Monday, October 22, 2012

The Bricks of Tozeur

Tozeur is a city in southwestern Tunisia and home to the country’s biggest oasis containing hundreds of thousands of palm trees. Its economy is based on the export of dates and “Saharan” tourism. In fact, more than 700 thousands visitors – both Tunisians and foreigners – come to enjoy the beauty of its mountain oasis.
Scores of ponds are scattered throughout the oasis and outside its confines. The layers of silt found at the bottom of these ponds provide the essential raw material for the local brick industry. With summer temperatures reaching 45 degrees, the extracted silt takes little time to dry and assume its yellowish, hardened form that is known in its Arabic name as “toub.”
Walking around the old city of Tozeur, one is immediately confronted by intricate, geometrical patterns of “toub” that decorate the buildings’ façades and the walls of the old city’s narrow passageways. These yellow bricks astonishingly maintain houses cool in the stifling heat of the summer and even warm in the cold winter.
Brick of Tozeur

Abdelhamid Haddan, a writer, painter, and artist, described the manufactory process of the brick of this yellowish brick. Mud and sand are mixed together and then soaked in water. Afterwards, mulch is added. The mixture is then moulded within small rectangular wooden frames and left to dry in the sun for one day in summer and ten in winter. Finally, the bricks are baked in a kiln under extreme temperatures reaching over 1000 degree celsius.
Haddan pointed out that the brick’s production is very economical. 1 cubic meter of clay can produce in turn 1000 bricks. The brick measures 17 cm by 8 cm and 3.5 cm high and weighs 728 grams.
The technique of Tozeur’s brick-making is Mesopotamian in origin and brought by the Arabs in the 8th century. Due to the similarity of environment, Arab settlers found Tozeur to be a propitious location to continue their brick-making traditions, claimed Haddan.
For those who plan to visit Tozeur, Haddan’s book The Brick of Tozeur is available in the city’s libraries in English as well as French and can be consulted for more information.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Saint Augustine; The Tunisian Father Of The Catholic Church

It is a little known fact that Saint Augustine, the great Christian reformist of antiquity, is Tunisian. He was raised in the city of Carthage where he taught before being named the Bishop of Hippo.
Sandro Botticelli Saint Augustine

Born in 354 from a pagan father and a Christian mother, Augustine is a native of Thagaste, which today is Souk Ahras on the Tunisian Algerian border. It was here that he studied Latin grammar before moving to Carthage in 370. There he became a Manichean and founded a school of rhetoric. His next move took him to Italy where he was again converted, this time to skepticism and installed a school of rhetoric in Rome and Milan similar to the Carthage school.
His mother  Monica was a Christian, and for many years prayed to see him converted to Christianity. In 387 her prayers were answered, and Augustine was baptized at Easter. They decided to travel back home to Africa, but on the way his mother died at the port of Ostia. Augustin recorded his conversations with his mother before her death in a book called Confessions.
After his return to Tagaste, Augustine decided to live a monastic life, selling everything he had and giving it to the poor, only keeping what was necessary to live on. Augustine at the time had no intention of becoming a priest or a bishop. But in 395 the he was asked to be the Bishop of Hippo. He accepted, and began trying to unify the African Church, that was at the time deeply divided between the Donatist and Catholic sects. In 411 he condemned the division and succeeded in bringing the African Church together.

Like the rest of the Roman Empire, North Africa was assaulted by the Vandals in 430.  Hippo became isolated and Saint Augustin died at the age of 76.
In modern theology, Saint Augustin is considered the father of the Catholic Church, his writings having influenced the society of much of the  Western World. The theories of Saint Augustine were shaped by a marriage between Greek philosophy and his religious beliefs. The blend of these two influences can be seen in his notion of the Soul, the relationship between God and man and even the Trinity.
Saint Augustine often traveled from Tagaste to Carthage, on a specific route which he described in his writings. Nowadays, this path through Tunisia can be followed on organized tours, called On the Path of Saint Augustine. Lotfi Rahmouni, a Tunisian professor of in archaeology, said that the Vatican is among the organizers of this trip in collaboration with Tunisian travel agencies. He said also that the trip is most popular with Catholics, many of whom consider it a pilgrimage.
Chemtou Bridge; Saint Augustine used to cross on route to Carthage

The trip starts from Tagaste, at the Souk Ahras in Augustine’s hometown, and finishes in Carthage where he established a school and unified the Christians of Africa in 411. They also pass through Chemtou and Bulla Reggia and sometimes Haidra, where the Bishop spent time with his father.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ruins of Punic Carthage

The ruins of a Carthaginian sector that was built under the reign of Hannibal   

Photos taken by Laurna Botham

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tunis sheep;

 Tunis Sheep is a hornless sheep with white wools that breed in North America(US and Canada). It's usually raised for its meat.

The name indicates its North African origin. Tunis is the capital of Tunisia since 1236.Two years after its independence, the young republic of the United States stared to establish a diplomatic relation with Tunisia. that belongs to what Americans used to call "Barbarian Coast". The coast was controlled by pirates who used to attack commercial vessels. But the young republic of the US had made a deal with the pirates to not attack American vessels sailing in the Mediterranean. 

Tunis Sheep Photo
After the deal, the ruler of Tunis, Hamouda Pasha send a gift to the US president, Thomas Jefferson. A vessel of local sheep.Ten were shipped to US but two survived. They were used on native ewes.........

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Legendary Tunisia

When it belonged to early Mediterranean civilization, the land of Tunisia featured in two of the oldest and greatest poems in the world: Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid.

In Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses on his way  home from Troy with the rest of companions reached of Lotus-Eaters. Archaeologists refer it as the actual island of Djerba, 500 km south-east of Tunis capital.

In Virgil Aeneid, Aeneas was hosted by Dido, a princess from Phoenicia who escaped her city Tyre after the assassination of her husband. She founded Carthage and became its queen. Aeneas, the prince of  Troy who escaped it after the siege and the capture by the Greek. Aeneas destination is to found Rome from the ashes of Troy.

Aeneas was surprised by a storm that turned him to Carthage. He was welcomed by its ruler Dido. Shell fell in love with him but his mother Venus ordred him to leave Carthage and found Rome. Dido suicided after his departure while he arrived in Italian shores.

 Virgil inspired by two muses(Clio the muse of History with the writing tablet and Melpomene the muse of tragedy with mask)  writing the Aeneid (the 8th verse):
Musa mihi causas memora quo numine laes.... 
O muse put me in mind.....
The Aeneid of Virgil was written under Octavius, the son of Caesar and the founder of the Roman empire. He decided to rebuilt Carthage and made it the capital of Africa Proconsularis. Carthage was destroyed by the Romans in 146BC and the territory was considered accursed. Octavius wanted to find a religious excuse to rebuilt Carthage again. Dido and Aeneas symbolise Carthage andRome, her suicide may symbolise the end of Carthage. Aeneas may refer to Octavius who rebuilt the Roman Carthage.