09/1999 - Tunisia

15-day trip to Tunisia visiting Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Bardo Museum , Dugga , Bulla Regia, Kairouan, Sbeitla , Oasis of Tozeur, Oasis Nefta,  Corbeille of Nefta , Mides Oasis , Oasis of Tamerza , Oasis Chebika , Chott El Djerid , Fatnassa , Oasis of El Faouar , oasis of El Sabria , Oasis of Zaafrane , Douz oasis of Ksar Guilane , Chenini , Douiret , Tataouine , Ksar of Oulet Soultane , Ksar of Haddada , troglodyte village of Matmata , Sfax , El Jem, Monastir , Sousse , Hammamet , Zagouan , Carthage , Thuburbo Majus

 

We left Venice early in the morning and at 10.30 we were already in Tunis. I planned a trip that included a visit to the archaeological sites in addition to some of the most important cities and also oasis, both in the  desert and in the mountain, Berber villages, the Ksar ( desert castles ) both in the plain and in the mountain.

In Tunis, we visited the souks, very large and divided by specialty: perfumes (el – Attarine ) , fabrics (el – Koumach ) , second-hand items (des Femmes), wool (el – Kouafi), cotton (du Coton), goldsmiths (des Orfevres ) and finally the most important, the souk el- Leffa, the one of the carpets.

We went to the beautiful terrace of the Palais d’Orient decorated with enamelled majolica tiles, some of them are even dating back to the fifteenth century. From the terrace we could enjoy a beautiful view of the city .

The nearby village Sidi Bou Said, situated on a promontory overlooking the sea, is famous because it is a  holy place for Muslims . The village is particularly fascinating for its characteristic white houses all with doors, windows and balconies painted in blue .

In Tunis, we could not miss a visit to the Bardo National Museum  which is one of the richest museums for its collection of Roman mosaics and more.

The city of Dugga (Thugga in Latin) has something magic mainly due to the excellent state of preservation of its many and all important buildings, but also for its location on the top and the sides of a hill from which you can enjoy a great panorama  among  numerous old olive trees.

Bulla Regia is in a completely different position being located on a plain. The Romans built the town with one or two-floor houses without considering the high summer temperatures in the area.

So they dug under the houses and created the corresponding subterranean dwellings to fight against the heat. Those houses are very well preserved so we could enjoy the many important works (mostly mosaics) with which they were embellished.

Kairouan, Tunisia ‘s second city , is located in a dry and arid plain. In 1900, the Aghlabids built two artificial water basins, one still in use, which mitigated the city climate.

Kairouan is the Holy City of Tunisia and the oldest place of worship for the Islamic religion.

The Great Mosque , also known as Jamaa Sidi Uqba ,is characterized by a great courtyard surrounded by a portico with beautiful arches and decorated ceilings . The interior is supported by numerous Roman and Byzantine columns.

Another important sacred place is the Zaouia of Sidi Sahab , also known as the Mosque of the Barber since it hosts the remains of Abou el- Dhama Balaoui who, they say, always carried with himself three hairs from the beard of Muhammad.

We admired the suggestive views given by two vestibules and the Medersa patio with stuccos and enamelled majolica  panels.

On the first floor of the building called Bir Barouta there is a blindfolded camel which, by pulling a noria , provides water for a fountain. The importance of the place (the well dates back to the seventeenth century) is due to a legend that tells that that well is connected with another one in the Mecca.

We could enjoy interesting glimpses of everyday life inside the souk.

We continued towards Djerid ( literal translation : town of palm leaf) , stopping along the way at Sbeitla to visit the ruins of the Roman city of Sufetula which shines in the sun thanks to the ochre colour of its important monuments, some very well preserved ( and restored ) .

 

The oasis of Tozeur and Nefta have immense palm groves, but it is particularly fascinating the view offered by the Corbeille of Nefta : in the bottom of a 30-meter hollow, among numerous springs , there is a beautiful palm grove.

We spent one day visiting the Mountain Oasis. We reached them crossing the beautiful and spectacular Selja gorges by a characteristic train of the beginning of the century , the Lézard Rouge (Red Lizard).

