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krisek Tabursuq - A travel report by Krys
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Tabursuq,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Tønis al Janøb¿yah
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krisek's travel reports

Ancient Dougga's spectacular location.

  6 votes
Page: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Reportedly the best preserved Roman city in North Africa, Dougga is truly special. Its location on a hill with spectacular view, and extremely rare Libyo-Punic Mausoleum preserved by the ancient Romans make Dougga unique.

Dougga's ancient theatre and the satellite photo of the entire city.
Dougga's ancient theatre and the satellite photo of the entire city.
Literature about Tunisia suggests that those visitors, who do not have much time, but would like to visit an ancient Roman city in the country, should pick Dougga. Out of over ten different sites! Well, it is a fair suggestion, but I have my own view on this, obviously. Anyway, the ancient city of Dougga (also known as Thugga) is undoubtedly a significant spot, and UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site in 1997.

The site was located between two small towns of Tabursuq (8 km) and Nouvelle Dougga (4 km), along a narrow mountainous road. When I visited in March 2010, there was no public transport to the ruins. If one did not have own vehicle, then amongst the best options to reach Dougga was an inexpensive taxi from Teboursouq or Nouvelle Dougga, both of which, in turn, were connected with the rest of the country by buses and louages (minibuses). Otherwise, one had to sign up for a tour with a local travel agent operating from a larger town in the region, Tabarka, Tunis or one of the places of the Sahel’s coast.

The ruins were extensive. Much larger than I expected. I would say that, according to my calculations, the site extended some 500 meters west-east and about 1,200 meters north-south. And there was really plenty to see. A guide would come handy but a good map of the city was sufficient. Dougga must have become famous for the remarkable condition of ordinary citizen’s households. Plus there were original Roman roads, 3 groups of cisterns, 8 large temples, baths, forum, theatre, etc.

I was thinking why Dougga was said to be the best preserved ancient Roman city in North Africa. I would contest this, and argue that Leptis Magna in Libya was better preserved. I would agree that Dougga might be the best preserved Roman site in Tunisia, though. Also, if I had to choose only one out of all ancient Roman ruins in Tunisia to see, then I would rather pick Bulla Regia - see below. Fortunately they were relatively near each other and could be done together in one day.

Favourite spots:
The Temple of Juno Caelestis.
The Temple of Juno Caelestis.
From all the great sights my definite favourite was the Temple of Juno Caelestis (number 2 on the satellite photo above). I was not sure if I had seen a semi-circular ancient Roman temple before and perhaps this was why it made such an impact on me. The temple was erected in AD 235 on an elevated platform or podium. The columns surrounding the main hall of the temple proper, created a temenos in a shape of a crescent moon (apparently the symbol of Juno Caelestis), and this really amazed me. I tried to capture this awesome elegance on a photograph, but I could not capture the magnificent ambiance and inexplicable magnetism that kept me standing there bewitched. The state of preservation was truly remarkable and it was so easy to admire this incredible temple. Thank you Gabinius Rufus Felix for commissioning and paying for this magnificent temple!

What's really great:
The Arch of Alexander Severus.
The Arch of Alexander Severus.
Unlike in most ancient sites in Europe, one could wander absolutely anywhere in Dougga, touch and climb all the monuments, walk on the mosaics. There were a few guards around, but their job was just to protect the site from graffiti and devastation. Visitors were free to hug the columns and hike on the walls. This way one could develop a very intimate connection with the site and soak the atmosphere to the max, free from chains and ropes prohibiting any close encounters. Dougga was my first ancient Roman site in Tunisia, and I was a little sheepish about this closeness that was allowed there. And I felt terribly guilty when stepped on the 1,800 years old mosaics. I actually tried to avoid stepping on them. Later, I discovered that all ancient sites I visited in Tunisia were like this - no ropes, no chains, no ‘no entry’ signs. I loved it. But I do believe this freedom should be enjoyed responsibly.

The Capitol building.
The Capitol building.
The main sights of Dougga included:

The theatre (number 1 on the satellite photo above) built in AD 168, with room for 3,500 spectators or 70% of total population of the city overlooked the plains below. What a backdrop for the scene!

The fantastically well preserved Lycinian Baths (AD 260), also known as the Winter Baths, had several levels and a large palaestra, which could double as a gymnasium as well, was subsequently used as an olive oil production facility - but there were three other baths in the city; the partially excavated Aïn Doura Baths (AD 295) were even larger.

