Friday, January 28, 2011

Kairouan in Images

Kairouan is the name of Islam's fourth most holy city after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. It is the Islamic heart of Central Tunisia.

The Old Town of Kairouan is a kaleidoscope of colour and design, a place in which to wander and get lost and absorb. It is a place where every doorway, every ceiling, every carpet is a work of art.

Take a sneak peek at the photos we took with my Christmas Present. We uploaded them to a website named Flickriver because I thought they might look bigger and better in that setting, but I'm not sure. Click the link below to view the photos and simply hit the space bar to reveal each new image. Leave a post or shoot us an email (or facebook, or twitter or whatever!) and let us know what you think.

Kairouan Images

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jace's Kit Loadout V: The Medkit

Perhaps the most critical item in anyone’s travel loadout, at least if you want to stay healthy enough to enjoy your travels, will be your first aid kit.

After 9 months travelling our first aid kit is a combination of stuff we have thankfully never needed (and hopefully never will) and stuff we frequently replenish. I call this the ‘medkit’ rather than a ‘first aid’ kit because when you are on the road your first aid kit doubles as the entire medicine cabinet in your bathroom, so you use it not only to apply first aid in emergency situations but also to treat lots of everyday ailments. As a result, you use it much more frequently and for a wider range of applications than the first aid kit you might have in your car or in your home.

As always when you are travelling, volume, weight and durability are important considerations. A fully stocked medkit is a bulky thing, and if you are as paranoid as we are and take lots of drugs with you, you need to take small quantities of lots of different things and replenish some of them frequently. In the table below I’ve listed the items we carry, the containers we carry them in, and what they are used for. All the items listed in the table fit into a pouch of approximately 2 litres in volume.

When we purchase items in blister packs we often transfer them into small plastic bottles (transparent ones are best) for better durability as blister packs burst open easily and pills get lost. If you are going to do things this way you must be very careful to properly label your bottles. A good way to label bottles is to cut off the name of the tablets from the cardboard packet with your scissors and pop it in the bottle. A bad way to label bottles is to write on them in permanent ink, only to discover later that the ink wasn’t as permanent as you thought it would be, and now you have a whole lot of pills and you can’t remember what they are for.

Clear plastic pills bottles like this Nalgene one are good. If you have more types of pills than bottles you can put two types in one bottle as I have done here, just be sure to write clear descriptions of which pill is which on the backs of the labels and, obviously, don't put two different pills that appear identical in the same bottle.

Another word of advice: try to avoid those metal tubes, like the ones Savlon cream comes in. They puncture easily and you end up with a mess when you need one least. Creams like sunscreen and insect repellent which are sometimes difficult to find in screwtop bottles need to be put into ziplock bags when not in use in case the fliptop lid comes off in your pack.

Below is a list of the current contents of our medkit. If you are reading this and you can think of anything else you think is important to have in a travel medkit be sure to leave us a post with your ideas.