We continued by jeep . Near the border with Algeria, we reached the oasis of Mides positioned on the side of a deep gorge, then the oasis of Tamerza ( the ancient Roman “Ad Turras” ) whose village , in 1969 , was destroyed by a  flood ( it had rained continuously for 22 days !) and finally the oasis of Chébika ( the ancient Roman “Ad Speculum”) where we visited the abandoned village. Then we crossed a gorge where a  stream was flowing in the middle of a palm grove.

We left the oasis of Tozeur and Nefta in order to reach the area of the Desert Oasis.

We crossed the depression called Chott el Djerid (salt lake), a great expanse of sand, rocks and salt where  shades range from white to pink, from blue to purple.

It is an area in which, because of the heat of the sun, there is the optical phenomenon of mirage (also known as Fata Morgana): the dunes reflect themselves on the surface of the Chott that looks like a huge lake.

We stopped to admire the famous Desert Roses, crystal clusters which look like the petals of a rose.

We began to see the first palm trees in Fatnassa where sand and salt solidify and form red rocks .

At first, we visited the Oasis of El Faouar , on the edge of the desert, where the dunes are characterized by a very fine and impalpable sand (it seemed face-powder); then we reached the oasis of El Sabria crossing the dunes with difficulty.

In El Sabria there was the French army corps of the Foreign Legion. Nowadays the fort is almost covered by sand.

We went to watch the sunset at the Oasis of Zaafrane , going by camel.

We entered the desert to go to sleep in the Oasis of Ksar Guilane, in tents equipped for tourists.

We had enough time for a bath in the thermal spring and, the next morning, at dawn, we went to admire the sunrise among a swarm of ​​annoying flies.

We reached the deep south of Tunisia and then we began to move northwards.

We met the Berber villages, almost completely abandoned. We visited the villages of Chenini and Douiret with the houses carved into the rock and the old “ksar” to store crops.

Then we visited the Castles of the desert, the name given to the “Ksar” , which are square-shaped fortified buildings.

The Ksar Ouled Soltane had been recently restored. The building, constituted by overlapped cellars, was used by the inhabitants to hide the crops and defend them from raids or were used as granaries ( ghorfa ).

It was very interesting to see the magnificent Ksar Haddada with its numerous inner courtyards with the opening of the doors of the warehouses and the stables.

We visited the troglodyte village of Matmata , with the houses dug underground.

From the surface you can see huge circular craters (approx. 12-meter diameter and 8-meter depth) which can be accessed through a tunnel. The tunnel  is open on one side, due to height variations of the ground.

In the bottom of the crater, there is the courtyard with the openings of numerous rooms .

The rooms have a variety of uses: bedrooms, kitchen , warehouses and pet shelter.

We left Matmata and reached the coastal road. We passed Sfax and we arrived at the small village of El Jem where there is an amphitheatre that is so wide that only the Colosseum of Rome and Capua are bigger than it. It dates back to the second century and stands out for its yellow and red stone as the majority of the Roman monuments of Tunisia.

During the Roman times, El Jem was a city of 40.000 inhabitants.

At sunset we arrived at Monastir, a city famous for being the birthplace of Bourguiba, the Tunisian president from 1957 to 1987 .

It is beautiful the Ribat (which  looks more like a fortress than a monastery) sheer to the  sea as its mosque.

We spent the night in Sousse, a tourist destination for the beauty of its beaches. It is interesting the museum, full of mosaics which are historically important and very beautiful. After a tour in the souk , enriched by important buildings, we visited the fortified Monastery Ksar er- Ribat of the ninth century  that is one of the most important one in the Maghreb Islam .

We stopped to sleep in the seaside town of Hammamet and we went to visit Zagouan with its beautiful Temple of the Waters. It is important to remember that it was the starting point of the aqueduct that supplied Carthage, an aqueduct still used by the local population.

We visited the archaeological area Thuburbo Majus ,a Roman town that was completely destroyed by vandals and was rediscovered at the beginning of the last century .