The second largest Capitol building in the ancient Roman Empire (AD 166) dominated the skyline of the city; the small forum (AD 14) nearby had an extension built in the form of the Square of the Winds (AD 190) with inscriptions of the 12 Roman winds.

More prominent temples (of): Minerva; Saturn; Neptune; Caelestis; Concordia; Frugifer and Liber Pater; Pluto; Tellus and Mercury; Massinissa; August Piety.

Le Kef's Hotel Les Pins - the central swimming pool.
Le Kef's Hotel Les Pins - the central swimming pool.
The closest place to stay near Dougga was in Tabursuq called Hotel Thugga. It was no frills, but reasonable with good reputation hotel charging TND45 (€24) for a double room. It was convenient if one wanted to explore the ruins early in the morning, before tour coaches arrived.
I did not stay there. Instead, I travelled about 60 km south west to Le Kef and stayed there at the Hotel Les Pins. They charged TND25 (€13) per twin room. The rooms were very comfortable and of good size, and had tiled floors. The bathrooms were modern and squeaky clean, however had no toiletries and I had to claim towels from the reception. At night, the heating in the rooms came on, as it was bit chilly in the mountains. The hotel had a small central open-air swimming pool within the hotel's walls. And there was wifi available in the reception area. The room rate included buffet breakfast containing coffee, milk, sugar, boiled eggs, French baguette, butter, preserves, Danish pastries, and watery fruit drink.

The ordinary households in the foreground and the Lycinian Baths in on the top of the hill.
The ordinary households in the foreground and the Lycinian Baths in on the top of the hill.
The ruins were closing down about an hour before sunset, and therefore there was no nightlife available in the city. However, Dougga was not fenced off and I could imagine it should be relatively easy to enter the site any time of day and night. Yet, one would be completely on their own securing night time activities amongst the ruins. The nearby Nouvelle Dougga and Tabursuq had cafes and tearooms, but offered nothing obvious in terms of night activities.

The door of the House of el-Achab, and the Capitol seen through it.
The door of the House of el-Achab, and the Capitol seen through it.
It came as a no surprise that the city’s most popular spot to hang out was the top of the theatre. The view from the top of the tribunes extended not only all the way across the ancient city’s south and west, exposing the remarkably preserved Lycinian Baths, the magnificent Capitol and the somewhat delicate Arch of Alexander Severus, but all the way across the plains, green fields and olive groves to Nouvelle Dougga, and beyond - to the surrounding mountains. It was great to sit there imagining what sort of plays would the Douggans enjoy watching there some 1,700 years ago.

I also liked to linger at the House of el-Achab (Dar el-Achab, aka Dar Lacheb) dating back to AD 164, which stood right below the forum and offered fabulous perspective for the Capitol building. It might have been a temple before it was converted into a house by the el-Achab family.

The Libyo-Punic Mausoleum.
The Libyo-Punic Mausoleum.
Alternatively, one could relax under the trees of a small grove adjacent to a booth offering snacks and drinks. One could sit down on a small wall surrounding the grove and admire a view of the unique Libyo-Punic Mausoleum standing right below. This tomb, an exceptionally rare instance of royal Numidian architecture, was the other reason why Dougga was such an outstanding site. The mausoleum was erected probably by an ancient Libyan tribe, the Numidians, ancestors of the Amazigh back in 148 BC, who were the Carthaginians’ allies against the Romans. But only initially! Later they switched sides. This might have meant why this tomb was never destroyed by the Romans, who took over Dougga.

Anyway, the little cafe was great and the owner offered green tea without sugar! It was not cheap - TND1.500 (€0.80), but was indeed refreshing and lacked all that stickiness. The range of snacks included sweets, chocolate bars, kiosk-like items.

Other recommendations:
Bulla Regia, one of the mosaics still in situ.
Bulla Regia, one of the mosaics still in situ.
Bulla Regia, a large ancient Roman town with underground villas, complete with subterranean patios and incredible mosaics left in situ, about 60 kilometres north-west of Dougga, near the town of Jendouba, was an incredible place to visit. It did not receive many visitors at all, according to a local guide. And I found that very strange. The significance of Bulla Regia, as the only ancient Roman site in the world with underground villas should be overwhelming. It should have also been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Well, it is not (as of April 2010) but I would not be surprised that it might one day be inscribed as one.

The site was fascinating and apart from being considerable in size, having collection of beautiful underground villas - complete with patios and columns, and a large number of exquisite mosaics both on the ground and underground, it also had great other sights. There was an olive mill, lovely theatre (also with a mosaic), massive baths, cisterns and wells.

Published on Saturday July 24th, 2010

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