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In Tunisia, Your Rest Is History; Ancient Ways and Catching Rays around Carthage

The People (London, England), March 2, 2014 | Go to article overview

In Tunisia, Your Rest Is History; Ancient Ways and Catching Rays around Carthage


Byline: Melanie Hancill

RIGHT up there with sun, sea and sand, history is a huge draw for tourists. In Tunisia you will find sights from a long, long time ago - and a galaxy far, far away.

The ruins of Carthage town date from its founding in 900BC by the Phoenicians. And from there you can take a daytrip to the village of Matmata - known to most as Luke Skywalker's birthplace, Tatooine.

Star Wars locations aside, Tunisia has a rich, fascinating history. And the country is now tempting visitors back after the 2011 revolution.

There's certainly no shortage of the three S's, with its year-round sun and 650-mile coastline.

But if you're visiting in the early, slightly cooler months of the year, as my partner and I did, it's easier to tear yourself away from the Mediterranean beaches.

Our first adventure took us to Unesco site Carthage, 15km north of Tunis.

A brilliant civilisation turned it into a vast trading centre until it suffered the fate of so many neighbours and fell to the Romans in 146BC.

Today it is mainly ruins but I loved walking around the thermal baths and amphitheatre, imagining that Romans, Phoenicians and Byzantines once trod in the same footsteps.

It's a good town for dreamers, since it is also said to have been where Dido, queen of Carthage, fell in love with Aeneas, son of the Roman goddess Venus.

We travelled further north to Sidi Bou Said, a stunning village on top of a hill, 20km north of Tunis, where all the buildings are white while door frames, stairways, window frames and shutters are cornflower blue.

Nearly every wall and doorway has flowers draped from it, and the views of the Med from the highest point are breathtaking.

We wandered through the medina, or market, to pick up some trinkets to bring home.

If you've never experienced a medina, it can be intimidating - shop owners will hassle you to buy, or offer your boyfriend camels in exchange for you.

But they are harmless and it only added to our experience. We enjoyed a tour of a typical house and were treated to sweet mint tea and Tunisian bread by the owner.

Our second trip was a jeep tour of ancient villages, for PS30. The first stop was the fishing village of Hergla, with white and blue houses similar to Sidi Bou Said, then Zriba, a half abandoned Berber village.

Camel

Berbers are the first occupants of Tunisia and while many have been lured out of villages by modern conveniences and money, some stay to live traditional lives, often without running water or electricity.

Many houses looked like ruins with no windows or doors - it was a fascinating insight into the Berber way of life.

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