Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Discover Anatolia 1 : Eskisehir

Anatolia is known as Asia Minor or Asian Turkey. It's a peninsula bounded by the Mediterranean sea to the south, Black sea to the North and the Aegean sea to the west.
Black and Aegean seas are connected by the sea of Marmara through two straits, Bosphorus and Dardanelles.

After 5 day trip in Anatolia, I evoked Ibn Batuta, a Moroccan traveler of the 14th century: 

"This country called Bilad-al-Rum(Bilad=country, AlRum Romans and their heirs the Byzantine) is one of the finest regions in the world; in it God has brought together the good things dispersed through an other land. Its inhabitants are the comeliest of men in form, the cleanest in dress, the most delicious food, and the kindliest of God's creatures."

Briefly, nothing had been changed after 7 centuries.     

Eskisehir is one of the most picturesque city of Anatolia. It is 330 km southeast of Istanbul and in the intersection of all rail lines of Turkey. Vacationers in Istanbul, Izmir or any seaside resort can purchase a 25$ train ticket and head to Eskisehir.    


Gondola Tour

Since the city is bisected by a river "porsuk", visitors can enjoy a gondola tour. And then having a good lunch in its restaurant scattered all over the river bank. Some of this restaurants offer meals based on fresh fish from the river.  

Wax museum:

 Accommodates more than 150 wax statues of personalities that left their marks on Turkish and world history. 
It is remarkable that celebrities from Eskisehir, like sport figures and TV stars, are presented.

Sazova park:

 From Osman Ghazi campus, a fairy-tale castle is visible. It is Sazova park, one of the city attractions. To get there, catch the tram until its terminus Osman Ghazi university and then walk to the other exit of the campus.
Inside the campus a huge mosque was raised. I was told later that the dean is a member of AKP, the Islamist party that rules Turkey. While the dean of the other university, Anadoulu, is secular from CHP, Ataturk party.    

The park is equipped with an open train, bouncy castles, an artificial lake and a pirate vessel. There are also coffee shops and fast food restaurants. 
The fairy tale stylish castle is completed with items in medieval costumes.

Inside the castle : Pinocchio 

Inside the castle

The pirate vessel

The pirate vessel

Inside wax museum

Inside wax museum 

Porsuk river 

Street art

Naceruddin Hoca statues

Sazova park, Eski┼čehir attraction

Naceruddin Hoca statue Sazova park

Inside fairy tale castle

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Batu Caves

Lord Murgan tallest statue at the entrance of the caves. 42m high statue is made of concrete, steels and painted with gold
Batu Caves is the main attraction of Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. It would seem that it's one of the Hindu shrines situated outside India. The site is dedicated to lord Murugan, the god of war and victory in Hindu religion.

Batu Caves is a limestone hill that an Indian trader called K. Thamboosamy Pillai promoted it as a shrine in 1890. The spear-shaped entrance inspired the trader to dedicate a shrine to Murugan. As a god of war and victory, Murugan is holding a holy spear known as Vel. The wood steps were added in 1920.

A museum and an art gallery are open for visitors. They are full of statues and paintings related to Hindu beliefs.

Photos taken around Batu Caves 
Entrance of Hanuman Temple, on the left of Batu Caves main entrance

15m tall state of Hanuman, noble and sacred monkey in Hind belief

With the sponsorship of  Qatar airways

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Discover El-Kef

El-Kef is a town located in northwestern Tunisia, approximately 170km west of Tunis and some 35km from the Tunisian-Algerian border. It's situated at an elevation of 780 m on the slope of a hill.
El-Kef occupies the site of an old city founded in the fourth century BC, and became a Roman colony in the second century AD. However, this region has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was mentioned in ancient historical accounts of the first Punic War (264-247BC) by writers including Pliny and Diodorus. They recount the Carthaginian army's request for support from the locals of El-Kef during the war, but were unable to pay their mercenaries after losing to Rome. The mercenaries eventually rose up against the Carthaginians, but were suppressed by the army led by Amilcar, the chief of the Carthaginian army and the father of the legendary Hannibal.

