Travellers' Tales: Tunisia
Eleanor and Michael Wasley travelled with Audley to Tunisia, to take in its Roman sites and other highlights.
One of the stunning mosaics in the El Jem Museum
"There’s more to Tunisia than sun and Star Wars"Eleanor Wasley
Most people head to Tunisia for the sun and many never get beyond the pool in their resort. A few may make day trips into the countryside to the more popular Roman sites or else the desert and Star Wars sites in the south.
This is a shame as Tunisia has so much more to offer. We spent a month in Tunisia last year starting in Tunis and doing a big loop down to the south and back. The main purpose of the trip was to see the Roman sites. As well as the major must-sees of Douuga, Thuburbo Majus, and Bulla Regia, our driver guide also took us to places like Ain Tounga and Gightis, which don’t figure in the guide books.
We visited Meninx, the Roman site on Djerba. It was a beautiful day and the sea was glinting in the sunshine. There were a few small fishing boats moored on the beach and someone wading in the sea catching fish in a hand-held net. We walked across a rough area with piles of rubble and low growing vegetation, with a lot of bright yellow trefoil providing a splash of colour. At first there was little to see and only the fragments of red pottery lying everywhere indicated people had once lived here. We found the remains of handles and rims. As we walked towards the sea we discovered the remains of the forum with column bases, remains of pillars and bits of carved marble lying around. We kept stumbling across bits of walls from unidentified buildings, some still with plaster, and began to feel the thrill of the early archaeologists when they first visited a site.
In March, the north was still very green and fertile with fields of wheat waving in the sunshine. We could understand why Tunisia was so important to the Roman Empire, sending vast quantities of grain and olive oil to feed Rome. There were regimented olive groves, orchards of peaches and almonds, as well as citrus fruits. Everywhere there were wild flowers; yellow and white daisies, orange marigolds, red poppies, blue borage, purple mallow. It brought home to us just how many wild flowers we have lost with modern agriculture.
As we drove south, the land changed to desert and wild camels could be seen. The only settlements are based around springs and water sources. Stone or earth banks are built to hold back water so some wheat and a few olive trees or dates can be grown. The oases with their palmeraies near the Algerian border stand out as splashes of green against the pale brown landscape.
To the east is the land of the fortified Berber hill towns and Ksours, the fortified granaries made famous by Star Wars. Around Tatauoine, nearly every hilltop has one. Their evocative architecture is a photographer's delight.
There were so many highlights to the trip. The stunning mosaics in the Bardo and El Jem Museums, Elles Tombs scattered around a hillside, Jurgurtha's Table rising out of the plain, the oasis at Chebika once the tourists had left...
Above all we will remember the warmth and welcome of the Tunisian people and their feeling of optimism after the Jasmine Revolution.