‘Bactroban’ (mupirocin) ointment
15g tube
Treatment of ‘golden staph’ skin infection
400mg ‘Noroxin’ Norfloxacin tablets
6 tablets in blister pack
Antibiotic for gastrointestinal or urinary tract infection
500mg ‘Keflex’ Cephalexin capsules
20 tablets in blister pack
Antibiotic for respiratory tract infections
100mg ‘Vibra-tabs’ Doxycycline tablets
Plastic bottle, 28 tablets
Malaria prevention
Tea Tree Oil
25ml glass bottle
Disinfectant, antiseptic, smells nice
250mg activated charcoal tablets
Plastic bottle, 60 tablets
Prevents flatulence
500mg paracetamol tablets
Plastic bottle, 30 tablets
200mg ibuprofen tablets
Plastic bottle, 30 tablets
500mg paracetamol ‘Lemsip’ sachets
A few sachets
Painkiller, soothes sore throat, tastes nice, comforting
2mg Imodium (Loperamide Hydrochloride)
Plastic bottle, up to 100 tablets (they are tiny)
Anti diarrheal
‘Caladryl Clear’ lotion
Plastic bottle, 200ml
Topical analgesic- to stop mozzie bites itching
‘Tineafax’ powder
Plastic bottle, 60g
Clears Tinea
‘Gastrolyte’ tablets
Plastic tube of 10 effervescent tablets
Glucose and electrolytes for rapid rehydration
‘Rennie’ Antacid tablets
Plastic bottle, 30 tablets
Indigestion or ‘heartburn’
‘Fess Frequent Flyer’ Nasal spray
200ml nasal spray bottle
Prevents nasal congestion
‘Gingisona L’ lidocaine solution
Glass bottle, 30ml
Local anaesthetic solution- for mouth ulcers
‘Claratyne’ Antihistamine tablets
Plastic bottle, 20 tablets
Hayfever relief
Blistex lip conditioner
A few plastic ‘lipstick’ applicator tubes
Prevents windburn on lips
Surgical gloves
2 pairs, stored in old film canisters
Barrier to infection when blood is present
‘Reclens’ saline solution
3 ampoules
Eye irrigation
‘Leukoplast’ sports tape
1 roll of tape
Strapping feet to prevent blisters before hiking
Thermal blanket
Folded in ziplock bag
Treatment for shock- keeps patient warm
Triangular bandage
Sterile packaging
Slinging, bandaging, splinting
Wound dressing
Sterile packaging
For dressing wounds!
Band aids/ Elastoplast squares and strips
About a dozen standard strips and a dozen larger squares
Strips for small cuts and nicks, larger squares for abrasions
Medium weight crepe bandage
Sterile packaging
Principally for holding wound pads in place
Heavy weight bandage
Principally for compression of strains and sprains
For cutting
For tweezing
Plastic tube in ziplock bag
Prevents sunburn
Insect repellent
Plastic tube in ziplock bag
Repels insects!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Roman Tunisia

After whetting our appetite for all things ancient at Carthage, Alix and I set off to explore the rest of Tunisia. Part of our journey was to explore some of the Roman historical sites in Tunisia, of which there are quite a few scattered throughout the country.

We visited four sites, in order of our visits, we went to Dougga, Bulla Regia, El Jem and Sufetula. To provide an overview and context for these visits we first visited the Bardo Museum in Tunis, home to a great number of the mosaics found excavated and painstakingly moved from sites across Tunisia to this central location.

Unfortunately for us, the Bardo Museum was being renovated at the time we visited, so we only got to see a small number of the artifacts that are usually on display there. The enterprising security guards at the museum encouraged us to lean on the statues and let them take photos of us with the busts in order to extort small change from us in return for their services. This is us hanging out with one of my favourite Roman Emperors, Septimius Severus. Only in Tunisia!

Roman mosaics hang impressively from the walls of the museum, giving the impression that this is how they were displayed in Roman times as well. The truth is that mosaics were used as flooring, not displayed on walls. When ancient Romans ate dinner, they didn’t sit at tables as we do, rather they reclined on couches. These couches would be positioned on unadorned sections of flooring around the edges of the dining room, which was known as the Triclinium, after the Roman word for a three seater couch. In the centre of the room was the floor mosaic, positioned so the diners could admire it while they ate.

Mosaics were quite popular amongst the Romans, some had religious significance but many were purely decorative as well. The basic themes of the Triclinium mosaics are anything to do with food, drink and social life, and they reflect admiration for the gods and the passage of the seasons.

Mosaics depicting oceanic themes are particularly common, often they include tritons, nymphs and other mythological sea creatures. This one is particularly impressive, it depicts Neptune, god of the sea, riding a chariot of seahorses.

Being a place of social life and leisure, the goddess Venus was also a popular feature of triclinium mosaics. Here she is being attended by centaur handmaidens. Diana, goddess of the hunt, is also featured.

This mosaic, while overly patchy in places, was one of my favourites. It shows the labours of Hercules, with one of the monsters he vanquished depicted in each of the medallions. Here Hercules personifies the stoic Roman virtue of reason over emotion. As Hercules defeats imaginary monsters, he is a metaphor for the human mind's triumph over passion and fear.

After our visit to the museum it was time to head out and visit some of the sites where these artifacts originated. Our first destination was Dougga, 110 km southwest of Tunis. Dougga is probably Tunisia’s overall best preserved Roman town, with many intact buildings having been dug out of the surrounding hillside. The theatre, with seating for around 3000, is particularly impressive.

