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