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Report 1992: Tunisia - the North and the Roman Sites
By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012
Page 10 of 30: Aïn Draham and the Cork Forests
Cork oak woodland
We had wanted to visit Aïn Draham as it is described as Tunisia's only hill station at 800m in the Khroumitie Mountains. Apparently the French tried to create a small Alpine village away from the heat of the plains. There can be considerable falls of snow in the winter so the houses have sloping red tiled roofs to throw off the snow. This style is still referred to as "French" housing.
We were terribly disappointed by Aïn Draham which is now a huge sprawling settlement on both sides of the valley with a mix of typical Tunisian houses with flat roofs and "French" houses. There is a small craft area at the top of the hill selling pots made out of cork and other crafty items. They were uninspiring both in looks and quality. We felt it was not a particularly attractive place and not one we wanted to spend time wandering.
We did the "scenic" detour between Bulla Regia and Aïn Draham, which took us through the cork forests and Ben M'Tir. The guide books refer to this as "spectacular" and it was certainly a good run and more than made up for the disappointment of Aïn Draham.
A narrow road winds up through the cork oak woodlands with huge bushes of white heather which were in flower in late March. There are quite deep valleys carved into the mountains. There are quite a few subsistence farms particularly between Aïn Draham and Ben M'Tir, dependent on cutting cork and keeping animals.
Ben M'Tir is a small settlement of red tiled houses which was built in the 1950s by the French to house workers constructing a dam. Once completed, the houses were handed over to the locals. The lake is a popular beauty spot with the Tunisians and there are a lot of new and very large houses being built in the area.
Cork oak trees have a thick, rugged bark which can be several inches thick. It can be cut every nine to 12 years to produce cork. It does not harm the tree and a new layer of cork forms. The trees can live from 150-250 years and the first cut is when the trees are about 25 years old. Most woodland contain trees of various ages.
The trees are owned by the government and locals get a permit to cut the bark. Newly cut trees have deep red brown trunks which gradually fade as new bark forms. The strips of bark are taken to depots where they are bought and then stored in long rows to dry for 2-3years before being processed as corks, insulation for fridges etc.
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