Retro – Tunisia: Dougga

For the first time in a few days, I’ll actually be returning to the same bed I slept in the night before!

Today was what would be considered an “easy” day trip to Dougga, another set of Roman ruins, set atop a hill in the middle of olive groves and grain fields, with mountains and forests off in the background.  It may have been the most picturesque Roman ruin I’ve seen on this trip.

Dougga is just off the main road between Tunis and Le Kef.  The first step in getting there is making it to the town of Teboursouk, about two hours away from Tunis.  So I was up relatively early to catch that bus.  It drops you off at the SNTRI office – literally, an office, not a bus station – and then from there, you need to grab one of many taxi or louages.  Again, tourist walking off the bus in the middle of a small town, you’re not going to have trouble finding a car.  I hooked up a ride within five minutes, agreed a pick-up time at the site and we were there shortly after that.

If it’s all about location, Dougga’s is definitely in a prime spot.  Most of the site is Roman, but you see traces of the Carthagenian, Byzantine, Numidian and Punic cultures scattered all around.  Much like El Jem, the place is ridiculously well preserved, but you have a beautiful, green and blue backdrop.

The Capitole at Dougga

The first stop as I was walking had me a bit worried.  I decided to check out the theatre and, after a moment or two of quiet, saw a large tour group coming.  We’re back in the tourist zone, so I guess it makes sense.  The great thing is that there’s enough around the site that you don’t feel “stuck”.  I wandered down a path and found five huge pillars, remnants of one of the site’s main temples, which must have had an amazing view two thousands years ago. 

The most impressive part of the whole site is definitely the Capital, which is relatively intact, with walls around the pillars, a full portico, a large stone yard.  It looks good from just about every angle.

In fact, I think the site actual rivals the forum at Rome in terms of the “Wow, that looks great!” factor and the different locations of the different buildings break up the temples and columns.  The scale is obviously not there, but it really does lay out like an old Roman city.  Old cisterns, arches, baths… the site has just about everything a ruin junkie would like to see.  The Libyo-Punic mausoleum was a highlight, looking completely out of place from the rest of the site, but in a good way. 

Libyo-Punic Mausoleum

It took a little over two hours to really get a good sense of the place, at which point I made my way back to the gate to meet my driver…  Who wasn’t there.  Now, smart guy that I am, I didn’t remember my driver’s name, thinking it would be important, but as you leave the site, you’re kind of stuck at a gate, waiting for your car to show up.  Once again with the amazing Tunisian hospitality, however, the security guard actually called somebody down in the parking lot, managed to find the driver who took me based solely on my description, and we were off to Teboursouk.  Quick snack later and I was on my way back to Tunis.

A bit of a rest later at the hotel, I headed out to one of the nice side streets off of Avenue Habib Bourgiba in the Ville Nouvelle and grabbed a simple steak dinner from a prix fix menu.  A little bit of wandering, in and out of some malls and stores, and another attempt at email with a Tunisian keyboard and slow connection, and I was done for the day.  Back was feeling sore, body was feeling tired, bed was calling.

Tomorrow, no Roman ruins, but one of the holiest cities in Islam, Kairouan.

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