Dougga was built by the Romans on top of an old Berber town, and its paved streets followed the unplanned existing roads. Unlike most Roman towns which followed a strict grid, Dougga’s streets wind organically from here to there, inspiring the imagination of the visitor.

The Licinian baths at Dougga, while not as large as the Antonine baths of Carthage, are much better preserved. You can see here how the ancient roman thermal system worked, with tunnels and corridors where slaves would work to continuously stoke the fires that provided heat and steam to the bathers in the baths above, and the remains of an impressive network of hollow terracotta pipes that were inserted between the internal marble façade of the bath house and the outer stone walls. The terracotta pipes absorbed excess moisture from steam in the hot baths, preventing mould and dampness on the marble and serving as insulation to keep the hot rooms hot.

There are some remarkably well preserved communal toilets;

and statues of emperors without the heads: because the emperors turned over pretty quickly, they made the statues with removable heads so entire statues needn't be carved at succession time. This one is emperor Jacius Stupidius.

The other notable thing about Dougga is that the surrounding countryside is beautiful. The rolling hills surrounding the tour site are home to plenty more archaeological treasure, including what has been identified by archaeologists as a (hopefully) intact hippodrome.

Another easy day trip from Tunis was the site of Bulla Regia, 170 kilometres from Tunis and linked in Roman times by the same road that runs through the middle of Dougga. The city was Numidian before it was Roman, and when Rome defeated Carthage the allied Numidians petitioned for and received full Roman citizenship, becoming thoroughly Romanised. Unique in the Roman world, the people of Bulla Regia capitalised on local Berber knowledge to build nifty underground villas.

For centuries, the local Berbers had dug their homes into the ground in order to provide superb insulation from both the summer heat and the chilly winters. Figuring that the Berbers were on to something the Romans followed suit, and while their homes were internally Roman in style, complete with pillars and mosaics, they were dug into the ground as the Berber houses were. Now that archaeologists have unearthed these villas, the visitor has a rare opportunity to go inside what was once an actual Roman home.

While we were at Bulla Regia it rained. Our guide said we were lucky, because the rain would wet the mosaics and we would see them in full colour- usually the floor mosaics are covered with a thin layer of sandy dirt, hence the dusty appearance. You can see in the photographs below that where the underground courtyard opened directly to the sky above, the rain has wet the mosaic causing it to burst into sudden colour.

The Romans were pretty serious about their planning in all respects. The town planners even knew where they were going to house the courtesans- this is the foundation stone of one such establishment in Bulla Regia.

Our third stop on our tour of ancient Roman sites was El Jem, a fairly small and pretty typical Tunisian town, except for the fact that it has a massive Roman amphitheatre slap bang in its centre.

Oddly incongruous amongst the dusty streets and pavement cafes, the amphitheatre at El Jem seated 35000 spectators, it was the third largest in the Roman world after the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre at Capua. A section of the seating has been restored to showcase its former glory, the seating originally spanned three vertical tiers that towered above the arena. It was great fun running around inside the tunnels under the seating tiers and striding out onto the Arena pretending to be Jacius Maximus.

The museum at El Jem was pretty good too, with another impressive collection of mosaics. In keeping with the gladiatorial theme of the amphitheatre, some of the mosaic depictions are fairly grisly.

On our way back to Tunis from southern Tunisia we stopped at the town of Sbeitla, modern home to the Roman ruins of Sufetula. To be perfectly honest, there wasn’t a great deal to see at Sufetula that had not already been showcased for us at the other sites we had visited, so by this time I think a bit of ancient Roman fatigue had set in. The main attraction at Sufetula was a very impressive and well preserved Forum with three standing temples; the Temple of Jupiter, flanked by temples to his wife, Juno at his right shoulder and his daughter Minerva on his left, together they form the holy trinity of the ancient Roman world.

Unlike Dougga and Bulla Regia, no archaeologist guides presented themselves at Sufetula, making us wonder if there was a whole lot of significance to the ruins that was sailing over our heads. On the other hand, Alix’ parents, Ursula and Martin, had joined us earlier in Tozeur, so Alix had fun playing ‘amateur-hour’ tour guide for them, trying to recall to memory as much of what we had learnt at the other sites we had been to.

