Friday, November 30, 2012

Camels in Tunisia

The one-humped camel dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) was first domesticated some 4000 years ago. In Tunisia, the Berber tribes of the south used it for their transportation. Then in the beginning of the first century BC, Romans started using camels to explore the hinterland of Tunisia. The camel was represented in Roman artistic works such as mosaics and reliefs in the second and the third century. The camel was also depicted on Roman coins.
A mosaic exhibeted in El Jem museum depecting Silenus riding a camel
One of the most significant mosaics is the “Dyonisiac Procession” in the El Jem museum where Silenus the foster-father of Bacchus is riding a camel instead of donkey and Bacchus is riding an African lion instead of panther.

The dromedary has a special status in the life of nomads because it is the base of their economy. The Bedouin classification of the camel notes four basic varieties based on the color of the coat. The Mehari is a small, white camel used for races and hunting and can reach 70km per hour. The Tunisian border guards in the Sahara desert in Tunisia’s south are known as the Mehari troup due to the camel that they use. The second is the red camel which is used for goods transportation, especially heavy goods. The third is the yellow camel that is usually bred with females from other varieties, and the male is consecrated as a stud to produce other varieties of camels. The last variety consists of a dark-coated camel that is often used for smuggling and is called a Lazreg by locals.

Camel milk is healthy and rich in proteins that can’t be found in cow or goat milk, and is regularly drunk by Tunisians. The milk is particularly rich in insulin and is recommended for people with diabetes. The milk mustn’t be boiled because it loses its nutritional value. Camel milk tastes similar to cow’s milk. If a traveler wants to try the milk they can ask a local camel guide.
Mixed breed camels are the best for eating. Many restaurants in central and southern Tunisia serve camel meat at good prices. Kairoaun is one of the best places where you can try the meat. Its mild flavor makes it well-suited to dishes such as couscous.
The camel is the base of the economic life of the Bedouin tribes. The hair is sheared in April and May. Since it is light and durable, the hair is then used as an insulator and to make clothes that protect from the extreme heat of summer as well as the cold nights and winter days. Nomadic tents are also made from the hair. The traditional north African coats Qashabia and the Barnous are made of  camel hair and can be purchased from handicrafts shops in traditional Tunisian markets.
Driving through the Sahara, foreign visitors can see wandering herds of camels that are usually assumed to be wild. But each camel in these herds have an owner that they go home to.
Today, the camel contributes to the development of cultural tourism in the Tunisian south. The camel ride is one of the main attractions of the Tunisian Sahara that gives the visitors the opportunity to experience the life of a nomad.
Camels waiting for riders Douz

Douz, known as the gateway to the Sahara, is one of the most frequented resorts in the south. Visitors have the opportunity to ride camels thanks to specific stations built for that purpose. Ali Arouri, a manager of a camel station in Douz, said that the best time to enjoy camel rides is in the spring between March and April, when the weather is cool and the temperature doesn’t reach over 30 degrees.
Independent travelers can organize multi-day camel treks through the desert. Appel du Desert is one of several companies that organize à la carte trips. The average price range for a week-long trip is 500 euros per person for a group of ten people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Christian Carthage

Chapel of St Perpetua

Rotonde Carthage

No trip to Tunis, however brief, should exclude a visit to Carthage. Once the greatest rival to Rome, and later a Roman province in its own right, the collection of ruins, museums and artifacts is difficult to surpass. Often glossed-over in tours and guidebooks, however, is the rich early-Christian heritage that can be found in and around Carthage. This heritage tells its own story about the life and politics of one of the cradles of civilization in the Mediterranean.
Carthage played an important role in the development of Christianity in antiquity. The new religion gained a foothold in the Jewish communities that had settled in the big cities of the diaspora and developed amongst the Roman colony. Relatively little is known about the early days of the Christian community in Carthage but it is clear that the first Christians were oppressed and many of them were killed in the city’s amphitheater.
Tertulian, the first Christian apologist, who translated the holy scripture from Greek into Latin, gives an account of the Scilitain, who were amongst the first martyrs to be executed for their faith. Twelve Numidians, seven men and five women were beheaded in the amphitheater of Carthage in the year 180. Other Christians were persecuted in the amphitheater, among them Saint Perpetua and Felicity who were killed on the 8th of March 203.
After several centuries of oppression, Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 313. The Roman province of Africa (current-day Tunisia) was profoundly affected by this new faith, but followers quickly split into two churches: Catholics and Donatists. The Donatistic sect emerged in the fourth century when the Numidian bishops accused the bishop of Carthage of being a traitor and rejected his consecration. For more than a century the church was divided, until 411 when Saint Augustine organized a council in Carthage, ending the division.

