vessel wrecked off Mahdia in the 5th century A.D. (see Classical Review, June 1909).