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Published: September 22nd 2018
Heading North From Monastir You Are Treated
to sights of higher ground heading toward the Atlas Mt
day trip took us north as the ultimate goal for the day was to go to the historic town of Carthage with the same driver, Alaya, and Kathy and Jim from SV Inishnee. It was another full day of learning more about the country and its people with a glimpse of cities and the countryside in the north. We also saw some of the development of a country that received its independence from France 60 years ago is still growing. We drove through the town of Sousse which is a modern city with plenty of new buildings still being built and all the trappings of any large city back in the US. Continuing north the landscape became quite green with plenty of orchards filled with olive and almond trees as well as fields of grass for the grazing of large herds of sheep. The Atlas Mountains are in the north giving us splendid views in the distance. It was over 2 hours to get to Carthage so we were all very happy to get out of the van to do some walking around the historic sites.
First, a little about the history of Carthage. It was first settled by
On The Way to Cathage Went Through Sousse
and Tunis - both modern cities & still building more
the Phoenician Queen Dido in the 9th
C. BC and became a prominent city for the next 500 years. The Carthaginian Empire dominated the western Mediterranean for years and had taken control of much of the land in this area of the Med. When it took over Sicily Rome decided to fight back even though it did not have a strong navy at the time. They created a large fleet of ships which led to the fighting of three long Punic Wars. Rome finally won in 146 BC and as a result Carthage had to give up control of Sicily to Rome. Carthage was destroyed in the battles, but due to its strategic location on the coast Rome decided that it was worth re-building and did so starting in the 1st
C AD. It became an important city of the Roman Empire with its control of this portion of the Mediterranean and being an important trading center. Carthage was captured later by the Vandals in the 5th
C. AD and then by the Byzantines. Finally the Muslims defeated the Byzantines in 698 AD destroying the city of Carthage in the process. They decided to fortify and develop the neighboring city
of Tunis which left Carthage to be in ruins ever since. Many of the layers of the city have been uncovered, but most of what you now see is the vestiges of the Roman city of Carthage.
The historic sites of Carthage are scattered therefore you pay an admission fee of 10 dinar (approximately $3.50) and that lets you in to all of the locations. We first started at the Anontine Baths which were built between the years of 146-162 AD. It is one of the largest baths ever built and even contained an outdoor Olympic sized swimming pool. The baths were designed to be used year round, but unfortunately in the 5th
C. a large vault collapsed leading to the disuse of it as a bath. As with many other historic places we have visited, it found other uses as a ceramic workshop and as a residence for quarrymen in the area used this space. It was interesting to walk through the baths, but unfortunately there wasn’t any signage and we didn’t have a guide to explain the details. We have mentally decided to put it on our list of a place to return to when we can
Someone Was Selling Fresh Flat Bread
while we were stopped at the toll booth - delicious!
concentrate on only Carthage and hire a guide to explain the location in detail. For today’s trip we only stayed at each location a short time as Alaya wanted to take us to a few other places. It worked out well as it gave us an idea of where we would like to return to.
We did make it to a couple more of the Roman ruins in Carthage – we stopped to see the theater which held up to 10,000 people built in the 2nd
C. but destroyed in the 5th
C. by the Vandals. This site wasn’t excavated until the 19th
C. It has been rebuilt and is being used today for numerous events. We stopped to see the amphitheatre but there was not much of that remaining. This one was a little unusual in that it was built on flat land rather than high on a hill like most of the other Roman amphitheatres.
One thing the Romans were experts at seem to be their attention to obtaining water from a long distance by aqueducts and then storing it in cisterns for the use by those in the city. The aqueducts that they built in
this area run for 130 kilometers (80 miles) bringing the water from the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. There were numerous renovations to it starting in 698 AD, then again in the 10th
C. They built cisterns in 157 AD made up of 16 compartments which not only then distributed water to the city, but also to the baths, the amphitheatre and the theatre. Quite an elaborate system that indicates how well engineered it was. We have seen many wonders created by the Romans, but we are still in awe of what they accomplished.
The actual Roman city of Carthage is another one of the sites that you can visit. It is in a beautiful location overlooking the bay of Tunis. It is no wonder that this site was chosen for the capital of the province of Africa. The colony was first started in the 12th
C BC, but was not that successful. Julius Caesar later sent people that did not own land to settle here and in 29 BC Augustus decided that the center of the administration for the province of Africa should be located here. It was said that many of the emperors over the
years enjoyed visiting here, but none decided to reside here. The importance of the city of Carthage started to decline in the 3rd
C. The Vandals came in 439 and plundered the city, but were defeated. By 705 the Arabs arrived and they built the new town of Tunis leaving Carthage to be left to die.
In walking around the ruins of the city we went into a long hallway that many mosaics were being stored in. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to be in there but there wasn’t any sign at the doorway that we couldn’t enter. Shortly after arriving one of the guides came by with a liter size bottle of water. He poured some water on many of the mosaics showing us the rich colors that came alive giving us a glimpse of what they must have looked like when installed in the city. He told us the age of the mosaics as it must be remembered that there are numerous layers to the city that are still being uncovered. We walked around with him for a time while he explained some of the buildings and history of the city. When he found out
we were from the US, he pointed to his heart immediately and said that the US has a special place in his heart. He went on to explain that when he was 6 years old a medical ship called “Hope” was sent by President Kennedy and it anchored out in the harbor that we could see here. He went and was given his first pair of glasses making a major change in his life forever. It was wonderful to have a chance to talk to someone that was impacted by the generosity of the US.
Sidi Bou Said is located about 12 miles from Tunis and is known as a tourist town, but many stated it is worth going to so it was on the agenda for the day. In the 18th
C. the Turkish governors and many of the wealthy people of the time decided to build their residence here. It is located high on a hill with wonderful views of the surrounding area. In the 1920’s a decision was made to have a blue and white theme to the town reminding some of the villages in Greece. It has attracted numerous artists including Paul Klee and is
still known for the wonderful artwork that you can obtain here. As you walk up the hill in town you have to be careful as the shopkeepers are experts at their ability to get you into their shops to “just take a look”. I was behind Bob and taking some photos when I found out that he had been nabbed by one of them and the two of them were enjoying quite a laugh together. Come to find out Bob was looking at a fez and within a few minutes the shopkeeper was saying he wanted to take Bob’s straw hat! It would have been a great deal if it was an exchange based on the price of the fez, but no such luck (and with the sun beating down, Bob definitely didn’t want to give up his straw hat!) Bob decided to buy the fez and within seconds a caftan was put on him. Fortunately he had already purchased one in Monastir so we weren’t in the market. As Bob said afterwards, it may have been a little pricier than he would have liked to pay, but half the fun was the interactions with the shopkeeper. They definitely know
Selling Chameleons Along the Road
we were told they are for "good luck"
how to appeal to people to get them to buy (but in a nice way!)
Alaya decided to drive us to a couple more places on the way back, one that has some historic relevance as it had been the capital of Tunisia for a short time, but we were all quite tired by that time so not sure if we got that much out of that stop. The strangest stop was when we went to Carthageland, an amusement park! As Alaya told us it has the largest King Kong, a few rides and a “fake” medina (ancient walled city). We weren’t quite sure why we came there, but we decided that Alaya needed a break from driving. As a result the four of us walked around a bit and found an ice cream stand so treated ourselves before heading back at the designated time to the van.
Another very full day tour full of information and time to see more of the northern portion of Tunisia. After 12 hours away from the marina we were all ready to get out of the van and back to our boats. It has given us a taste of what the
area is like and some ideas of where we may want to travel back to when we return after being in the US this winter.
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