Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Trip to Dougga - 2002

After living in the capital city of Tunisia for a month, today would be
my first time out of the city and its sprawling suburbs. Our destination was
Dougga, site of some of the most splendid Roman ruins as well as some
earlier Punic funerary chambers. Like many destinations in Tunisia, the
distance was short enough to make this a nice day trip.

Driving past the modern capital and its many suburbs, traffic lessened
and the concrete buildings gave way to the rolling hills of the Tunisian
rural setting. Farmers plowed their fields, preparing the sandy brown soil
for planting. In other fields, irrigation equipment provided water during
dry spells. Groves of olive trees dotted the landscape, providing a
life-presenting green respite from the neutral tones of soil and rocks.
Along the road, one could catch a glimpse of workers placing picked olives
in large sacks. Roadside stands displayed the area's fresh picks including
pomegranates, watermelons, cactus fruit, tomatoes and plump bunches of green
grapes. Occasionally we would pass a horse-driven cart or small groups of
uniformed children walking home from school for lunch. After about an hour
and a half ride, we caught glimpses of temple columns as the winding road
neared the top of the steep hill.

Grabbing our picnic lunch, we headed towards the well-preserved theatre,
built in 168-169 AD. Walking about halfway up the theatre's flight of stairs
and determining that the view was pleasant, we ate our lunch. The strong
midday sun cast linear shadows of the theatre's slender columns. Through the
negative space framed by the columns, the magnificent Capitol could be seen
in the distance. The paved Roman road composed of large flat stone arranged
in an opposing diagonal pattern led past remains of homes directly to the
golden colored Capital. Immense fluted columns rose 8 meters high,
supporting an engraved architrave. On the pediment, a bas relief of a man
being carried off by an eagle remained partly visible. A blue sky began
emerging through the clouds as I peered through the space once occupied by a
grand roof. In the back room of the Capital, large numbered stones
containing inscriptions or carvings lined the periphery.

As we meandered down the steep slope towards the Temple of the Victory
of Caracalla, we were attracted to the portions of mosaic floors in some of
the closely spaced homes. Sprinkling water on the mosaics revealed the
bright colors of the floor designs, each unique. Some of the more
spectacular mosaics now reside in the Bardo Museum in Tunis- one of the next
places I need to visit. At the Temple, a mortar-less arch rose above two
tall, slender columns. In another section, the vaulted stone ceiling
reminded me of some cathedrals I had visited in Europe. Around the same
area, we visited the baths via an underground tunnel, a small forum, and a
well-preserved public latrine with twelve holes.

Exploring in another direction, we meandered down another Roman paved
street. Here, the loose ground rose quite high above the street level.
Fragments of pottery, oil lamps, and other items could be spotted. In
another area, the loose ground revealed a fossilized shell as I proceeded
down the steep slope. In some areas, indications revealed that there were
levels of buildings still buried. Imagine what treasures still lie buried
beneath the surface!

Tired from the heat of the strong sun, we headed towards the car. As we
headed down the winding road of the hill, we paused to let several sheep
slowly stroll across the road to the flock. Groves of olive trees provided a
little shade for the shepherd from the sun. In some ways, how much has
really changed over the centuries?

On the way back, Theresa, the director's wife, decided to take a
different route so we could see the Roman aqueducts that carried water all
the way to Carthage, a distance of 123 km. Along the way, we saw an unmarked
structure, similar in style to the Punic funerary chambers in Dougga. Near
the town of Oudna, the Zaghouan Aqueduct was spotted. The impressive
structure, dating back to 120 AD, varied considerably along the route. It
curved in some sections, rising in some places to quite a height. At other
times, it appeared to play hide-and-seek, with the arches appearing at
ground level and then seems to disappear, where the conduit is carried

About 30 km later, multi-level buildings began replacing the open
landscape. Instead of spotting cattle or sheep, groups of people could be
seen carrying out commerce or chatting at streetside caf├ęs. In the distance
was the capital city. Our day journey had come to a close.

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