Wandering the Roman ruin sites in Tunisia was a rich and rewarding experience. Largely off the tourist trail, we virtually had the sites to ourselves- one tour bus arrived while we were at El Jem, and a dozen or so others wandered the ruins at Sufetula; at Dougga and Bulla Regia we caught glimpses only of the few other visitors there. The sites themselves are very cheap to enter, with a standard entry fee set by the Tunisian tourism board of 5 dinars for a single entry ticket, which is about $3.40 in our money. Tour guides at Dougga and Bulla Regia were archaeology graduates; friendly, professional, knowledgeable and inexpensive. I hope they continue to do their good work long into the future.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jace's Kit Loadout IV: Cameras

When we decided to go travelling we also decided it was time to buy a new camera. Not being big photographers at home, we didn’t know at first whether we wanted a compact point-and-shoot camera or a digital SLR, but we settled on a workhorse of the compact camera set, the Olympus µTough.

As a Christmas present to ourselves, we decided to buy a shiny new Digital SLR camera to travel with as well, and after some deliberation we purchased a Nikon D3100. I thought I’d write a few Pros and Cons for these two cameras in case anyone is considering buying a camera and might benefit from our experiences.

Olympus µTough

So why did we decide to buy the Olympus µTough? Well, there were basically three main variables we were initially considering and those were price, portability and video capability.

The first consideration was price: we wanted to spend the kind of money which would buy us either a very cheap digital SLR camera or quite a top-range compact camera. Secondly, we decided that we wanted a camera that slips easily in your pocket, so it is easily transportable and so you don’t have to look like a tourist (read as: target for thieves) just because you want to take photographs that day. We also knew we wanted to have a camera that shoots video as well as stills for those moments that are better captured with movement and sound.

The µTough satisfies these three criteria nicely, but the thing that differentiates the µTough from other compact cameras is in the name- it is really tough. The casing of the camera is solid stainless steel down to the exposed rivets, which affords it 2m shock proofing, a feature I inadvertently tested at Cascada Los Alerces in Argentina when I accidentally dropped it down a small cliff into the stream. A good thing the camera is also waterproof to 10m.

As keen snorkellers and scuba divers, we liked the idea of taking underwater photos, so this feature had us convinced. The µTough works well for swimming and snorkelling. To use the µTough while scuba diving deeper than 10m, you need a special hard plastic casing. As many underwater photographers will be able to tell you, the fact that the camera itself is also waterproof is worthwhile insurance in case the plastic case springs a leak while you are in the deep blue.

After months of use, sometimes being lazy and failing to even rinse salt water off the camera with fresh, nothing on it has corroded and the stainless steel body has barely a scratch on it. Apparently it is snow-proof as well, so skiers or snowboarders who want to take fun pictures can do so without having to worry about their camera being damaged by extreme cold. It’s the kind of camera where when someone says ‘chuck us your camera, mate’ you literally can throw it to them. The µTough lives up to its name as a rugged camera suited to the most adventurous traveller.

The µTough runs on its own rechargeable battery that will shoot photos all day unless you are shooting a lot of video, in which case it might run down a little early. It has a range of useful auto shooting modes including a 3-shot landscape panorama, which sometimes works to create great panoramic shots.

However, this camera does have its limitations. As digital cameras go, the µTough doesn’t shoot the most beautiful photographs easily. Primarily this is because its responsiveness is slower than other digital point-and-shoot cameras in its price range. The µTough frequently hunts for focus for too long to make it a pleasure to use, and the zoom function moves in and out quite slowly. Most annoying are the shutter speed and the start-up speed of the camera. When the shutter is released the photo seems to be taken up to half a second afterwards, unacceptably slow to shoot action shots. If the camera is in your pocket when you see a spontaneous moment you would like to shoot, forget about it. The camera takes precious seconds to fire up if it has been switched off. Perhaps unexpectedly the video mode on the camera is excellent, it focuses quickly, reproduces action very well, and shoots long videos easily.

If a really compact camera that can go anywhere and suffer any kind of abuse sounds like the ticket, the µTough is probably right for you.

