Tunisia is a country caught within two worlds-the ancient and the modern. Just a stone throw from Europe, the country is separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. It is a country with modern infrastructural facilities at the surface, but little deeper scratch unveils layers of ancient heritage. All over the country, there are ruins and relics of ancient civilizations from the Phoenicians, Greco-Roman, to the Arabs. It has a rich trove of amazing ancient relics. This ancient land mass was an active participant in the making of world history for more than 2000 years now.
Some Nigerian tourists and operators in partnership with the Tunisian embassy in Nigeria and the Tunisian Tourism Board, undertook an exploratory visit to the country.
For many outsiders, Tunisia is an Arab country but the citizens take pride in their Berber civilization that pre-dates the Arab and Roman civilization. It is a country that would puzzle any tourists with its ability, like a sponge, to soak in different cultures and civilization, retain the best from these cultures and forge prosperously ahead.
It is obvious the country is Islamic, but the closeness to Europe makes it a haven for European tourists. Sousse, the Tunisian coastal city that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea is a haven for European tourists. Thousands of Europeans flock there for sun, sand and sea. Massive five-star hotels dot the shoreline, but this has not in any way removed from being core Islamic country.
Visiting Tunisian is like a walk into a time machine that takes one back in time. Tunis, the country’s capital has the ancient ruins of the Phoenician city of Carthage within its vicinity. It is a massive glimpse of the luxury, splendor and advancement that was the ancient city of Carthage. Carthage, from the ruins, was a very prosperous city with an advance civilization with the best in terms luxury and hedonistic life for the rich.
At the ruins of ancient Carthage, one would see relics of the Antonin Baths. They are regarded as imperial baths, the largest in Africa, 17,850 sqaure meters in size with outdoor annexes. It has the cold, warm and hot baths areas. There are also relics of aqueducts that supplied water to city from 130 kilometres distance, from Mount Zaghoaun.
About 180 kilometres from Tunis is El Jem, in the Mahdia Governorate. The city has one of the most evocative of these ancient ruin site in Tunisia. The journey by bus was an opportunity to have a glimpse of Tunisian rural area. There was this sense languid and monotonous way of devoid of any haste and turmoil. People go about their daily life with little haste and without pressure. At midday, when the sun was at its pick, you see them reclining under trees and other shades to while away the time. There was no pressure of existential duties.
El Jem is a city dominated by the past as it is the home to one of the most iconic ancient relics from the Roman Empire, the 30,000 capacity El Jem amphitheatre.
Nigeria has its own share of impressive ancient relics like the Benin moat, the ancient Kano walls, the Sukur ancient kingdom in Adamawa, just to mention a few, but the ancients ruins and heritage in Tunisia were just awesome.
Speaking about the 30, 000 capacity El Jem ampitheatre, the tour guide, Sami, gave a brief history of the place: “It is the third largest Roman amphitheatre in the world, with three floors and was built 100 years after the coliseum of Rome. It was built to look like the Coliseum in 3rd century AD.
“During the Roman occupation, the population of this town was 40,000. It was a very important and very busy route connecting north to south, connecting Sousse to Sifax. But events at the amphitheatre were not organized every week. Gladiators’ fights, the hunting of the animals, also killing of Christians by sending out wild animals to devour them were held in amphitheatres like this. A lot of criminals have been executed in amphitheatres like this too. They will tie the hands of these people and open the gate for these wild animals.
“For the inauguration of the coliseum in Rome, 85,000 wild animals were taken from here to Rome for the games.
“The lions used to live in Tunisia. We had the Atlas lions. They lived till the 60’s in Tunisia. We still have wild boars, antelopes, foxes, wolfs and so on. We these kinds of animals in Tunisia as well, and people come from Europe to hunt the wild boar, a lot of Italians, French and Germans do come. We currently use this place for festivals like the Symphonic Music Festival of El Jem.
“It is really interesting that up till now, there is a law in down town El Jem surrounding the amphitheatre; there is no house, no building, even from the government, must have more than two floors or to be more important than the main attraction to the town, unlike in Rome surrounded by high buildings. You can see the amphitheatre from a distance dominating the skyline. El Jem is name of the town but the Latin name is Thysdrus.”
On a lighter note, while at the El Jem amphitheatre, there is usually no dull moment with Nigerian tourists. While some among the tour group were touring the amphitheatre, suddenly from the out the complex, the music of Wizkid took over the whole area. A little surprised, this writer decided to find out who was playing the Wizkid music, only to discover that some in the group already gone. The approached a young Tunisian trader that was blaring music to attract tourist visitors. He was given Wizkid tracks to play and suddenly, the main road turned into dance floor. Nigerian have arrived! They put up a show with different dance moves while the traders was smiling appreciatively with huge patronage from the group.