Kef Basilica

Sicca, the old name of El-Kef, was punished by Julius Caesar following the civil war in Rome (46BC), during which Sicca supported Pompey, the opponent of Caesar. Following his triumph, Caesar annexed the town, and it became a part of a province known as Africa Proconsularis. The town was subsequently renamed Sicca Veneria.
At the end of the seventh century, Arabs called the town Chakbanaria and in the seventeenth century it became El-Kef: the Rock.
The Deys, the monarchy of the Husseinite Beys, were in conflict with the regency of Alger and the French occupation, and El-Kef played an important role due to its position between the Tunisian hinterland and the Algerian border.
Despite its rich attractions, El-Kef is little-frequented by tourists and, like other towns and cities in the interior, has been somewhat neglected by the national government in recent decades. The main attraction of El-Kef is its medina. The old city is very rich in monuments from several eras.
The kasbah of El-Kef, the city's castle, has been witness to several conflicts that occurred between the Regency of Tunis and the Regency of Alger in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. The kasbah was built by Ottoman rulers in the seventeenth century and has been renovated more than once. The stones date back to Roman times and it is possible to observe Latin inscriptions in the blocks. Excavations have discovered a number of Turkish clay pipes made in Izmir.
The current design of the kasbah dates to the beginning of the nineteenth century and the current gate was built during the French occupation (1881-1956). The kasbah was used as a base for the French army during World War II.
The Sidi Boumakhlouf Zaouiya is a shrine built in the seventeenth century. It houses the tomb of Sidi Abdullah Boumakhlouf, the patron saint of the city. An octagonal minaret with glazed ceramic panels rises above the shrine's three domes, each of which have different dimensions.
El-Kef is also a symbol of the religious tolerance that has helped shape Tunisian society. The city's architecture bears witness to Jewish and Christian communities which lived in the city until recently.
The Dar Kouss church was built in the fifth century. At 30 meters in length and 14 meters in width, it is one of the biggest churches, built in the early-Christian era. The church was used by French settlers in the first half of the 20th century, although it is no longer in use as a place of worship.
The synagogue of El-Kef is known as the Ghriba "the mysterious." Although the actual age of the building is not known, the current design dates back to the seventeenth century. The Jewish community came to Tunisia in several waves from the Arab conquest in the seventh century until the arrival of the Moorish in the seventeenth century. As the community dwindled in the second half of the 20th century, the synagogue fell into ruin until it was fully restored in 1994. Nowadays one room of the building is open and contains photos and several items that belong to the Jewish community, including a torah parchment.
El-Kef is easily reached from Tunis by the A3 highway. It's surrounding countryside is rich in monuments and archaeological sites. A good time to visit is in summer during the festival of music and theatre that is organized in the kasbah.
Ghriba Synagogue

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Museum Of Sousse At Historic Kasabah

Kasabah of Sousse

Sousse, the pearl of the Tunisian coast, has provided guests with a gateway to the past with the opening of the Archeological Museum of Sousse, located in its historic Kasbah, on the west fringe of the Medina.

Sousse is one of the oldest cities in Tunisia, and was a central point for the world’s largest ancient civilizations, starting with the Phoenicians who founded it as a base for their sea trade. They named the area “Hadramuete” in the ninth century BC.

Sousse museum plan

When Carthage, the Phoenician urban center encompassing Hadramuete, was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC, the city was annexed to Rome, becoming Rome’s first African colony.For more than five centuries under the Roman empire, Hadramuete was a merchant metropolis due to the wealth the port brought the country. The wealthy Roman citizens built luxurious villas paved with mosaics, and the villages were dotted with public buildings,such as baths, basilicas and temples.

With the Arab conquest in the 7th century, the area currently known as Sousse became a military port. The city was marked by ribats and fortresses to protect the coast from Byzantine assaults.

Sousse and its surrounding area are home to literal layers of culture. Underneath the Arab institutions lies the ruins of both the Punic and Roman eras. The Arabs kept some cultural edifices from the previous inhabitants. The new Arab leaders used the Roman’s huge stone blocks and columns to build the Arab cities of Sousse and Kairouan.
Oceanus was widely worshiped in Roman Hadramuete

The museum, covering 2000 meters, offers the opportunity to see the development of each civilization.  The building itself is a historical monument that evokes the Arab-Byzantine style of the eighth and ninth century.

The museum is divided into thirteen departments, with an outside terrace offering a panoramic view of Sousse. Statues, mosaics and funeral objects exhumed from Sousse and other sites along the Tunisian coast, are exhibited.

Inside Museum

The mosaics are a central component of the musem, as Sousse is famous in the Mediteranean for its collection of art. Their importance to Sousse is reinforced every summer with the festival of Aoussou. This is one of the oldest traidtions of the Tunisian Sahel, the Tunsian desert area, which draws its origins from the Oceanus, one of the most popular gods from the Roman era. This god was worshiped in the first and second centuries, and was the most commonly represented deity in mosaics in the public baths and basins.

