Adventure in Tunisia  
 

Tunisia Odyssey: Historic North
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

 
 

Dispatch 3 - Teboursouk

 
  Mejez el Bab to Teboursouk (50km, 31mi) (elev 500m)  Today’s ride passes historic sites, picturesque farms and quiet villages.
Program options: War cemetery, Ain Tonga site, Dougga archeological site (200 BC & 200 AD)

 
 

Countryside near TestourThe day we started with an easy twenty kilometers before breakfast. It was still overcast, but the Animal market, Mejez el Babroads had mostly dried during the night from the overnight rain.  Though we thought we had gotten off to an early Mejez el Bab: Commonwealth War Cemeterystart, the cattle market a few kilometers out of town was well established when we past, so we clearly weren't the first on the road this day.  Not long after this was the Membressa Mejez el Bab: Commonwealth War CemeteryCommonwealth War Cemetery where 2003 casualties, mostly British, rest eternally.  Many lost their lives during intense fighting on December 23-25, 1942.  The allies assault was repulsed and eventually the allies had to retreat for the winter.

This is the legacy of only the most recent battle in the valley.   In 202 BC the Roman general Scipio Africanus, aided by the Numidian cavalry, defeated the Carthaginian general Hannibal at Zama (near Siliana), where 20,000 died. 

Countryside near Testour Countryside near Testour In contrast to the history, the scenery continued to be wonderful with green fields, lots of flowers and rolling hills with low mountains in the distance.

We stopped at a café in the small town of Testour, which had the distinction of having the largest rural concentration of Jews in modern Tunisia, before their mass emigration in the 1980's.  By 2007, there were an elderly two remaining. 

While the arranged themselves on the plaza in front of a cafe and some ordered coffee or thé, the guide plied main street rounding some provisions for the breakfast: yogurt, chocolate croissants, another fruity pastry, French bread and butter. The mint thé was very good as were the pastries.

Ain Tonga Roman / Byzantine archeological site, marketFrom there we rode a short way to the primarily 2nd C. Roman ruins at Ain Tonga.  The lack of a parking and other amenities suggests that they are off the tourist map.  All who whiz by are missing a Roman arch, Ain Tonga Roman / Byzantine archeological site, bathsmain street, baths, theater, market, capitol, wells, cisterns, quarries, guard post and Byzantine fortress. 

Ain Tonga Roman / Byzantine archeological siteAin Tounga (ain means spring) was a Roman town in the midst of their African bread basket. As Rome grew, they relied more and more on their remote provinces, especially North Africa, to keep them supplied with victuals. The region we are currently riding through has rich earth with many wheat fields, olive groves, livestock (we passed Ain Tonga Roman / Byzantine archeological site, theaterthrough one village in the midst of an animal market), and other agricultural riches. The site had its own local guardian who showed up shortly after we pulled off the road and began walking our bikes up the hill towards the site. He seemed to speak French with an Italian accent.

Ain Tonga Roman / Byzantine archeological siteWhy no one seems to care much about this site is a mystery. No one showed up while we were there and most guidebook don’t list it. However, the ruins are interesting and more complete than some others. While there, a large stork soared over and came in for a landing on its nesting platform erected for that purpose.

Wildflowers near TeboursoukCountryside near TeboursoukWe continued though some beautiful countryside with a more topography than we had seen since Tunis, including climbing the biggest hill of the trip and the taking a long gently descending traverse along the side of a valley with patches of pine forest and groves of eucalyptus trees.

Countryside near TeboursoukTeboursoukWith timing that couldn't have been better for us, as we arrived at the Tebersouk hotel as it began to sprinkle. The sky had remained overcast throughout our ride and was, at the moment, unreadable. Plan A was to check-in, stow our gear, ride into town for lunch, and then ride to the hilltop mega-site of Dougga. However, by the time we were ready, it was raining steadily so we stood under the portico of the hotel discussing possible plan Bs while several tour buses deposited their clients for a transient tourist lunch at the hotel.

[If we had continued down the road we would come to Krib (Misti), the largest Roman town in the area, known for its inscriptions.  It was largely overbuilt by Byzantine.  Another point of interest is Borj Messaoudi: Kouba of Sidi Moussa, where newly weds come to circle the shrine, light candles and pray for fertility (doesn't seem to be a widespread problem in Tunisia.)  And, in the same area it Hammam Biada, a natural sulfurous hot springs.]

Tunisian salad, white beans and French breadMenu in Arabic, Teboursouk, TunisiaThe rain finally let up enough for us to ride into Tebersouk without getting too wet and, by the time lunch was over, the rain had ceased and it looked like it would clear.

Road to Dougga archeological siteWe rode the five miles to Dougga with every curve opening up ever grander vistas. The site itself is magnificently situated atop a high hill with panoramic views in all directions. The countryside falls quickly away so you can see for miles and, at this time of year, the view was marvelous. While wandering through the ruins, I found myself time and again taking in the view.

