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Report 1992: Tunisia - the North and the Roman Sites

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 28 of 30: Jugurtha’s Table

photo by MAW

Jugurtha's Table

Jugurtha’s Table is a mighty hilltop fortress with amazing views near the Algerian border. It is a couple of hours drive south of El Kef.

It rises steeply out of the plain with sheer cliffs standing 200m high. It looks impregnable. The sandstone rock appears gold and red in the sunshine and has deeply eroded gullies in it with a jumble of huge broken boulders at the bottom. To say it is impressive is an understatement.

The top of Jugurtha’s Table was covered in cloud when we first saw it rising vertically out of the plain. Our heart’s sank, however from the first sight it takes quite a long time to reach the base and the clouds slowly began to roll back revealing the view.

This area is close to the Algerian Border so there were many police check points and we had to show passports and say where we were going.

There is quite a bit of settlement on the slopes below the Table with a network of rough tracks. It is a mix of typical Tunisian housing with flat roofs and what the Tunisians describe as ‘French’ housing with red tiled roofs designed to throw off winter snows. Our driver kept stopping to check on the route as the track climbed and swung round the bottom of Jugurtha’s Table past fields covered in small wild Narcissus. By now the cloud had lifted and we could see the top was a large flat plateau which was very narrow at the end.

The Table is named after the Numidian King Jugurtha who used it as an impregnable fortress in his campaign against the Romans, lead by Marius. There are the remains of walls and buildings at the bottom of the Table. On an old map these are marked as the Campe de Commandement de Marius. Further round at what looked like more old settlements, rocks have been cleared from the land to make field boundaries.

There is a small parking area at the base of the steps which are the only way to reach the top. These scramble up a narrow gully. The bottom of the steps is well made and fairly new. They lead to a modern stone gateway that replaces the original, which had a sturdy wooden door that could be closed at night. Above there is an area of polished limestone to scramble up with the aid of a metal handrail, not as bad as it looked although we would not want to attempt it if the rock was wet. Then there was another flight of older and less well made steps to the top. It was a much easier climb than expected after reading stories of hands and knees scramble.

The top covers a massive area and was bright yellow with wild flowers in March. There is an area of cave settlements at the top of the steps and the remains of a substantial village above them, dominated by what the map described as the ruins of a "religious building." A small white marabout contains the tomb of Sidi Abdyawad. This is surrounded by a wall with a door which is locked unless the site guardian is around. The police had phoned him to tell him tourists were on the way to Jugurtha’s Table and he appeared to let us in. Inside are two large tombs covered with material and some old wall hangings.

The top of the plateau is limestone and a large reservoir was cut into the top of the rock by the Numidians. This was full and contained a good growth of pond weed. Close by is another less well formed pool, with areas which looked as if stone blocks had been quarried. In one place there is what looked like a game carved in the rock. Several horses were grazing at one end of the plateau. We wondered how they had got up here.

It was too hazy for good distant views, which were fairly flat with distant mountains, some of which also had flat tops like Jugurtha’s Table. We could see into Algeria.

It is a delightful place which we had to ourselves and we could happily have spent a whole day wandering around the top.

Back at the car park we took a road which continued round the bottom of the mountain back to the village. This is being widened and improved as there is talk of taking coaches to the top. Is this another example of tourism spoiling a place by making it too accessible to tourists? It isn’t as impressive a drive as the older route, so if you have the choice opt for that one.

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