TN1 TUNISIA

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Ancient Sites & Legendary Cities

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS:

Legendary Carthage; Mosaics of Bardo Museum; Roman sites Sufetula, Dougga, Bulla Regia; Djerba island excursion; El Djem Museum and Amphitheatre

Full Itinerary


Day 1 Arrive in Tunis
Arrival in Tunis.

Tunis, the capital of the country, is a bustling metropolis and the home of one-sixth of the country’s population. Situated in the Gulf of Tunis on the Mediterranean Sea, the modern city extends along the coastal plains and to the surrounding hills. It is a city of many contrasts, with its modern office buildings, shopping malls and European cafes, the colonial French style of the Ville Nouvelle, and the dynamic Arab souks of Tunis' old Medina.

Overnight in Tunis.
Meal plan: dinner

Day 2 Tunis: Medina, Carthage & the Bardo Museum
We begin the day with a visit to the Bardo Museum, recently re-opened after extensive renovations. The Bardo houses the largest and finest collection of ancient mosaics in the world. These mosaics were discovered in the wealthiest of Roman villas in the many ancient cities found in Tunisia. Rich patrons commissioned a vast array of subjects and themes, from scenes of gods and goddesses, daily life (hunting, fishing, harvesting), the zodiac, seasons, amphitheatre games. From their exquisite details, we can understand why the North African school of mosaicists was the finest in the ancient world, and whose masterpieces can be found throughout the Mediterranean. As well, there are also fine sculpture galleries, exhibits of Punic, early Christian and Islamic artefacts, and an exhibition of magnificent bronzes from the 1st BC Mahdia shipwreck.

After lunch we have a walking tour through the old medina of Tunis, its narrow lanes crowded with markets, mosques, tombs and palaces. This was Tunis until the arrival of the French in the late 19th century, who subsequently built their quarters outside of the "Sea Gate" -- now the Ville Nouvelle. On our walk, we pass through the various bustling souks of spices, carpets, clothing, gold, and the Souk des Chechias, the area of workshops where the traditional red hats of the Tunisians are still made by hand. En route we will see the Great Mosque of Tunis, Jemaa Zitouna, and the elegant Place du Gouvernement.

We continue to Carthage – the legendary city of Queen Dido and Hannibal. We will begin with a visit to the ancient Punic cemetery -- the Tophet, or sanctuary to Baal and Tanit. Roman propaganda, hostile to their enemy, stated that the Carthaginians ritually sacrificed their children here to the gods. Our next stop is the Punic ports, once the foundation of Carthage's prosperity. Here we see the remains of what was once an sophisticated naval harbour, complete with ship sheds for dry-docking their warships, and a elaborate merchant harbor, for their fleets of cargo ships which engaged in trade throughout the Mediterranean. From here we visit Byrsa hill -- the ancient acropolis and the first area to be settled by the Phoenicians. Crowning the hill is the 19th century Cathedral of St. Louis and the Carthage museum with finds excavated from the city. Our final stop is the Antonine Baths -- the monumental public baths of the city. In the 2nd century AD, these were the largest baths in North Africa and the 3rd largest in the Roman world.

Overnight in Tunis.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 3 Tunis - Dougga - Bulla Regia - Tabarka
We leave Tunis early this morning and head south towards Dougga. Our first stop is the charming village of Testour, founded by refugees from Andalusia in the 17th century, who brought their sophisticated culture with them -- everything from agricultural techniques and products, to decorative tilework, fine architecture, music and poetry. The inhabitants of Testour even today remain proud of their Andalusian heritage, visible in their hospitality, dress, craftsmanship and music. We will see the Great Mosque with its tiled octagonal minaret -- the only one in Tunisia with a clock -- which recalls the church bell towers of Aragon & Castile.

We follow the Medjerda River valley to Dougga, the best preserved Roman city in Tunisia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monumental Capitolium temple stands in the city's Forum, with a breathtaking view over the green rolling hills and plains below. The theaters, gymnasia, baths, shops, stone paved streets and lavish villas are all testimony to the golden age this North African city enjoyed during the Roman era.

After lunch we visit the Bulla Regia. This ancient site is famous for its unique subterranean villas, which belonged to the wealthiest of its inhabitants; we descend to see these luxurious villas and their splendid floor mosaics, still in situ.

Our drive to Tabarka takes us through the scenic Khroumirie Mountains, with the road climbing 900m (3,000 feet) through the cork and oak forests. We reach the charming alpine town of Ain Draham before descending to sea level to reach our destination, Tabarka.