Nikon D3100

So, after 8 months of travelling with the Olympus, we bought a new toy for Christmas, and our pick of the budget Digital SLR range is the Nikon D3100.

Considering some of the limitations of the Olympus, we decided to get a new camera to supplement the point-and-shoot. We were now heading to Africa, both Egypt where there are lots of monuments to shoot and Tanzania where there is lots of wildlife. In these places, photography becomes almost central to the experience of being there, and we wanted a camera that would be simply a pleasure to use. It was time to upgrade to the heavy artillery.

Since we already had a camera now, our choice variables changed quite a bit and we were now firmly placed in the SLR market. To compensate for the weaknesses of the camera we already had, we needed a camera that would fire up instantly when it was switched on, shoot action scenes at really fast shutter speeds, have a good frame advance rate to shoot multi-shot bursts of photos, and generally be a superior camera in every way to the one we already had.

So, a SLR it had to be. I was still concerned about bulk, and wanted to get a small, light SLR if that was possible. I was also looking for a camera with excellent battery life so we could shoot any number of stills all day and not have to worry about losing power, without needing to carry a spare battery around.

Trumping all these considerations though was price. DSLR’s are expensive and unless you are a really keen photographer there is little point breaking the bank to acquire capability that you really don’t need.

The Nikon D3100 fit the bill on all counts. At 455g, it is the lightest DSLR we could find and with an 18-55mm lens it is not a huge object to lug around, though obviously still bigger than a compact camera. The D3100 shoots 550 photographs on the life of one battery which is many more photographs than competitors in its price range. It shoots 3 frames per second when in burst mode, not as many as the Sony SLT-A33, which shoots at a blistering 7 frames per second, but nevertheless fast enough to capture the moment you want when shooting stills of most moving subjects.  The Nikon D3100 is ready to shoot a tenth of a second after the switch flicks it on and can shoot at the ridiculously fast shutter speeds you expect from an SLR camera. It is also one of the cheapest DSLR’s on the market.

Having just acquired the camera we are in the honeymoon period and haven’t got many cons to write about the D3100 to balance out the pros, except to comment on the practical aspects of being an SLR user who is backpacking around the world.

Compared with the µTough, the Nikon D3100 is bulky, fragile, expensive and mighty conspicuous looking. The modest 18-55mm zoom lens doesn’t really provide much zoom capability- using digital zoom, the µTough compact zooms closer to a distant subject than the Nikon D3100 does. The solution may be to buy an 18-200mm lens to get some really good zoom capability, but the trade off is even more bulk to carry around as well as another pretty sizeable chunk of change for the lens upgrade. I wouldn’t really recommend buying a twin lens kit if you are a traveller, both because carrying around an extra lens is a huge hassle and because switching lenses ‘on the go’ is a great way to fill the body of your camera with dust, sand and grit.

So that about wraps it up folks- thanks for reading another instalment of Jace’s kit loadout. I hope this post has helped some folks when they consider buying a new camera. If you enjoyed reading these reviews, be sure to leave us a post and say ‘hi’.

Monday, January 10, 2011

11 Reasons why Tunisia rocks

  • The streets are clean. Do you hear that South America? Clean.
  • There are very few tourists. The ones you do see are waaay over there in those white 4WDs.
  • People are friendly and courteous. Often you wait for an ulterior motive and... it never comes. They are actually just being nice.
  • Taxis have meters.
  • Inexpensive- but not 'cheap'.
  • Jawas. Giant Jawas.

This man has no idea why he is being photographed

  • Lots of people speak Arabic, French and English... Sweet, sweet English...
  • 2 strong coffees and 2 warm, melting chocolate croissants... for $1.40
  • If you can't get a bus there, there is a train. Or a minibus. Or all three. Or just get a taxi. They have meters, remember?
  • Short distances between destinations. 2-3 hours travel time from location to location.
  • Food is tasty and abundant.

Alix enjoys the rabbit stew. Sooo tasty.

Friday, January 7, 2011


It was with great excitement that Alix and I arrived in Tunis. Tunis is the capital of Tunisia, located on the Mediterranean coast, just south of Sicily. We had finally made it to Africa after some 8 months travelling in South America. We had also arrived at the site of one of the most interesting places in the ancient world.