Tunisia is a country littered with small and huge pieces of ancient terra cotta, relic of hundreds of years when the area was active in the ancient world. In Tunisian, you could leave with a slice of history. The people of modern day Tunisia have survived waves and waves on conquerors. They always outlast their conquerors-Greco-Roman, Arab and so on. They always survived to rebuild their cities and towns.
The largest number of visitors to Tunisia is from Europe. They come in their thousands to deep in the Mediterranean salty Thalassa water and tan under the North African sun. Key cities of this oasis in the Maghreb are spread out by the shores of the Mediterranean. They include Tunis, Sousse and Hammamet, and others.
For many tourists desirous of visiting Tunisia, there are two key attractions: the Mediterranean beaches that run through Tunis, Hammamet, Sousse and other seafront cities and the ancient ruins. Whichever choice one makes, there was so much to see and experience. The country is like a vast oasis in the tip of the Sahara desert.
For first time visitors to Tunisia, there is a kind of apprehension that one was going to meet a dour, closed country that the first assignment would be to internalize the dos and don’ts so that one could come back in one piece. Whatever misconception one had immediately flew through the window in touching down on the nation’s capital airport, the Carthage International Airport.
One could not but observe the sea white skyline from the plane. Most of the houses in Tunis are painted in white.
Tunis is a relatively not a big city compared to a place like Lagos but one would quickly notice that it was a functional with well-developed social amenities.
Most building in Tunis are Arab style with decked roofs. The French influence could also be seen from the old buildings. They are painted white, probably to repeal the scorching sun and cool the interior. Tunis is an admixture of ancient and modern. At the more com
The modern city of Tunis was built under French rule during the nineteenth century. It lasted from 1881 until 1956. During their occupation, the French built a modern European quarter and the population of Tunis increased significantly. The city’s booming commercial and industrial activities attracted many settlers, including both Europeans and non-European Muslims.
Tunis has the fingerprint of its past history. It has both the old (Medina) and the new built by the French colonial lords during their occupation. The old city boasts a number of prominent markets, such as Souk el-Attarine and the Souq Birka, as well as a collection of buildings that have historical importance in the city’s history.
Tunis, for a first time visitor like this writer, is a little surprising with its cosmopolitan ambience. Walking down the Habib Bougourba Boulevard to the Medina, there is this feeling of moment de détente, pure undiluted relaxation, that only French speaking countries’ citizens can effectively capture. The leafy wide, Boulevard, restaurants on both sides of the boulevards, all captures the ambience effective. Here there is no hurry, no stress, living at full swing. Tunis does not exude affluence that one sees in a city like Dubai, but there is a certain level of lack of stress and contentment in the faces of many.
A tour of the Medina looks like scene from Aladdin movie. The traders’ hustling for patronage, the very narrow walkway and effort not to barge into the oncoming person, all make the experience surreal.
Sidi Bou Said is a most for the any visitor to Tunis. The city of the cliff of the hill, painted blue and green, with flowers all around it is a delight to visit.
Sidi Bou Said is a few meters from the ruins of ancient Carthage. It has the captures the feeling of grand, ancient and affluence all in one place. There is a major road that goes to the top. At the end, there a beautiful view of the sea blue sea. On both sides of the roads shop owners with beautiful crafts and unique art works display their wares. Despite this huge merchandising all around Sidi Bou Said, the area still maintains its patriarchal feels.
If Tunis captures a large chunk of the essence and history of the country, then Sousse is the leisure capital. It is about 118 kilometers drive from Tunis and a holiday destination that tourists troop to in the their thousands to enjoy the sun, sea and sand of North Africa. Sousse has world class hospitality facilities. Most of the hotels and resorts are by the beachfront. Tourists on tour packages come in the numbers. At peak periods, mostly summer, hotels enjoy boon from tourist arrivals.
Most day period in Sousse are spent at the beaches with different watersports including skydiving on offer.
At night, Sousse comes alive with very active night life. Casinoes, eateries, restaurants come alive. Most tourists who had spent the whole day at the beach used the evening to walk around, shop and general enjoy the feel of the town.
A very interested place to enjoy night life in Sousse is the Marina area. This writer stayed at Hasdrubal Thalassa Resort. It was a kind of strategic location that gave one easy access to all the action spots. Opposite is the resort is the Acquapark amusement centre with all kind of fun facilities. The centre lights the night with multi-colour flashy light. Beside the park are other fun spots that makes night life fun. However, a stay in Sousse without experience night life at Marina area overlooking the exotic tourist boats might just not be complete. The area has its own feel with the sea breeze and the general ambience of adventure all around can be fully described. One could also walk through the flashy shops, pick up one or two souvenirs and generally drench in the mood of relaxation. Such is the kind of mood that that Sousse elicit.
Tunisia may not offer the big shopping mall and flit of a Dubai, but it offers knowledge, thrills and experience that remains forever.