According to Baglib, Carthage, a quiet suburb of the capital Tunis built up with prestigious villas, is basking in the rays of its former glory. Most come here for the sole purpose of seeing the ruins of the ancient city, whose name alone terrified the entire Mediterranean.
The history of Carthage, the mighty capital of the Phoenician Empire, is a continuous series of wars with the eternal rival Rome. The Romans burned the hated city, plowed up and covered its territory with salt. But just 25 years later, a new settlement grew up on the ashes, which later became the capital of the Roman African province. In 1270, the leader of the 8th crusade, the French king Louis IX, died in the military camp of the crusaders on the ruins of ancient Carthage. In the 19th century, the French built the Basilica of St. Louis on the site of his death. This pompous church is used today as a concert hall.
The archaeological zone of Carthage occupies a rather vast territory. Sights lie in scattered areas, it will take at least half a day to see them.
Numerous souvenir shops are concentrated mainly near the fenced areas of the archaeological zone of Carthage. In almost every one you can see “sand roses” – natural crystalline formations resembling a stone flower. Tunisia is famous for ceramics, the traditions of which go back to the Roman era. Some products copy antique forms and combine yellow, blue, white and green colors. In addition to things in the Punic-Roman style, ceramics with Andalusian and Arabic motifs are magnificent. When buying inexpensive Tunisian leather – handbags, belts, jackets, you need to carefully check the quality of the workmanship – it often suffers. It is better to look at silver and coral jewelry, copper utensils, wooden dolls in national clothes, traditional embroidery with gold and silver thread.
Good and in every sense useful souvenirs are olive oil, dates, spices and spicy thick sauce “harissa” – a mixture of crushed red pepper, garlic with the addition of coriander and cumin. Essential oils of rose, jasmine and amber are sold in beautiful glass bottles.
Tiny, wax-like pieces of precious ambergris are inserted into massive silver jewelry. When in contact with the skin, they exude a sweetish aroma that acts like a natural pheromone.
Cuisine and restaurants of Carthage
The culinary palette of Carthaginian catering establishments is extensive and multi-layered. Here, as in France, you can have breakfast in a patisserie with coffee and croissants, dine in the Maghrib style couscous and end the day in a luxurious gourmet restaurant.
In small taverns where Tunisians themselves eat, it is worth ordering a bowl of spicy shorba or harira soup – a thick lentil stew with meat and vegetables. Such a lunch will cost only 10-15 TND. In the menu of cafes and restaurants of the middle price category, there are more refined dishes – quail stewed with apricots or chicken baked with pumpkin and dried fruits. The combination of meat dishes with sweet fruits, honey or sugar is typical of Tunisian cuisine. Such a lunch with a bottle of local beer will cost from 43 TND per person.
Traditional Tunisian fast food – puff pies “briki” stuffed with tuna or meat mixed with eggs, herbs and potatoes. On a street stall next to them, there may well be a chicken sandwich seasoned with tomatoes or tomato sauce (5 TND).
The best restaurant in Carthage is Le Resto at the Villa Didon Carthage spa hotel with transparent walls, an open kitchen and unusual designer lighting. The menu includes gourmet French and Italian cuisine. The wine list includes a wide selection of excellent wines, including Tunisian ones. Dinner with a glass or two of wine will cost a tidy sum here – from 100 TND.
Entertainment and attractions
Mark Porcius Cato did not throw words into the wind, the Romans really destroyed Carthage. When the archaeologists cleared away its ruins, they found a typical Roman city on the site of the former Phoenician capital with terms, villas of aristocrats, an amphitheater and streets straight as an arrow. Most of the sights of the once prosperous Carthage that have come down to us date back to that period.
Near the archaeological zone is the palace of the President of Tunisia, which is not allowed to be photographed.
Baths of Antonina (station TGM Carthage Hannibal) – one of the largest resort complexes of that time, inferior in size only to the Roman baths of Caracalla, Diocletian and Nero. There is little left of the former greatness – mainly underground rooms, load-bearing structures and ceilings. You can imagine the scale of the building by looking at the layout of the thermae installed on the observation platform. The only column that once supported the arch of the cold hall, the frigidarium, has been restored to life size in order to give an idea of the height of the building.
The most controversial place among the ruins of Carthage is Tophet, an open-air burial altar. According to the generally accepted version, here the Phoenicians sacrificed their first-born to propitiate the formidable gods – Baal-Ammon and Tanit. Urns with ashes were placed in several rows, and above them towered funerary steles, which can still be seen today. The most famous stele, believed to show a priest holding an infant prepared for sacrifice, is today in the National Museum of the Bardo. There are also justifying versions: on the site of Tophet there could be a children’s cemetery, where already dead children were burned before burial, or premature or dead babies were sacrificed to the gods.
The ruins of Carthage are located in several scattered places, and the most important excavation sites stretch for 6 km.
In addition, it is worth visiting the Roman amphitheater for 36 thousand spectators, Maalga water tanks and the remains of an aqueduct that went to the city from the Water Temple in Zaghouane (132 km). You can get an idea of the residential development of Carthage by visiting the quarter of Roman villas and the Punic quarter of Magon.
The ruins of the ancient theater again, like 2000 years ago, are filled with spectators at the Carthage Music Festival, held annually in July-August.
The hill of Birsa is interesting, from where the city once began. At the top of the hill stands the cathedral in honor of St. Louis, who died here in the 13th century from the plague during the Eighth Crusade. The Carthage Museum with a magnificent collection of artifacts is located side by side with the cathedral (Colline de Byrsa, Carthage).
A single ticket to enter all 8 sections of the archaeological zone costs 12 TND (children under 12 free) and is valid for one day. You can buy it at the box office at the Thermae Antonina and on Birsa Hill. They also sell permission for photography and video shooting (1 TND). Opening hours are from 8:30 to 17:00 from mid-September to the end of March and from 8:00 to 19:00 from April to mid-September. A visit to the Oceanographic Museum and the Cathedral of St. Louis is paid separately – 3 TND and 5 TND, respectively.
5 things to do in Carthage
- Visit the famous baths of Emperor Antoninus Pius.
- Recite a couple of pages of Flaubert’s “Salambo” while standing among the funerary stelae of the Punic burial of Tophet.
- Dine with taste and views of Carthage in the restaurant of the Hotel Villa Didon.
- Take a picture against the background of the marshmallow-pink facade of the Cathedral.
- Ask the price of “the real Phoenician coin” on souvenir stalls.
March, when jasmine and mimosa blossoms, and April, with the scent of blossoming orange trees, are the best and most beautiful times to visit the ruins. In summer, the ancient stones of Carthage are heated in the sun, but the sea breeze helps tourists not to melt from the heat. There is practically no rain, but an umbrella is still necessary to hide from the scorching sun.
Autumn pleases with comfortable temperatures and the International Film Festival, which takes place in Carthage in odd years. In winter, the weather is fine, but sometimes the cold wind from the sea brings rain and makes you seriously think about warm clothes. However, in winter, do not forget about sunscreen.