Today, Tabarka is a charming Mediterranean resort, with an expansive beach and picturesque harbour. In antiquity, Tabarka was the port from which exotic African animals were shipped to various parts of the Roman Empire to supply the amphitheater games and triumphal processions. Also shipped from here was the precious Numidian Marble from the inland Chemtou quarries, coveted for its unusual golden and pink hues; this exotic marble can be seen in prestigious ancient monuments in Algeria, Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Levant. Since medieval times, red coral, African commodities and slaves were traded from here. We make a brief stop to see the Genoese fortress, and the strange sandstone formations on the port, locally known as "Les Aiguilles" (The Needles), with their spectacular hues of red, orange and yellow.

Overnight in Tabarka.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 4 Tabarka - Kairouan
This morning we head east towards Kairouan, travelling through the fertile valleys and rolling hills of the North. Since antiquity to the present, Tunisia is still referred to by other Maghreb countries by the epithet, "Tunisia the Green." This area is a favorite haven for storks, who build their nest on top of telephone towers, minarets and rooftops. We head toward into the Sahel, the transitional barren region between the fertile north and the Sahara desert to the south.

The Holy City of Kairouan is not only the spiritual center of Tunisia, it is the first Islamic city to be established in North Africa, and the 4th oldest Muslim city outside of Arabia. Founded as the capital of the region in 670 AD by the Arab general Oqba ibn Nafi, Kairouan soon acquired magnificent ramparts, mosques, palaces and hammams. Our first stop is the Aghlabid basins, enormous artificial reservoirs constructed in the 9th century to store water for Kairouan, as part of a monumental system in which water was brought by aqueducts to the city from 36km away.

Later this afternoon we will have a walking tour of old medina of Kairouan -- the entire medina is protected by UNESCO. Meandering through the lanes, we will stop to admire the beautiful traditional doors and architectural styles, the main monuments, markets, pastry shops and traditional workshops where weavers (men) still create textiles on hand looms.

Overnight in Kairouan.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 5 Kairouan - Sbeitla - Tozeur
We start the day with a visit to the Great Mosque of Kairouan, the oldest, largest and most important mosque in Tunisia. The lowest story of the towering minaret is thought to date to 730 AD, one century earlier than the structure of the present mosque. Inside we will see the colonnaded courtyard with its ancient wellheads and sundials, and the forest of columns of the prayer sanctuary. The hundreds of columns all differ from one another, in marble types, size, shape and capital designs, since most were taken from ancient Roman sites and reused in the mosque's construction. Our final stop before leaving Kairouan is the Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, also known as the Mosque of the Barber.

We continue to the spectacular Roman city of Sufeitula -- modern Sbeitla. The Roman civic center is incredibly photogenic, due to the excellent state of preservation its three monumental temples dedicated to Juno, Jupiter and Minerva towering over the Forum. Sbeitla, like other North African cities, prospered in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD under the Pax Romana. Upon entering the site, we will see olive press -- one of many in the city, since the inhabitants here became extremely wealthy from the trade of olives and olive oil. After visiting the forum and its temples, we will walk through Sbeitla's stone paved streets to see the public baths, the theater, and numerous Christian basilicas with their elaborate baptisteries covered in colourful mosaics.

Heading south, we arrive in the late afternoon at the fascinating oasis town of Tozeur. In medieval times, Tozeur was an important cultural and market center, due to its strategic location on the caravan routes. Merchants from North and West Africa gathered in this thriving oasis, trade such goods as wool, dates, gold, ivory, salt and slaves. Some of the finest dates of the world are grown in the region, the deglat nour or "finger of light". Medieval accounts state that over 1,000 camels used to leave here per day, laden only with dates! While in the vicinity of Tozeur, we will visit the palmerie to view the various crops being grown and to absorb the oasis atmosphere.

Overnight in Tozeur.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 6 Tozeur - Douz - Djerba
Today's journey continues eastwards across Chott El Jerid, Tunisia's largest salt lake, extending over 5,000km2. The chott lies 30m below sea level, and is a remnant from over 1.5 million years ago when the area was flooded by the sea. Water on the surface of the salt floor reflects strange hues of pink and yellow, and the refraction of light on this depression often creates mirages.

Our next stop is Douz, the "Gateway of the Sahara", another ancient oasis town surround by vast expanses of sand dunes. Here you will have the opportunity to participate in optional adventure excursions (payable locally). You may choose to ride a camel or horse carriage or drive a dune buggy out to the sand dunes. Or, you may choose to take an "ultralight" airplane over the dunes and the palmeries of Douz. Your Tour Leader can provide you with detailed information regarding the various excursions, and assist with booking upon your arrival.

The final leg of our journey takes us to the legendary Island of Djerba, where we will spend the first of two nights. Our drive takes us through one of the main olive growing regions of the country. Tunisia has over 65 million olive trees (6 for each inhabitant!) and is currently the 4th largest exporter of olive oil in the world.

