The name of once-mighty Carthage is a name like many other great ancient cities. It inspires legends, poets and envy. Hannibal lived in Carthage-the military genius who the Romans were only able to beat because they ensured they never had to fight him. Virgil wrote his Aeneid about the tragic romance between Carthaginian Dido and Roman Aeneas, and symbolized the battle to the death between the two civilizations. The movie Gladiator had a major battle based upon the epic slaughter of the Carthaginans. At one time, Carthage was an awesome place.
The city walls were 34 kilometers long and houses ran from the top of the hill all the way down to the stunning waterfront. It was famous for its navy, protected with interconnected harbors which was the source of its wealth and dominance. The Phoenicians, the city’s founders were credited as being exceptional business people. In fact, the historian Pliny is credited with inventing trade. The Carthaginians however, maintained a great distance from their empire. They used mercenaries to fight their battles, and never fought for the hearts of the people, unlike the Romans who absorbed the whole communities that they conquered.
The Romans, as I said, thrashed the Carthaginian city and vandals destroyed the replacement. Today, not much of either is left. The area of Carthage is the modern city’s most exclusive suburb and in fact home to the Presidential Palace and other well to do Tunisians. You need a vivid imagination to imagine what this once-great city could have been like. The highlights are definitely the museum, the punic quarter on the hill, various Roman structures, the Antonine Baths and the Roman Villas. However, the most impressive site of all is probably the stunning views of the Mediterranean overlooking the modern city of Tunis and again, imagining what life must have been like in the golden era of the great city of Carthage.
For me, being in Carthage was very cool because I am such a history buff and seeing and trying to understand the significant events that happened milleniums ago was pretty cool. I have to say I was a little shocked by just how little was left. It was virtually a ghost town with some scattered ruins and some ill placed statues. The best parts were not at the main area where the museum now lies, they were down by the sea. However, the Tunisians are very proud of their past and have maintained as best they can the ruins and I must say the area, meaning the modern suburb of Carthage, is absolutely gorgeous and would be a stunning place to live. The white washed homes with blue ironwork are simply amazing and creates a really cool feel and certainly a great look.
After Carthage we headed over to the American War Cemetary in which over 3000 American soldiers are buried after dying in the bloody North African battles of World War II. The cemetary resembled Normandy or some of the other dozen or so American cemetaries scattered throughout Europe and North Africa. It was fairly surreal and you always feel weird in places like that. However, it was immaculately kept and a visual pleasure with everything measured to pefection to the nearest centimeter. If you’ve never been to one, do yourself a favor and check them out next time you are in Europe.
Jake and I then made our way to Sidi Bou Said which is said to be one of the most beautiful places in Tunisia and I do concur. It resembles a Greek island in many ways, again with the white washed houses, cobblestone streets that twist and wind their way up a hill, blue ironwork that sets off the Mediterranean feel that is unmistakeable and of course the panoramic views of the harbor and the great cove of Tunis and Carthage. It is breathtaking.
After a nap back at the hotel (still fighting jet lag) we were set to head to the local favorite restaurant called Dar el-Jeld which is the top restaurant in Tunis and one of the best in the Muslim world. It is set in the medina, just off the main gate. It is special from the moment you knock on the bee-yellow arched doorway which opens into an elaborate 18th Century mansion. It is kind of like stepping into a big and lavish jewelry box. The magnificent dining room is in a covered central courtyard, with secluded alcove tables around the edge.
We started with the mixed hors d’oeuvres of hot and cold dishes and then some braised meat and their famous kabkabou which is fresh fish with tomatoes, capers and olives. It was all really good and very fairly priced. Add in some Tunisian red wine and you have quite a feast on your hands. The clientele was mainly wealthy Tunisians and business people dressed in full suits. We, of course, rolled in wearing jeans and tee shirts and were given the token looks of surprise from our fellow diners. However, when one is traveling for pleasure, one does not bring suits because that brings pleasure to no one.
Anyway, my time in Tunisia was too short as there is much more to see here in the Southern parts of the country. Star Wars was filmed in part here and there are many other Ancient Roman ruin sites. However, they will have to wait until next time when I will beeline it to the South. However, I must say the Tunisian people are top notch and wondeful people. We have been treated with nothing but respect and kindness and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this wonderful place. I definitely look forward to returning some time soon. But this morning, we are off to Malta to visit my friend Tom, who lives on the island and is will no doubt give us the royal tour and we can hopefully find the Maltese Falcon. We shall see…