Every time I do dusting in my library/office, I discover some travel adventures I have almost forgotten. Like yesterday. I lifted a huge blue photo album that sat next to almost thirty others in different colors but same huge format. One page had gotten half loose and stuck up so I took the album and opened it. I came right into the largest Roman amphitheatre in Northern Africa. But let me start from the beginning.
Many years ago, obviously before the modern times of digital photography and other more recent developments, we spent one very interesting week in Tunisia. Tunisia is the smallest country in Northern Africa with lots of interesting history and great environmental diversity, landscapes that shift from lush beaches at the Mediterranean coastline in the north and east to the Sahara desert in the south. We traveled from the north to the south and back, interested to learn about history and to experience the environmental shift from north to south.
The Capital city, Tunis, is situated on the Mediterranean coast behind the lake of Tunis and the hills surrounding it. The city center consist of the old medina, a dense cluster of narrow alleys full of intense colours, flourishing trade of all kinds of goods ranging from leather, colourful rugs, wall hangings to craft shops selling tourist souvenirs. These narrow streets are very busy and you can practice your negotiation skills on the price of anything you may be interested in. And its likely that the seller speaks just enough of your language, whatever it is, to manage this conversation to their advantage.
Beyond the medina, Tunis offers more modern architecture, including cathedrals and mosques, beaches and colorful markets.
Beyond the more modern surroundings there is the suburb of Carthage, remnants of what used to be one of the largest and most powerful cities in the ancient times. One can still feel the wings of history there amid the ruins of many interesting structures.
Traveling south from Tunis towards the central regions of Tunisia, we came to the small town of El Jem, which is the home of the impressive ruins of the largest Colosseum in North Africa, a huge amphitheatre which is estimated to have provided seating for up to 35,000 spectators. This 3rd-century monument truly illustrates the influence of Imperial Rome.
Traveling south from there, the environment became more and more desert-like. Mountains, winding roads and lots of sand everywhere. We were approaching the Sahara desert.
And that road led us to one of the most intriguing places I’ve ever seen, the small town of Matmata in southern Tunisia. This is an ancient development whose origins are only known from tales and myths passed on from generation to generation and where some of the local residents still live in traditional underground structures.
These housing developments were discovered only relatively recently, in 1967. The structures are created by first digging a large pit in the ground and then digging caves around this pit as rooms for the house. Some homes comprised multiple pits, connected by underground passageways. It was like entering another world! Not surprisingly, Matmata provided the scene for one of the original Star Wars films in the late 1970s.
The residents live mostly of tourism and we could visit some of the homes. They were very simple but a few had modern equipment like a TV and cooking facilities. Some homes also had elaborate exhibitions and sales of local folklore and crafts. That visit was definitely the highlight of our adventures in Tunisia. And looking at the old photos, I relived the sense of amazement I felt in Matmata.
Hope you enjoyed the journey.