The mosaics depicted gods, goddesses and heroes from Greek and Roman mythology, many of which are available for exhibition at the museum.

The Punic and early Christian eras are also represented in the museum. The Punic department exhibits funeral items, with terracotta vases and funeral objects. Christian artificats are plentiful.

A beautiful baptistery, found accidentally  in the Bkalta quarry 40 km south of Sousse It is decorated with mosaics, depicting birds and chrism, or holy oil used in early churches. Other funeral mosaics and tombstones were discovered in the undergrounds catacombs, one km from the Sousse bus station of Souk Lahad.

This museum allows guests to witness the ancient civilizations that have shaped the Tunisian identity and have enriched Tunisia’s development into one shaped by a variety of cultures.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Remember The Timeless King Of France: Saint Louis

 Saint Louis in America, Canada..... and Tunisia 

On the peak of Byrsa, a hill in Carthage, a coastal suburb of Tunis, a cathedral is located among the Roman ruins scattered throughout the ancient city.
Now the structure - today known as the Acropolium - is no longer used as a place of worship, but as a venue for concerts. The cathedral now features a variety of Tunisian and international musical performances.
This building evokes memories of one of the most pivotal conflicts between Muslims and Christians - the Crusades.

The Cathedral 1890
In 1270, King of France Louis IX, or Saint Louis, left his kingdom and landed in Carthage - an event now referred to by historians as the beginning of the Eighth Crusade. However, the king was so sick and weak that he could barely hold his shield and sword. Three weeks later he died, and a small chapel was built. Today the site is still frequented by French and international tourists.
Saint Louis Statue Carthage Museum

In 1830, the ruling Bey of the Tunisian Monarchy Al-Hussein II ibn Mahmud, authorized the consul of France to erect a cathedral dedicated to the king few meters from the chapel marking his burial site. The French consul sent a letter to Tunisia's former monarch stating the following:
Praise to god, to whom all things return!
We cede in perpetuity to His Majesty the King of France a location in Malaga, sufficient to raise a religious monument in honor of King Louis IX at the place where the prince died.
We commit ourselves to respect and to make respected this monument consecrated by the king of France to the memory of one of his most illustrious ancestors. Greetings from the servant of God, Hussein Pasha Bey. May the Most High be propitious! Amen.
The 17th of Safar of the year 1246. Done at Bardo the 8th of August 1830. For the Consul-General Mathieu de Lesseps.
After several examinations, officials charged with determining the location of the cathedral's construction concluded that it would be built on the ruins of the Roman Carthage in Byrsa.
The layout of the structure is typical of a French 19th century Byzantine-Moorish cathedral. The construction style - resembling a Latin cross - spread throughout France in the 19th century. The building is 65 meters long by 30 meters wide, with a facade framed by two square towers. The center of the cathedral's cross-section lies beneath a large cupola surrounded by eight steeples, and a smaller cupola is located above the apse.
The church contains a nave and two aisles separated by arches passing above. The ceiling is adorned with beams featuring sculpted, painted, and gilt arabesques. The stained glass is also embellished with arabesques
Inside the Cathedral
. The cathedral also hosts a great bell, weighing six tons, in addition to a four-bell carillon.
Today, the cathedral is open for visitors. The entrance fee is four Tunisian dinars, and is paid separately from those tickets offering package deals of the other sites in Carthage.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Escape the Heat: A Road Trip Along the Coast from Tunis to Madhia

Maybe you are fascinated with the richness of Tunisian culture or maybe just want to enjoy the sea breeze, relax on the beach and eat some good seafood. Why not take a road trip to escape the heat of Tunis and drive along the coast east of Tunisia from Tunis to Mahdia. It is a lot more cooler along the coastal seaboard. One of the best ways to undertake the trip is by a leisurely car drive and ideally it would be good to do the trip over a couple of days.