Carthage, a thriving Mediterranean city in ancient times, is now a coastal suburb of metropolitan Tunis. Scattered between the refined whitewashed villas of the modern suburb are the ancient remains of both Punic and Roman Carthage.

We spent two days exploring Carthage because we wanted to do it comprehensively and we wanted to go by foot, walking the pleasant suburban streets between the ruins. Each day, we caught the rattling old metro train to Carthage Hannibal train station where we disembarked to explore further on foot.

Carthage Hannibal Railway Station

Emperor Septimus Severus street

Beautiful modern villas, reminiscent of ages gone by

Carthage was founded in 814 BC by Phoenician (‘Punic’ in Latin) colonists. The Phoenicians were seafaring traders who originated in the vicinity of modern Syria and are credited with the invention of the bireme (a galley with two banks of oars) and the world’s first real alphabet. Over the centuries, Carthage became rich and powerful owing to its favourable location - to cross from the Western to the Eastern Mediterranean you had to sail by Carthage, so it was in a prime location for trading opportunities.

Unique in the ancient world, Punic Carthage had two distinctive harbours, a large circular naval harbour and a long rectangular commercial harbour. The naval harbour was the military pride of the Carthaginian empire, it could dock 190 ships on the outer ring of the harbour and another 30 at the shipyards on the inner ring, which would be used for repairing existing galleys or building new ones.

The twin harbours of Carthage; appearing like a huge key at the base of the city

What the twin harbours looked like in Punic times

The harbours of Carthage as they appear today. If you look carefully, you can see the doughnut shape of the naval port in the centre of the image

By 265 BC, the Carthaginian empire had expanded through modern day Morocco and into Spain, absorbed the islands of Corsica and Sardinia, and founded cities and fortresses on the western half of Sicily. The emerging empire of Rome, which had recently consolidated its power on the Italian peninsula, did not like the strategic implications of Carthage controlling the strait between Sicily and Italy in the slightest, and the Sicilian flashpoint between Carthage and Rome sparked the three Punic wars.

The clash between these two territorial and economic superpowers included some of the most awesome battles of the ancient world. The brilliant Carthaginian general, Hannibal, was a man well worth naming a train station after. A strategic and tactical warfare genius, Hannibal defeated Roman armies time and again in the battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae during his ten year long invasion of Italy in the Second Punic War. However, despite his abilities in the field, Carthage never supplied Hannibal with sufficient resources or manpower for him to attack Rome directly, which was perhaps the worst decision the Punic senate ever made.

Hannibal’s victories were, for years, carefully studied by a young Roman General named Scipio Africanus, and unlike the Carthaginian equivalent, the Roman senate was willing to supply Scipio with the men and ships he needed to attack Carthage. Under attack by Scipio, Carthage recalled Hannibal from Italy to deal with the threat, but Scipio had studied Hannibal's playbook since his youth and it was not to end well for Carthage. At the Battle of Zama in 202 BC, Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal's army and in the ensuing peace treaty, Punic Carthage forfeited most of its empire to Rome.

After his defeat at the battle of Zama, Hannibal turned his attention to civic pursuits, and he oversaw the construction of residential villas on Byrsa Hill. The site at Byrsa Hill was once a Punic necropolis, then in the 7th century BC the necropolis was levelled and the area was used for metal workshops. At the time Hannibal and Scipio were duking it out, Byrsa Hill was almost certainly the location of the Punic main citadel and temple complex, but these structures were completely destroyed by the Romans prior to the area being used for Hannibal’s residential constructions. Today we can see the remains of the Punic Quarter of Carthage, which has been excavated from under the remains of a Roman Forum that was later built on top of it.

Byrsa Hill

The Punic Quarter

Carthaginian daily life

This plaque is a rare example of the Phoenician alphabet from the 5th century BC. It is an inauguration plaque that was placed at an important intersection of the two main roads of Carthage at the time they were built. Most of the writing is people's names, thanking them for their work or funding towards the building of the road. It ends by saying that anyone who damages the plaque will be fined 1000 silver shekels - plus the cost of fixing the plaque.