Church of Victoria, DouggaTemple of Baal-Saturn, DouggaThough graves near the site suggest earlier occupation, around the period of the 6th to 4th century BC, the site was a Numidian citadel. In was then a Punic city.  Punic mausoleum, DouggaThe most significant evidence of this period is a reconstructed Temple of Baal-Saturn, DouggaPunic mausoleum, with Egyptian, Greek and Persian architectural features (2nd C BC).  It's somewhat separated from the Roman ruins looking distinctly out of place. After the second Punic War, it became part of the Numidian kingdom. Eventually, Rome expanded throughout the region and Hypogee (burial chamber), DouggaDougga came under their control around 46 BC and stayed until the end of the 2nd C AD. The remaining ruins are distinctly Roman except for some structures that appear to be a hodgepodge of materials that date from when the Byzantines (6th C AD) turned it into a fort. In between these periods, the Vandals roamed the area and left the only Christian ruin, the Church of Victoria.

You might remember from your ancient history course that the Roman Empire eventually split into East and West (based in Constantinople and Rome respectively) with Rome eventually being attacked and destroyed by Germanic hoards.  Well, the Vandals made their way into southwest France and on into Spain where they eventually crossed the Mediterranean to try the pickings there.  They were a presence in North Africa for about one hundred years beginning in AD 439. The Vandals didn’t leave much evidence, being primarily “tear it down” rather than “build it up” types, and they were eventually replace by a rejuvenated Byzantine Empire for a time -- but also didn't really add substantively to the material culture.

Roman road and ruins, DouggaCapitol (opus Africanum construction), DouggaThe Roman ruins at Dougga are amazingly complete or reconstructed so that you can get a fair sense of what life here might have been like and imagine people walking along the Arch of Severe Alexandre and Capitol, Douggastreets and the tempo of daily life in the town.  Triumphant arches mark the edge of the town.  Roman stone roads criss-cross the city. Most of the ruins are recognizable for those who haveTheatre, Dougga Theatre, Douggavisited ancient Roman cities before. There stand the capital with its showy fluted columns, the forum and the agora, and a marvelously restored theater which is still put to use duringMosaic floor in Roman villa, Dougga Market, Douggathe Dougga Festival. Of course, the public baths are there and many well appointed houses. Some of the mosaic floors have been left in situ, but the real prizes are Capitol, Douggadisplayed in theRoad in residential section, Dougga Bardo in Tunis. Many of the buildings at Dougga were named from the Mosaics found there. Twenty-one temples have been identified here, the most of any Roman city in North Caracalla Baths, DouggaAfrica, and then there are the more mundane cisterns, wells and streets replete with grooves worn by chariot wheels. And along with all this is the expansive view. It must truly have been a magical place to live.

Temple of Celestis, Dougga

Temple of Celestis, Dougga

Temple of Celestis, Dougga

Temple of Celestis, Dougga

 

 

 

Cyclops Baths (12 person latrine), DouggaWe were still exploring when the rain began again. The sky had been darkening for an hour and it finally let loose. We left our final site, the twelve-hole toilet in a horseshoe shape, and hurried to our bikes for a wet ride down the hill. As we zoomed through town, many school kids laughed at us. I wasn’t sure if it was our bare legs or the fact we had been caught in the rain that provoked it. We always get some catcalls and laughter from the kids, but this was more than usual.. We continued downhill to the hotel and when we reached our last turn discovered the road was dry – the rain had not reached here yet … but it did just as we pulled into the hotel.

Thugga hotel corridor, TeboursoukThugga Hotel lobby, TeboursoukIn contrast to the night before, this is a tourist class hotel with bright hallways and over stuffed chairs in the lobby.  One of the features of the hotel is you can treat yourself to a hot soak in the large bath in the nicely appointed room -- among the best we’re enjoyed.  Sorry no photos of the bath.

Dinner menu, Thugga Hotel, TeboursoukFor dinner several carnivores in the group chose the roast wild boar (roti de marcasin), which was reportedly surprisingly tender and quite tasty. And for dessert there was a small dish of ice cream -- that was pretty much the universal choice for both carnivores and vegetarians.

Roman cistern, Dougga[Note -- the full tour of Dougga included: T. Victoria (5th C, Nike (G), goddess of Victory, built by Vandals), Hypogee (burial), T. Baal-Saturn (195 AD), Theater (3000 pax), Plaza of the winds (12 Roman winds, named by direction), T. Mercury (frease to the side by wind rose), market, Capitol (opus Africanum constructions), Forum (political, judicial and religious center of community) (built-over by Byzantine), Arch of Severe Alexandre (222-235: ended with over through of Severe dynasty and 50 years of anarchy), cistern, T. Tanit-Celeastis-Juno (r.222-235), 12km aqueduct, house of the wealthy (mosaics), temple (slave market), Caracalla Baths (r.211-217; fountain, atrium, steam pipes, oil lamps), house of 4 seasons (mosaics, plaster walls), Triflorium (nymphaeum), Punic mausoleum, arch of Septimius Severe (r.193-211; built 2005;cultural high point and economic rise of Rome), cistern, prison, Cyclops Baths (12 person latrine).]

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