for those who might like to follow along with Jennifer and me (and the other six intrepid travelers we will be accompanying) as we head through Tunisia- I have appended our itinerary below:
Tunisia: From the Mediterranean to the Sahara
Tunisia: From the Mediterranean to the Sahara
3/26 Tunis city tour/Explore ancient Carthage/Visit North Africa American Cemetery/Discover Sidi Bou Said Today we’ll explore Tunisia’s bustling capital and its surroundings on a full day tour. Tunis was one of the greatest cities in the world during the reign of the Almohad and Hafsid dynasties from the twelfth to the 16th centuries. We’ll witness the legacy of that era in the hundreds of stunning palaces, mosques, and fountains in the city’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also visit the Bardo Museum, Tunisia’s national museum of archaeology. Located in an 18th-century royal palace, it displays a spectacular collection of ancient Roman mosaics along with sarcophagi and statues from the Roman and Carthaginian periods.
Then we explore the site of ancient Carthage, which evokes the romance and tragedy of the legendary era of Queen Dido and Aeneas chronicled in Virgil’s Aeneid. Scattered ruins help us envision where the mighty city of antiquity once stood, sending its fleets for trade and warfare across the Mediterranean, including Hannibal’s famous but doomed campaign against Rome in the Second Punic War. After Carthage was conquered, the Romans destroyed the old city but established a new one of their own on its site, which lasted for almost another 500 years.
Following lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll pay our respects to the American soldiers who liberated Tunisia during World War II with a visit to the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial. This 27-acre memorial is the final resting place of 2,841 American military dead and also honors 3,700 soldiers whose remains were never found. After lunch, we'll join a discussion on Jewish culture in Tunisia throughout its history, then discover the beautiful blue and white buildings of the seaside town of Sidi Bou Said.
3/27 Discover ancient Dougga Today we'll embark on a full-day tour of ancient Dougga, the best-preserved ancient Roman city in North Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here stand the remains of a complete town that once had 5,000 residents, including villas, temples, baths, a paved street, and a forum, making it easy to imagine life in this place in the second century AD. The temple known as "the Capitol" and the Caracalla Baths are particularly well preserved. We'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant as a break from our discoveries, and return to Tunis this evening.
3/28 Cross Cap Bon/Explore Kerkouan/Travel to Hammamet After breakfast today, we take a scenic drive along the Cap Bon Peninsula on the Mediterranean coast, stopping en route at Kerkouan. This notable archaeological site features ruins that date to the third and fourth centuries BC, when this was a Punic city in the time of ancient Carthage. While Carthage was destroyed by the Romans at the end of the Punic Wars and subsequently rebuilt in Roman fashion, Kerkouan escaped this ill fate, so the ruins that we’ll find here are an accurate representation of an ancient Punic city, and shed light on what the famed city of Dido originally looked like. From there, we’ll continue traveling toward Hammamet, stopping along the way to enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. We’ll check into our hotel in Hammamet, a town of whitewashed houses and an old medina and kasbah near some of Tunisia’s finest beaches.
3/29 Travel to Kairouan/Introduction to Islam/Home-hosted lunch Today we leave Tunisia's seacoast and journey inland, stopping to visit a local farm on our way to Kairouan, a city with a spiritual feel whose domed mosques and minarets we may glimpse from afar as we approach. This holiest of Tunisian cities was founded in AD 670 by Oqba ibm Nafi who, according to legend, slipped on a golden cup that came from Mecca and was hidden in the sand at the spot where Kairouan is now located. When he picked up the cup, water burst forth from the ground. The ornate Great Mosque here dates from early in the Islamic period and is the fourth-holiest site in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. We'll enjoy an exclusive discussion giving us an Introduction to Islam with an Imam at this mosque. In the 14th century, Kairouan was home to Ibn Khaldun, whose masterwork the Muqaddimah has been described by noted British historian Arnold Toynbee as "a philosophy of history which is undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind." Ibn Khaldun's work reflects the level of achievement Islamic scholars attained in medieval times—and this same cultural richness shines from the historic architecture that we'll see inside Kairouan's walled medina during our two-night stay. We enjoy a special glimpse of everyday Tunisian culture during a home-hosted lunch with a local family today, then learn about Kairouan's long history as a carpet-making center during a visit to a carpet workshop, where we'll enjoy a demonstration of this ancient craft.
3/30 El Djem & Monastir tour Join our excursion to uncover Tunisian antiquity with a visit to El-Djem, home to the third-largest ancient Roman amphitheater in the world, which soars impressively above the low-rise buildings of the town's medina. This is the best-preserved Roman structure in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the third century AD, this still-impressive stadium could seat 30,000 spectators. After an included lunch, we’ll continue to the seaside city of Monastir, to explore its well-preserved ribat (fortress) and visit the mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first president.
3/31 Travel to Tozeur/Visit Sbeitla/Gafsa After breakfast today we depart Kairouan and make a dramatic transition from green landscapes alive with olive groves to great arid expanses of desert dotted with scattered oases. During our full day transfer we'll make our first stop at Sbeitla, where we visit the impressive ruins of an ancient Roman town. After lunch at a local restaurant, we'll continue on through the oasis town of Gafsa, to our destination for tonight, Tozeur. This ancient city occupies a four-square-mile oasis of 250,000 date palms whose green lushness stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Sahara.