Tunis To Hammamet
Leave Tunis early in the morning and drive to Cap Bon, the coolest region in the north east of Tunisia. The drive should take about an hour. Cap Bon is situated on the peninsula that looks like a curved finger protruding into the sea. There are lots of attractions to discover along the way, starting with the thermal springs of Korbus and continuing on to Hammamet through Haouaria, Kerkouane and Kelibia.
Before you get to Korbus, the drive along the coastal road to Soliman is one of the most spectacular in all of Tunisia, offering breathtaking views across the bay of Tunis, back to the hills of Sidi Bou Said and Gammarth as well as the northern beaches of the capital.
The small village of Korbus is wedged between the hills and the sea. The hot water springs here are rich in minerals, making it a favored destination for Tunisians looking for relief from rheumatism. Many who visit insist that it helps cure rheumatic problems
Continuing north from Korbus, the road cuts inland, passing through gentle hills and farmland. At the northern tip of Cap Bon, Haouaria is a good place to stop for lunch. Restaurants specializing in fish are affordable and many offer amazing views of Zembra island as well as sea breezes. La Daurade is one of the most highly recommended restaurants at the water’s edge. In the restaurant staff and fisherman can demonstrate the traditional way of fishing under water.

Continuing to Kelibia, you may stop at the archeological site of Kerkouane. This UNESCO world heritage site is considered to be one of the best examples Punic culture. Unlike other cities such as Carthage, the ruins of Kerkouane have been left untouched since its destruction in 255 BC. The excavated foundations of houses and public baths can be seen and the city’s urban layout of streets, squares and temples is still clearly visible. The museum contains items discovered on the site that provide evidence of the daily life of its inhabitants.

The town of Kelibia, boasts the biggest fortress in Tunisia. The fort is at the top of a hill that resembles a shield. It is open for visitors and the fee is 5 dinars.
Haouaria, a good spot for lunch with an amazing sea view

Mansoura, two kilometers from Kelibia, has the reputation for being one of the best beaches in Cap Bon, with white sand and clean water. Those who like to swim in the surf might even encounter a wave or two.
All required facilities are available in Kelibia, and it offers a good place to stay overnight. Bungalows and hotels are available but reservations in summer should be made at least two days in advance.
If you need to push on, an hour down the road is Nabeul, a busy, diverse city that is also the administrative capital of Cap Bon. Nabeul is a good place to stop for a mint tea in the medina. It’s also well known as a center for pottery, although prices in the main tourist drag tend to be higher than in many parts of Tunis.
A little further down the road is the touristic resort of Hammamet which offers a multitude of accommodation opportunities and resorts. With lots of restaurants and night clubs scattered along the coast, this is a place where tourists and well-to-do Tunisians come to party, especially on the weekends. Carthage Land, a big theme park in Yasmine Hammamet, is open until 2am. Tickets for rides are on sale.
Hammamet to Sousse
Traveling from Hammamet to Sousse, means that you are moving from the largest touristic resort in Tunisia to the second largest. To improve the Tunisian economy, governments in the 1960s and 1970s decided to expand mass tourism and encouraged the building of new resorts. The port of Kantaoui is one example. Built in 1970s Kantaoui is a town built for tourism, around a large marina.
Although it lacks much of the charm of more established cities in the region, Kantaoui remains popular. The port is very active during summer, nights are exciting with sea breezes and the smell of the jasmine flowers sold by street vendors in traditional dress. Some restaurants have big screens in the public squares, especially during big sporting events such as the football World Cup and Euro Cup.
Nightclubs and discos are scattered throughout the resort, including Samara, Bora Bora and others. In summer Bora Bora usually broadcasts a live internet stream from nightclubs in Ibiza. At night, the mix of locals and tourists gives Kantaoui an impressively international feel.
South of Kantaoui, a vast row of resort complexes stretches along the sandy beach. At the other end lies Tunisia’s third largest city, Sousse. The first settlement here was established here by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC. The Punic and Roman civilizations may have come and gone, but modern-day Sousse still boasts a remarkable architectural heritage, based around the 7th century medina.
This coastal medina, with its narrow, winding streets, raised walls, mosques  and a fortress with a high tower ribat is also on the UNESCO world heritage register. At night all of these historical monuments are illuminated.
A new archeological museum has just opened in the kasbah on the western fringe of the medina. It offers visitors the chance to learn more about the evolution of the city and features some spectacular Roman and paleo-christian artifacts. The entrance fee for the museum is 5 dinars. It is open from 9am to 7pm in summer.
Sousse to Mahdia
From Sousse, take the A1 highway to El-Jem. In the morning the temperature is cool and the visit of its amphitheater is exciting. It’s the best preserved in the Mediterranean and the third largest after the Flavian Colosseum of Rome and the amphitheater of Capua in Italy. Nearby there is an excellent museum featuring Roman sculptures and mosaics as well as the reconstruction of a Roman villa.
40km away is Mahdia, the first Shiite capital in Islamic history and a walled port for Turkish pirates. The old medina is built on a 1.4km long isthmus and was believed to have been built to escape the Sunni hostility toward the Shiite rulers. The port was also used as a base for pirates who used to attack Spanish vessels. The main entry to the old town is a huge gate known as Bab Zouila. The port is situated on the edge of the isthmus. Its cemetery is among the unique coastal cemeteries in Tunisia. The coffee shops and restaurants inside the gates of the Medina are quite affordable.
A coffee shop in Mahdia

