Sample the Treats of Tunisia ... ROSS MCCARTHY Discovers Art, Culture, History and Chocolate Cake in Tunisia

South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales), May 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Sample the Treats of Tunisia ... ROSS MCCARTHY Discovers Art, Culture, History and Chocolate Cake in Tunisia


Byline: ROSS MCCARTHY

IF YOU ever find yourself on a road heading towards the capital of Tunisia there is one colour you will notice more than any other. The colour is yellow. It's the colour chosen for the taxis which buzz around Tunis and its suburbs like a swarm of bees.

Everywhere you look - ahead, behind, on side roads - there are the distinctive cabs, dodging from lane to lane in the dense mass of traffic.

Because not only is Tunis the capital of this North African country, sandwiched between Algeria and Libya, 80 miles south of Sicily and just a two-and-a-half hour flight from the UK, but it is also the taxi capital of the world.

Unless you want to hire a car and take on the challenge of driving yourself, or try to find a parking space - a precious commodity as rare as finding an oasis in a desert - taxis are cheap and the easiest way of seeing the sights.

For anyone interested in culture, Tunis has a good response to the question: "What did the Romans ever do for us?" In the centre of this bustling metropolis is the Bardo Museum, situated on a former palace which itself dates back to the 13th century and which houses a celebrated collection of Roman mosaics.

Visitors coming into the spacious entrance hall are immediately struck by a massive mosaic depicting the Triumph of Neptune.

A tour of this recently renovated building takes you through 3,000 years of history with its rich and varied collection or artefacts, including mosaics depicting everyday scenes of Roman life and detailed pictures of animals and gods, decorations for tombs and sculptures. There's even a large haul recovered from a sunken ship that was blown off course on its way to Italy.

Another must-do, of course, is a trip to Tunis's Medina - its narrow streets have shops where you can haggle for items such as leather goods, aftershave, perfumes and sunglasses while many offer souvenir toy camels, water pipes, colourful dresses, fezzes and decorative plates.

I had lunch at Dar El Jeld, a discreet little restaurant which has no windows and which you enter via an ornate yellow door in a wall.

Dining tables were in a courtyard - an oasis of calm away from the hurly burly outside - where I had a prawn cocktail starter, a fish cous-cous and a creamy dessert with little lumps of semolina.

After this substantial meal a tour of the Medina was a welcome bit of exercise.

Then it was time for a little art appreciation in La Masra, a suburb of Tunis, where there are a number of art galleries exhibiting work by Tunisian as well as other North African artists, including ones which reflect the recent political upheaval the country has undergone.

From speaking to one of the gallery owners it was clear that, for many, the Arab Spring has led to a mixture of relief - at the freedom offered by the overthrowing of the old regime that held the country in its grip - and uncertainty at what lies ahead.

There are also galleries at the village of Sidi Bou Said, located on top of a steep cliff, with attractive blue and white buildings and cobbled streets.

It is a place which has inspired many artists to take up residence, and where we sat at the Cafe des Delices to enjoy a sunset panorama of the Bay of Tunis while sipping a freshly squeezed fruit juice.

A visit to the northern coast would not be complete without going to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carthage, located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis, the ruins of a city that once lay at the heart of the Carthaginian Empire. …

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