The Vandal invasion of 533 caused new waves of persecution and oppression to Catholics in Carthage. The Vandals were a Germanic people that followed the Aryan Church and forced the captured North Africans to follow it as well. The Vandal occupation ended in 533 when the Byzantine empire conquered the territory and established the Catholic church again. It remained until the fall of Carthage in 698 and the beginning of Arab control of Africa.
The role of Carthage as an important site of Christian culture has been appreciated by the European Catholics since the middle ages. The expedition of Louis IX in 1270, known as the Eighth Crusade, is classified among the most important expeditions with a specific mission: to convert the Tunisians to Christianity and make Carthage its new capital. However Louis IX died on the beach at Carthage and the expedition was a failure.
French missionaries did not return for six centuries and it was not until the late 19th century that France again sent missionaries. An organization known as the White Fathers was founded by the archbishop of Alger, Charles Lavigerie, in order to spread Christianity in North Africa. The missionary group started excavations on the site of Carthage to find items that belong to the Christian era. They also built a cathedral at the top of Byrsa hill where Louis IX died during his expedition. This cathedral, known as Saint Louis cathedral, is no longer used for worship but is a cultural center. Nevertheless, the layout of the building is a reminder of the sacred mission of the White Fathers.
 Visiting the Early Christian Sites of Tunis
To visit the ruins of Carthage in general, and Christian Carthage in particular, it is possible to visit the major sites on foot. However in warm weather or for those with reduced mobility, it is best to hire a car or taxi. The main Christian sites are scattered throughout the historical site of Carthage, as well as in unprotected residential areas of the northern suburb of Tunis. A ticket to visit the historical sites costs 9 dinars per person for a day-pass to all sites.
Inside the amphitheater in Carthage, you can visit a chapel the White Fathers built in honor of Saint Perpetua and Felicity. Recognizing their strong will and faith, Pope John Paul II spent around two hours on his knees in .
The Early-Christian museum lies on the edge of the main street that crosses the north suburbs of Tunis, running from La Goulette to Sidi Bou Said. It is close to the TGM station Carthage Dermech and the supermarket Monoprix. The museum was built on the ruins of a major building raised in the sixth century when Carthage was recaptured by Byzantine troops. The museum was built with the collaboration of UNESCO to protect the site of Carthage. It exhibits oil lamps, mosaics depicting birds, chalices and pottery.

The basilica of Damous Karita “domus caritas” or the house of charity, is a church built in the third or fourth century. It has been described by some scholars the cradle of the division between the Christians; the Donatism that deeply divided the African Christians. The basilica follows the classic layout of the Christian churches with nine naves and a semi-circular atrium. The most significant part is the underground rotunda with its 9m diameter. The rotunda is topped by a dome and reached by two symmetric staircases. The Damous Karita is near the large mosque in Carthage on La Goulette Road.

The original function of the building with columns that can be found at the back of Byrsa hill, also on La Goulette road, is unclear. Some say it was the gymnasium of baths. It is believed to be the place where the conference was organized by Saint Augustine to unify the African church after the division between the Donatist and Catholic churches in the 5th century.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Catacombs of Sousse

From the first century AD, Christians were considered a threat to the unity of Rome and were oppressed and persecuted by Roman authorities for more than four hundred years across the empire. In fact, they were not even allowed to bury their dead in ordinary cemeteries. Thus, they resorted to “catacombs,” which were underground passageways for burial and religious purposes.
Africa, the early Roman name given to the province of modern-day Tunisia, was no exception. Christians here were oppressed and killed in several amphitheaters scattered throughout the ancient province.
The catacombs of Sousse, discovered by the French army in the 19th century, are the only in Tunisia that are open to visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of these underground vestiges of Christianity in ancient Tunisia. They are comprised of galleries stretching over five kilometers and contain at least 15,000 graves, dating back to the end of the first century AD. Either two or three levels of tombs are dug into the galleries’ walls as well as niches holding lamps to light the depths of the labyrinth.
One gallery, known as the catacombs of the Good Pastor, is the only section open to visitors and extends over 1.6 km. Its ancient walls house approximately 6,000 graves.
The burial practices employed in Sousse’s catacombs often involved dipping the corpse in calcium-rich lime and shrouding it with cloth. Once the body was interred, the grave was then covered over with tiles or marble slabs on which the names of the dead were frequently written. Some objects that were buried with the dead can be found in the museum of Sousse.
Catacombs of Sousee

