We went to Tunisia over winter break. We wanted to go to someplace exotic that would be unlike any place we had visited before. Tunisia fit the bill. Many (most?) visitors visit Tunisia for its Mediterranean shoreline (over 800 miles long) and stunning beaches, but we wanted to see Tunisia's fabulous collection of Roman ruins, which turned out to be the best of any we had seen outside of Italy. One of the most impressive was the one with which I have illustrated this blog post--the amphitheatre at El Jem, the third largest in the Roman world. It is in an amazing state of preservation, and we were able to explore it at will as there was almost nobody else visiting when we were there. We also visited the ruins of Carthage, not there there was much to see. "Carthago delenda est," and that's what happened--after definitively defeating Carthage in the Third Punic War in 146 B.C., the victorious Romans razed Carthage. We spent a whole day at the ruins of Dougga, a Roman city that stretched for miles and still hasn't been completely excavated. Many of the ruins we visited still had their mosaic floors intact, the colors nearly as bright as they were when they were created 2,000 years ago. I am a great lover of ancient mosaics, and Tunisia has one of the world's best collections in the Bardo Museum, located in Tunis. The Bardo is undergoing a much-needed renovation, however, and many of the most spectacular mosaics are inaccessible. One of the guards quietly motioned to us as we stood looking dismayed in front of a wall of plastic sheeting; he showed us around some of the blocked-off galleries and we got to see some of the Bardo's masterpieces. That was typical of the hospitality we encountered in Tunisia. There were very few other Americans around, and the Tunisians were curious about us, but also very welcoming. It helped that I could speak French. The primary language is Arabic, course, but Tunisia was a French protectorate for many years, and many vestiges of the connection with France remain--the language, street signs, the cuisine, architecture. Without my ability to speak French, it would have been difficult to navigate Tunisia because little English is spoken, even in Tunis, and the transit system doesn't always run according to posted schedules.
February turned out to be a good time to visit North Africa. The temperature was in the 50s-70s, and, although we did have some rain, on most days the rain passed pretty quickly and the sky turned a vivid, clear blue. We spent our last day in Tunisia exploring Douggas. It rained off and on with stinging hail raining down on us at one point. Finally, the sky cleared and turned a brilliant blue, and a 180-degree rainbow appeared in the sky. I have never seen a more vivid rainbow, and it seemed a fitting close to our ten days in Tunisia.