4/1 Oasis carriage ride/Visit the Eden Palm Museum/Arabian Soirée This morning we explore the Tozeur oasis by horse-drawn carriages. For two thousand years, this city has thrived in a lush oasis on the edge of the largest salt flat in Northern Africa, and was a remote and fiercely independent enclave for much of that time. In its old section, elaborate designs in yellow brickwork decorate the walls lining narrow alleys and passageways with the same traditional patterns that are found in the local Berber handicrafts. We’ll feel the true oasis atmosphere here as we explore byways where spring-fed canals water date palms, flowers, and crops of plums, grapes, pomegranates, and bananas. Afterwards, we head to a small private oasis to tour the Eden Palm Museum, which focuses on the role of the date palm in Tunisian society. Here we discover the many uses of this remarkable plant, one of the few that grows in the Sahara, and which is a staple of Tunisian cuisine. As we learn about the irrigation and pollination techniques necessary to sustain an oasis, keep in mind that many of these techniques date back thousands of years and yet are still in use today. We then discover another ancient trade during a visit to a small brick factory, and enjoy another look at Tunisian architecture on a walking tour of Toseur's medina, followed by a visit to a traditional music school, where we get a hands-on introduction to the music of Tunisia. We enjoy lunch at a local restaurant today. This evening join an Arabian Soiree. We’ll travel to a peaceful private farmhouse for an evening of authentic Tunisian entertainment. We'll dine on home-cooked local specialties while enjoying a sensual Arabian dance performance accompanied by live musicians, and delight in the farmers’ vision, which—along with a lot of hard work—transformed this patch of desert into a luxuriant date palm plantation.
4/2 Mountain Oases tour Today a full-day Mountain Oases tour to the oasis towns of Chébika, Tameghza, and Midès—set in stunning mountain gorges and boasting histories going back to ancient Roman times. We board four-wheel-drive vehicles and head first for Chébika, a village of stone and clay houses set on a terrace overlooking an oasis, a river gorge, and a deep ravine. Then we discover the Roman and Byzantine history of Tameghza, strikingly situated on the walls of a huge canyon, where we'll have lunch. We also see Midès, a village perched above a beautiful palm grove at the site of a gushing spring, and visit the Nefta Oasis before our included lunch.
4/3 Travel to Sahara Desert Camp/Discover Bedouin wedding traditions/Bedouin Desert Life discussion We depart Tozeur this morning, making our first stop at Douz, a town where all roads end at the edge of the Great Eastern Erg. Beyond Douz, this immense expanse of the Sahara extends hundreds of miles to the south. Here, we’ll discover the rituals of a Tunisian wedding, from the drinking of tea to henna painting and more. We'll join a Bedouin family in their home for a fascinating demonstration and talk and volunteers from our group may model their ceremonial attire. We then share lunch with our gracious hosts. Afterwards, we board four-wheel-drive vehicles for our journey into the Sahara. Our destination is our tented camp, set amidst gently rolling dunes. Just before sunset, we’ll take advantage of the rich evening light on an exploration of the Great Easter Erg. We’ll pause to admire the dramatic desert sunset before returning to camp by lamp-light beneath the starry sky. After dinner at our camp, we’ll gather for an informative Bedouin Desert Life discussion with a lifelong resident of the Sahara’s sands.
4/4 Travel to Tataouine via Ksar Ghilhane This morning, we head back into the Saharan dunes, traveling until we reach the ancient Roman Fort Ghilane, where we leave our four-wheel-drive vehicles behind in favor of the traditional all-terrain transportation of the desert—camels. (aaccckkk did someone say camels?- LOL) This morning, we travel across the Saharan dunes to Ksar Ghilane, where we'll explore an ancient Roman fort and experience a timeless Bedouin tradition as we embark upon a short camel ride. We enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before continuing on to Tataouine, stopping en route at the Berber town of Matmata to discover its fascinating troglodyte house—manmade caves dug out of large pits in the ground. We arrive in Tataouine early this evening, and dine at our hotel.
4/5 Discover the Ksar Route/Farewell dinner After breakfast, we head out to discover the Ksar Route, along which lie more of the castle-like fortified villages known as ksars, centuries-old redoubts whose exotic architecture was featured in the Star Wars movies. We visit one especially fine example at Ksar Hedada. Particularly striking are the beehive-live ghorfas, vaulted granaries once used by Berber tribes for storing their grain and protecting it from their enemies. Located on easily defended hilltops or hidden away in palm-dotted oases, some ksars blend in with their surroundings to be virtually invisible to any enemy. We visit the villages of Chenini and Tataouine, and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant before continuing on to Ksar Hadada—a maze of courtyards, stairways, and doorways built atop a small hill. Tonight we'll enjoy a farewell dinner in Ksar Ouled Dabbeb.
4/6 Overland to Djerba/Fly to Tunis We return to Tunisia’s seacoast today to explore the island of Djerba, which can be reached from to the mainland by a causeway or via ferry. Djerba is a historic city of whitewashed mosques and groves of olive and citrus trees. Upon arrival here, we'll visit a souk (market) and have lunch at a local restaurant. Later in the afternoon, we fly to Tunis, where we'll have a final dinner together in Tunisia.
4/7 Return to U.S.
I will try to continue posting during the trip and get some photos up as well but meanwhile this should whet your appetite.