Carthage & Sidi Bou Said
Trip Start May 13, 2008
128Trip End Ongoing
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I don't know if I expected the whole place to be in ruins or what, but it was quite surprising that Carthage these days is quite a plush little suburb, almost completely removed from what it surely once was. By the time we reached and entered the first site - The Baths of Antoninus - the posh houses and fancy streets were a distant memory, and we were transported back to the "olden days". I thought it was fantastic, there were all sorts of buildings that had been preserved from the Roman era, from a school to a church, a kiln, and many living quarters.
Maybe I'm just easily entertained by running around and exploring things, but I had such a good time uncovering the little grottos and mosaics that were dotted around the site. There was so much to see, so much to try and piece together, and so much to imagine.
Yet we had not yet encountered the piece de resistance, the ruins of the baths themselves. Even if I tell you they were the largest Roman baths outside Rome, I don't think it really does justice to how spectactularly big they obviously were. All that remains today is the basement, with one single 49ft pillar left standing, which supported the roof... probably only about half of the actual height of the baths, they were huge! The best thing was that you could walk all around the ruins and there was absolutely no one there, it was brilliant... as if there "wasn't much to see here", indeed!
To complete the beautiful scene it was all set against a backdrop of serene turquoise ocean with the mountainous landscape of the Cap Bon peninsula in the distance. And on the other side lay the fiercely guarded presidental palace, surrounded by a structure lacking the grandeur of the Great Wall of China, but obviously aspiring to it. It was illegal to take any photos in this direction, and we warned that guards were waiting in the wings, ready to pounce and arrest us if we so much as turned our cameras in its general direction.
And that was only one of the many Carthage sites, damn! Next was the Roman Villas Archaeological Park, which to the uninspired eye was presumably more of the same. Ruins it was indeed, but this time of wealthier living quarters, and higher up, with extended views out onto the Gulf of Tunis. As with the first site, and in fact any remotely old Tunisian site, patches were covered with streams of grass, dotted with numerous yellow flowers. Or were they weeds? We never did find out, but no matter, it gave a gorgeous splash of colour to proceedings.
One of the houses, the Villa des Volieres, had been restored, and boasted a fine collection of relics, mosaics, and headless figurines. This provided great amusement, like a day out at the seaside, whereby we could go and perch behind them and slot our faces onto the bodies of these Roman statues.
We swiftly moved on to our final Carthage site (there were loads more, but the three we visited are supposedly the most impressive) so as to leave enough time for Sidi Bou Said later in the afternoon. This involved a brisk march up Byrsa Hill to the centre of the old Punic city, which is now home to the Carthage museum, some early Punic houses, many more Roman remains, and a mock Byzantine cathedral, built in the 19th Century. As we were so high up now we had panoramic views over Tunis, the Gult, and out to Cap Bon again. Luckily we made it before it started to cloud over and the heavens opened, but it was a bit of a close call.
Today's ruin quotient well and truly met, it was time to move on up the tram line to "Tunisia's Prettiest Village", Sidi-Bou-Said. Whoever said that didn't bank on the rain! No seriously, it was beautiful, mainly due to the colour scheme, with pretty much everything you can think of dressed in the colours of white and bright blue. Again, the doors were absolutely a-door-able... haha, geez that was lame... hopefully the photos will rescue the situation...
Due to the rain we didn't spend as much time there as we would have liked, but we got to potter round the quaint little streets for a few minutes before we retired inside to a cafe for some mint tea. Today's mint tea was obviously jazzed up for the tourists and contained a layer of swimming pine nuts (why??!), and came with a plate of makhroud, which are semolina cakes, soaked in honey, with a date centre, and adored by Tunisians everywhere. They were nice!
A shame we couldn't have seen more of this little place, especially in the sunshine. With it being so high up I'm sure there would have been some great views. But at least we weren't plodded around Carthage in the rain. So back to Tunis we returned, caught in the school rush hour on the tram... it was like the tube, except not a complete rip off and people were actually nice, so scratch that, not like the tube at all then.
Although I didn't manage to obtain any phone numbers today (slacking, I know), an altogether more important lesson was learnt. When someone tells you somethings are not worth going to, check it out with your own eyes, they may be feeding you a red herring... Oh, and go to Carthage, its quite good! :)
Where I stayed