Overnight in Djerba.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 7 The Isle of Djerba
We will spend the morning exploring the sites of this splendid island. Originally settled by the Phoenicians, the isle of Djerba is the mythical place where Odysseus encountered the Lotus Eaters during his journey back home from Troy. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Normans, Arabs, Spaniards, and Ottoman Turks -- all have come to Djerba and left their footprint. Historically Djerba has been known for its sponge fishing and agriculture -- here we can find olive trees which are over 1000 years old. The island today is one of Tunisia’s most famous resorts, with its small villages, charming towns, and 125 km of sandy beaches. Today’s inhabitants of Djerba are culturally distinct from mainland Tunisians, and are proud of their customs, dress and dialect.

Our first visit is the excellent ethnographic Museum of Patrimonie, which celebrates the island’s peoples and traditions. Here we will see displays of marriage festivals and traditional wedding dresses from various parts of the country, traditional costumes of the island, circumcision ceremonies, household and agricultural implements, and displays of typical arts of weaving, calligraphy, jewelry and metalwork. We proceed to the center of Guellala, the pottery producing center of the island where we stop to see the kilns and workshops. Next is El Ghriba ("The Miracle") synagogue: one of the oldest synagogues and most important Jewish pilgrimage sites in the world. Djerba is home to one of the world’s most ancient Jewish communities: tradition states that they arrived here after the First Destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 566 BC. This holy synagogue is fascinating for its historic and spiritual importance, as well as for its distinctive style of architecture (a marvelous blend of Jewish, Tunisian, Maghrebian and Sephardic elements). We proceed to the main town Houmt Souq, where first we shall stop to see the medieval fort, Borj el Kebir; this was the scene of a bloody conflict in 1560 between the forces of Dragut, the Barbary corsair, and Philip II of Spain. In town, we will explore the fruit and vegetable markets, watch the excitement at the daily fish auctions, and wander the narrow lanes and souqs. You will have free time to explore more of this charming town, perhaps do some shopping and have lunch at one of the many restaurants in the center.

The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. You may wish to stay in Houmt Souq, go to the beach, or relax at the hotel.

Overnight in Djerba.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 8 Djerba - Matmata - Sfax
We depart Djerba for Matmata, where the inhabitants live in rock-hewn dwellings ("troglodyte" homes), some of which are over 400 years old. We will visit the pit dwelling of a local family who will happily show us around. We will also stop to see the cave home which appeared in the first Star Wars film (1977) and was later converted into Hotel Sidi Driss.

Our drive continues to our destination, the coastal city of Sfax where we arrrive in time for a walk though the medina.

Overnight in Sfax.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 9 Sfax - El Djem - Sousee - Sidi Bou Said - Tunis
Today we head inland to El Djem (ancient Thysdrus). Our first visit is the excellent Archaeological Museum, with its splendid collection of floor mosaics from the villas of the wealthiest inhabitants of El Djem. Just behind the museum is the House of Africa, an opulent villa covering over 3000 sq m which was found in the center of town, dismantled and moved here in its entirety. The villa is named after one of its excellent fine floor mosaics depicting the Goddess of Africa (the only mosaic of its kind in the world).

The sudden appearance of the massive Roman Amphitheatre is an extraordinary sight. With a capacity of 30,000 spectators, it rises 3 stories above the surrounding plains -- though smaller than the Colosseum in Rome, it is in many ways more impressive due to its excellent state of preservation. It was built during the reigns of the (usurper) Emperors Gordion I and his son, Gordian II, both of whom reigned for only a few weeks before being defeated by the legions sent from Rome. Wild beast fights, gladiatorial combats, circuses and games were held here. We climb up to the upper tiers for excellent views of the arena and surrounding countryside, before descending to the basement to see the chambers where scenery, gladiators, prisoners and wild animals were kept. Wild animals were hoisted by a sophisticated (if not theatrical) system of elevators and pulleys into the arena to the delight of the spectators.

En route we make a brief stop in old Sousse, where you will have some free time to explore the medina, perhaps enter the ribat here, or do some last minute shopping. After lunch we head inland towards Tunis, stopping en route to see the surviving stretches of the Roman aqueduct which once supplied water to ancient Carthage over a distance of 132 km!

The final leg of our journey takes us Sidi Bou Said, the charming hilltop village, famous for its beautifully decorated blue and white architecture. Visited by the likes of Cervantes, Simone de Beaauvouir and Jean Foucault, Sidi Bou Said made an indelible impression on the works of Paul Klee, August Macke and Louis Moilliet who stayed here together in 1914. You will have some free time to explore this beautiful village overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, before we meet for sunset and our final farewell dinner.

Overnight in Tunis.
Meal plan: breakfast,dinner

Day 10 Departure
Departure from Tunis.

BON VOYAGE!
Meal plan: breakfast