Mahdia is 200km from Tunis. On the way back to Tunis stop and visit Monastir, the hometown of Habib Bourguiba, the first Tunisian president. The house of his parents has been turned into a museum and his mausoleum is open for visitors. It is a domed building with two minarets raised at the main entrance. Also, the Ribat with its high tower has a beautiful view of  the town of Monastir and the sea beyond.
For scuba diving fans, you can contact the center of diving in the marina of Monastir. It’s an opportunity to discover the seabed of the Tunisian coasts. A sea cruise is also available to the beautiful islet of Kuriat.
For more information, Tunsia map and guide books, you may contact the  tourism office in Tunis downtown, it’s near the watch of Habib Bourguiba street or Tunis Barcelone train station.
The number for the Tourism Office downtown is (+216) 71341077

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Tunisia Wild Beaches

While most people spend their summer in the sweltering heat of the city or jammed into popular beach resorts, a clever few have discovered one of Tunisia’s best-kept secrets: it’s wild, uncrowded beaches. Some are isolated and hard to get to, even with a car. Others are tucked away on the doorstep of large cities and it takes a local to explain how to get to them.
Cap Negro
Tunisian summers can become unbearably hot, with daytime temperatures over 40 not uncommon. To make things worse, crowds in big cities – especially those who come with their cars – add to the intensity of the summer heat. Simply put, summer days in the city can be stinking hot and not that much fun. That’s why pretty much anyone who is able will head to the coast, where the sea breeze and cool waters make the summer bearable.

Since the 1960s, a large percentage of Tunisian people have settled in many of the coastal cities. In fact, the top four most populated cities – Tunis, Sfax, Sousse and Nabeul – are all coastal cities.  The economic boom in the 1970s led to the building of many large hotels along the coastline and to the development of big industries in these populated cities. The new industries have negatively affected water and air quality along much of the coastline.
Despite this, only 18% of 1200km of Tunisian coastline has been developed. While the focus of development has been on eastern coastal cities, the northwestern regions have been largely overlooked. This means that although these regions remain relatively undeveloped, they boast some of the most pristine beaches for visitors who want to get off the beaten track. Luckily, many of these beaches are also easy to get to by car.
Northwest Beaches
Today, car owners can easily escape the heat of Tunis. A trip to the virgin lands of the north west is a wonderful way to get away. The A3 highway and main roads connect these near-virgin lands to Tunis.
From Bizerte to the Tunisian-Algerian border, an amazing belt of green landscape can be visited. The strip starts at Cap Serrat and reaches all the way to Cap Roux, a few kilometers from the Tunisian-Algerian border. A cork oak forest lines the coastline and hidden coves wait to be discovered. If you are the adventurous type, camping out on the beach is always an option, but be sure to not sleep in the forests, as they are very delicate. Also, the homemade bread that vendors sell on the side of the road is delicious and highly recommended.

Southeast Beaches If you want to explore the gorgeous southeastern coastline, there are many beautiful beaches that might tickle your fancy.
The village of Metouia – some 10 km north of Gabes – contains a peaceful maritime oasis that is only a short car ride away. The beach in the village is a particular gem because it is one of the only in Tunisia to be backed by a maritime oasis. The village came into existence because of its proximity to a spring of water and still remains untouched by touristic development. The village population is barely 9000, but it increases to about 45,000 every summer after the return of the Tunisians who pass most of their year in Europe. With so many people in summer, this can hardly be described as undiscovered, however out of season visitors should be able to find their own private piece of sand.
Ras-Ermal Peninsula in the south east of Tunisia is the most frequented wild beach in the Tunisian south. It’s located on the island of Djerba. Visitors may contact the organizers in the marina of Houmet Essouk to organize a trip to the beach. It’s known for the flamingos that come to nest there every year. The peninsula is marshy with salt-wort vegetation. Usually the boats that take the travelers dock near a large beach. If you are lucky, you might see some dolphins on the way. Usually, visitors spend around two hours discovering the island. An entertaining program is arranged that includes a traditional fish lunch and  local music.