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Report 1992: Tunisia - the North and the Roman Sites

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 8 of 30: Cap Bon Peninsula

photo by MAW

Kerkouane

We spent a day round Cap Bon Peninsula from Tunis, going clockwise starting from Aïn el Atrous round to Kelibia and then cutting across through the mountains back to Tunis, missing the major tourist resort of Hammamet.

The roads out of Tunis were busy as the previous day had been a holiday. It is very built up to Solman with some big new houses. Beyond we began to get into agricultural land. In mid March it was very lush and green with lots of wild flowers. In places the soil was sandy with heathland vegetation. Wild jasmine grows on these areas, scenting the air.

We drove through groves of olive and citrus fruit. In places the land under the olives had been ploughed and was being used to grow potatoes or broad beans. Fields of onions were being picked as they began to swell, washed and tied in bundles to sell. We watched hand plowing using horses. Roads are lined with eucalyptus trees which give some shade. Sheep, goats and cows graze the edges of the roads or in fields watched over by a shepherd. Many still use a donkey for transport to ride or pull a cart . Along one stretch of road people were selling jars of honey on plastic crates watched over by someone sitting in the verge. Everywhere there were oranges for sale - either in small crates along the road or from larger stalls.

Older men were wearing the traditional hat called the Chechia and a large baggy woolen coat a bit like an oversized dressing gown. There were men sitting around in the villages talking.

The road climbed up the side of Jebel Korbous past the hot springs at Aïn El Atrous, which was very busy with a bus load of Tunisians sitting with their feet in the hot water and one brave soul bathing. We could smell the hydrogen sulfide in the water. There are assorted stalls selling tourist tat and a cafe. Korbous is tucked into the base of cliffs with a large massage centre at the start of the town. There are a few small shops and a large restaurant at the end of the road. The road beyond to Aïn Oktar is no longer used after a series of landslides. It was too hazy for views across to Sidi Bou Said.

We stopped to see a local market in a small village. The road was lined with fruit and vegetable stalls. There were a lot of oranges (sold by weight with 1kg for 2TD - about 80p) onions, bunches of carrots with leaves attached, white radish, globe artichokes, fennel etc. There were cages of hens for sale and also a small fish stall. There were stalls selling dates, dried pulses and herbs. Further down were clothes and shoes.

The road cuts inland across fairly sandy soil with scrubby vegetation to El Haouaria, a large town with many shops. We drove to the end of the road, clambered over the rocks to the point and declined lunch in a fairly expensive fish restaurant (where the fish was brought to you in a basket for you to choose what you wanted).

Kerouane is reached along a side road. It is a lovely site at the end of the road. The entrance is in a new building with ticket office and shop selling a few post cards. There is an information board and map of the site. The museum is in a separate building and is excellent. It is built round a courtyard with display rooms off. There is a model of the site and displays of pottery, jewelry and small carved animals found around the site.

A pathway with a carefully tended garden leads to the ruins which overlook the sea. There has been a settlement here since the 8thC BC and it was a major Punic site controlled by Carthage between 4th-2nd BC. It seems to have been the home of an urban elite of merchants and craftsmen. Numerous pottery workshops and kilns have been found as well as jewelry making, stone carving and glass making. It was a major manufacturing centre for ‘Tyrian purple’ which was made from a shellfish called Murex. These were collected and left to rot in large pits dug in the ground. The site was abandoned in 2ndC BC after the fall of Carthage, never re-occupied and covered by blown sand. It is the only example of a Punic settlement to have survived untouched and is a World Heritage Site.

It is a large site and a lot is still unexcavated. A fenced off route leads round the ruins and there are a few information boards. However many of these are worn and the writing is hard to decipher.

The walls stand about two feet high in places. The buildings are arranged along streets. They were fairly narrow with a drain between the buildings. Some still have the remains of floors (red with bits of white pottery) and we could see the remains of wall plaster in places. Each building had a private bath, recognizable by the red cement lining. There were lots of wild flowers growing around the site and among the houses. It is a delightful place which we had to ourselves and we could easily have spent a lot longer there. There is also nice view along the coast with waves breaking on the shore.

Next stop was Kelibia, which is a very large settlement of low white houses and a lot of shops. It has a large fishing harbor and a lot of large houses belonging to wealthy businessmen. The town is dominated by the fortress, which is still surrounded by crenellated walls standing to their full height. A road leads up to the entrance with a small parking area and ticket office. A path is being made which will take you round the outside of the walls.

Entry is through a barbican to the main gateway which has slots for what could have been a portcullis and holes in the walls for the beams across the inside of the gateway. Inside steps lead up to the walkway round the walls with nice views of the town and surrounding areas. Inside is very overgrown with vegetation, especially big yellow daisies and asphodel. There is a small house inside the ruins with hens running round and the remains of arched storage sheds. There are the ruins of a Byzantine chapel as well as a small building with a meteorological station.

We took the central route back to Tunis across the hills. It is a pleasant rural run with little traffic, across countryside with open fields. There are few field boundaries or trees and a few scattered farm buildings. People were busy at work in the fields harvesting onions. Dropping down the north side of the hills we ran into the olive and orange groves again. We passed a huge wholesale depot distributing oranges, There were trucks piled up with crates of oranges.

From Salima we picked up the Tunis road. It had been a good day.

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