Carthage minded its own business for fifty years or so and went back to its practice of making enormous amounts of money trading on the Mediterranean. Under attack by their African neighbours, the encroaching Numidians, Carthage raised an army to defend itself. This act, in violation of its treaty with Rome, encouraged the Romans to attack Carthage again, and this time it was for keeps. Conquest runs pretty hot in the veins of the Scipio family, and Punic Carthage was completely destroyed by Scipio Aemilianus (Grandson of Africanus) in 146 BC.

The Romans refounded Carthage, and it became an important Roman regional centre. Over time, the Romans developed a city with all the bells and whistles that Roman greatness demanded - a Forum for talking politics, several temples to honour various gods, public baths, a theatre for shows, an odeon for concerts, a hippodrome for racing chariots and an amphitheatre for watching Christians get thrown to the lions and other fun entertainments. The city was fed by an enormous system of aqueducts that piped water in from a springwater source over 120 kilometres away from the city. We had to use a bit of imagination to visualise most of these buildings today, but, walking from from site to site, we built a sense of Roman daily life as we wandered amongst the ruins.

The Forum courtyard

A column stands where the Library once was

Roman Charioteer (with bum leg) and his beautiful wife (decapitated version)

Some of the statues must have been pretty big- this is the head of a statue of Princess Antonine, Circa 165 AD

The courtyard of Villa de la Voliere

Alix' new boyfriend, though youthful looking, was roughly 2000 years old...

View from Villa de la Voliere over the gulf of Tunis

An aqueduct

Lots of aqueducts formed a huge piping grid to route water to all parts of the city

The tunnel pictured above ran underneath the amphitheatre. The door at the end leads to the chamber where gladatorial losers would be executed

Far and away my favourite part of the ruins are the Antonine Baths, a massive recreational complex commissioned by Emperor Hadrian. The photo below shows a cross section of what the complex looked like, and you can see one of the impressive main columns that held up the roof in the background, and from the height of that column, form an idea of how big the baths were.

Surrounded by gardens, the main roof housed the Frigidarium, a massive cold pool, flanked by two huge gymnasiums, change rooms, hot baths, steam baths, tepid baths, massage rooms and chill out areas where up to 4000 Carthaginians would spend their afternoons bathing, relaxing, exercising, playing ball games, or just hanging out in the gardens, talking, reading or reciting poetry. There was an entry fee to the baths, about the equivalent of ten cents, I'm told, and the complex would have been surrounded by market stalls selling food, drink, clothes, jewelry, and everything else anyone might want to buy during an afternoon of recreation. I love the idea of the Antonine Baths. The combination of social life, cleanliness and exercise, all conducted in a massive building that reminded everyone of their own culture's greatness at a price that just about everyone could afford. It is way cool.

All good things come to an end, and eventually Roman Carthage was invaded successfully by the Vandals, who ruled for 100 years until they were thrown out by the Byzantines, who were in their turn ousted from Carthage by the armies of Islam in AD 698. The Muslims preferred their city further inland and they founded Tunis, destroying Carthage for the second time.

During the middle ages the French King Louis IX invaded Carthage as part of the 8th Crusade. A devout Catholic, patron of the arts, and all-round holy kind of guy, Louis was venerated by the Catholic church as ‘Saint Louis’. Saint Louis’ army was destroyed by disease and Louis himself died in Carthage before he had the chance to assault Tunis itself. In commemoration of his life and death, a Cathedral was built in his honour in 1890 on Byrsa Hill, and although it is not used for worship today, it still stands as a monument to the dead Christian saint.

Saint Louis' Cathedral

What are we to learn from all this history? I’m not sure. But I know that I like it. I like the fact that tucked away at the bottom of a hill, under the mosque that has been built on top of it, the Roman theatre is used every year for the Carthage International Festival, and local bands like ‘Rap Tunisien’ now play shows here, thousands of years after the venue was first constructed. I like the way the old and broken parts of Roman statues are used to beautify the signs that direct you to where the bathrooms are. I especially like that there are very few tourists here, and the locals go about their daily lives around you. You can sit for a few moments, quietly. When you do so, you can almost hear the echoes of the past, intermixed with the noise of the present.

The mosque at Carthage

Alix stands in the orchestra of the ancient theatre. The scaffolding is a recent addition.

Coming to an ancient Roman outdoor venue near you!

Do NOT splash your sandals.