Many sections of the catacombs have not been excavated due to urbanization encroaching on top of the archaeological site. Nejib Ben Lazreg, a Tunisian archaeologist, said that many Tunisians are not aware of the importance of the ruins. So far, only two hundred meters of the catacombs have been restored.
“The excavation of any site needs to be funded,” he said. Ben Lazreg pointed out that there are other catacombs in the coastal cities of Lamta and Salakta. Nevertheless, their excavations have been on hold since the end of the 1990s due to the lack of funding as well as the construction of new buildings above them.
The catacombs of Sousse are open to visitors at an entrance fee of 4 Tunisian dinars.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Hannibal From Rome To Zama

*Hannibal strategy:
Hannibal wanted to free Carthage from Roman pressure not destroying Rome. He thought that his victories would halt the Roman alliances with the rest of the Italian cities.

Hannibal recognized that he can't rely on the Italian cities. He decided to make alliance with Phillip V, king of Macedon. However, he wasn't able to supply with a navy. The alliance failed and Rome supplied the king of Macedon with navy.

Besides, after the death of Hiero, ruler of Syracuse, his successor made an  alliance with Hannibal. People in Syracuse rose up and killed the new ruler. The alliance ended and Sicily restored by Roman in 211BC.

Hannibal controlled much of Campania and Southern Italy. Despite his superiority and tactical skills, Hannibal was unable to withstand the new Roman tactic. They start with Capua which fell in 211.
Hannibal route of invasion

Roman army started to make pressure on the Carthaginian territory outside Italy. They took Carthegena in 209BC. Hannibal brother, Hasdrubal, was defeated by Roman army led by Scipio Africanus Hasdrubal wanted to join Hannibal in Italy, but surprised by Scipio forces near Metauro. He was beheaded and his head was thrown into Hannibal camp. It became obvious for him that he can't rely on senators in Carthage.

In 206BC, Carthaginians were expelled from Spain. Two years later, Romans landed in Africa and Hannibal was forced to come back. After the reinforcement, he confronted Roman army in Zama. He was cheated by Numidian king Massinissa. The Numidian horsemen supported Rome and destroyed Carthaginian army. This battle is known as the Battle of  Zama, 202BC.

A hostile peace treaty was signed, Carthage territory restricted, heavy taxes and no war without Rome permission. Hannibal returned to private life.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Hannibal At The Gates Of Rome

After the first Punic War, Barcids founded Carthagena, new Carthage in Spain. Hannibal was named as a commander in 221 BC. He relied on diplomacy and military policy to set up a powerful metropolis in Iberia similar to Carthage in north Africa.
In 218 BC, he left Spain with about 35000 seasoned troops including elephants. He went overland across Pyrenees and Alps. on route, the number of troops was reduced to 25000 due to the harsh winter in the mountains. However, the number raised to 40000 after the addition of Gauls.

In the beginning of the Invasion, Hannibal troops won a minor victory at Ticina river(the map) followed by an important triumph against Scipio at Trebia river in 218 BC.

Hannibal had a decided advantage in Northern Italy thanks to the support of the Gauls, the traditional enemies of Rome. He wintered in Bologna while Italians withdraw to central Italy and await Hannibal.

In spring Hannibal crossed the Apennines and lost his left eye after an infection. 
Battles of the Second Punic War
In 217 BC, Roman army led by Gaius Flaminus and Servilius Geminus stationed at Arrezo and Rimini. The purpose is to guard the routes that Hannibal may use. Hannibal ambushed Flaminus army in a narrow pass near lake Tarismene and destroyed his army.

At Rome Quintius Fabious was elected by the centuriate assembly dictator of Rome . The elected dictator has a specific plan to defeat Hannibal. The plan is to force him to an unfavorable ground to fight him. Hannibal sent oxen with burnings sticks tied to their horns and escaped to Apulia.    

In 216 BC Fabius sent a formidable army led by two generals. Hannibal relied on his strong cavalry while the Romans relied on their superior number.

Hannibal plan was positioning his cavalry on a crescent-shaped line, to defeat the Roman horsemen quickly and attack the infantry from the rear. The plan is to to press from the flanks and encircle the Roman troops. The plan succeeded; 25000 dead and 10000 captured.

To be continued