Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Oudna, Tunisia Adventure - Dec. 2003

December 14, 2003

Today one of the teachers asked if I wanted to go to Oudna, an ancient Roman site about 30 minutes from our house, with her. She has two large dogs that quietly rode in the back seat. It’s nice to get out of the concrete white building surroundings and out into the rolling, green countryside.

Traveling on the road that hugged the path of the Roman aqueducts that at one time carried water from the springs in Zaigouan to Carthage, we knew we were close to the site. Things were going well until we abruptly stopped at the sight before us – a storm-made river flowing over the now-impassable road. Drat! We could see the fortress (built over the Roman-age royal dwellings) high on the hill before us. After following a different road, we decided that it seemed to meander farther away from archaeology site. So, we turned around and headed back to the storm river. Grateful that I had worn sneakers and jeans, I soon wished that I had some boots. The wet, muddy ground began clinging to my shoes and weighing it down, reminding me of when we picked sweet corn early on a dew-filled summer morning for sale – the mud clung to the rubbers so thickly that I would almost lose my footwear!

Realizing that there was no place narrow enough to cross, we headed back to the road. Perhaps another tractor or large truck would be headed the same way, able to successfully navigate through the floodwaters. Sure enough, a large truck that had crossed towards us turned around offered to take us across – how nice! After thanking him, we headed across the green fields towards our destination. In the unplowed wet fields, jack-in-the-pulpits and a variety of early purple and orange wildflowers poked their way in between the dominating thistles. I hope that the wildflowers are merely a bit confused by the warm weather we had in late November, so they will instead come back in spring when Mom and Dad arrive. I am so eager to share with them Tunisia’s magnificent example of God’s glorious creation.

After passing through the entry gates, we headed to the amphitheatre, still in the process of excavation and restoration. Much smaller and in less (at least what we could see) complete state than the one in El Jem, this amphitheatre didn’t have the same impact. After that, we headed towards the groupings of short walls on the opposite side of the road, beyond a cluster of large stone blocks belonging to some Roman building. Just excavated in recent months, a large layout of what appeared to be a home was visible. Beyond one wall was the impressive well-preserved mosaic depicting daily life: hunting and farming scenes, local animals, and the dwellings of the local people. Beneath several inches of fresh rainwater, the mosaic colors were more vibrant and the details more plainly visible. I enjoyed seeing the mosaic in its natural, original environment – would archeologists choose to keep it here, or would it end up in the Bardo museum, where it could be more preserved and viewed by more visitors? A few rooms down, a larger mosaic of people in Roman-style clothing commanded attention, framed in a rectangle and surrounded by cherubs attending the grapes on the meandering vines. A short distance away, another dwelling had been excavated, revealing more fully the semi-circular mosaic of a fishing scene on the wall of the private bath.

Moving onward, we headed towards the huge sections of a structure perched on a hill, obviously moved from their original horizontal position to near vertical ones by some significant force. Later, we found out from a local young man that the structure had been an unfortunate recipient of a bomb during WWII. While the upper structure was now unrecognizable, the lower portion was incredibly well preserved. Further darkened by the windows and alternate entrances that had filled in, the underground area was quite dark. Next time we will have to bring a flashlight to explore further. What had the structure and its underground area been used for? Close-by, we came across another site that had narrow wooden stairs leading sharply down into a lower area. The configuration of the vaulted arches reminded me of the Antonine Baths in Carthage. The young Tunisian man who was eager to practice speaking English confirmed our presumptions. Of course, he could also speak Arabic, French, Italian, some German and even Chinese. To think that most Americans are only able to speak their native language!

As we followed the narrow path towards the fortress on top of the Roman building, the recent waters washed up fragments of pottery, marble, and mosaic pieces. The closer we got to the excavated sites, the larger the pieces of marble became- various shades of grey, white, orange and peach. Before we saw the structure our young guide described as a palace, he was eager to show us more mostly-underground structures that he said were once used to hold prisoners. Although he was unsure of the structures’ original purposes, they reminded me of the cisterns just a few minutes walk from my house. So close to the aqueducts, it was definitely possible…. Already somewhat tired from the trekking through muddy fields, we reached the immense “palace” prominently making its mark below the smaller fortress so out of place on top. Our young guide explained that while excavation and restoration has begun in several places at Oudna, there is so much that remains to be done – but not enough money is available to do a thorough job.

After thanking our “guide” and his friend for the tour, we headed back through the fields to the flooded road. Just as we reached the water, an elderly farmer drove up, hauling bales of straw on his small wagon. Thankful for the lift, we hopped on the bales and encouraged the large water dogs to follow us through the muddy floodwaters. After he kindly drove us right up to our car, we thanked him for the ride and had a simple lunch before we headed back to the urban Tunis.

Although it was quite a trek (especially due to the muddy fields), it was an enjoyable adventure, full of new discoveries. I hope to go down South for the Christmas break, which sounds like another great adventure. More opportunities to see new places and be filled with excitement as we discover a vastly different area of Tunisia. And for me, it’s an opportunity to take more photos to be used as inspiration for more artwork!

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