3 October 2023 – More of Tunisian ruins

We have discovered what might be the best hardware store in Monastir. At least it looks like it has a lot of stuff, and the staff are very helpful. It is called Society Generale Znati et Cie, located just outside the Monastir Medina.

At another automotive shop, I recently ordered these 10 oil filters. They are made in Tunisia by MISFAT, as an equivalent to my Volvo oil filters. I have to change oil every 100 hours, so it pays to have a stack of these. Now, I think I have enough stock until we get back to the Caribbean.

On 30 September (my 67th birthday), I went on another tour – this time only with our friend Kevin, as unfortunately Diane was feeling unwell. This was destined to be another day tour of the region, and the first stop was at Kairouan, Tunisia’s first Islamic city, and formerly the capital in the 9th century.

Here, we saw ancient water pools (Aghlabid pools) constructed in the ninth century. There used to be aqueducts in place that carried the water from the mountains, but these have disappeared through the course of time.

The next stop was to the Abu Zam’A Al-Balawi Mausoleum and mosque. Abu Zama participated in the first Muslim military expeditions in Northern Africa and died in AD 654.

The next stop was to the Great Mosque, revered as one of the most impressive and largest Islamic monuments in North Africa. The mosque occupies an area of over 9,000 square metres (97,000 sq ft) and attracts pilgrims by the thousands. We were told that the city of Kairouan swelled to over a million just last week with the influx of pilgrims.

The Great Mosque is one of the oldest places of worship in the Islamic world, and is a model for all later mosques in the area. Its perimeter, of about 405 metres (1,329 ft), contains a hypostyle prayer hall, a marble-paved courtyard and a square minaret. In addition to its spiritual prestige, the Mosque of Uqba is one of the masterpieces of Islamic architecture, notable among other things for the first Islamic use of the horseshoe arch (seen in some of my photos). These clocks depict the prayer timings, changing on a daily basis.

The next stop was to Bi’R Rita or the Barruta Well. This well represents one of the last implementations of a “water drawing well” in Tunisia. In ancient times, the city of Kairouan suffered an obvious lack of water. They collected rain water in pools, but also used this system of water wheels to lift the water up from shallow water tables. The water was used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, irrigation etc. The camel, as a beast of burden – was used to draw water up, tied to a primitive water wheel.

Next, we drove to El Jem, the successor to the ancient Roman city of Thysdrus. In a less arid climate than today’s, Thysdrus prospered as an important centre of olive oil production and export. It was the seat of a Christian bishopric, which is included in the Catholic Church’s list of titular sees. This amphitheatre was built around 238 AD and is one of the best preserved Roman stone ruins in the world, and is said to be unique in Africa. Like other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events, and it is one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world. The estimated capacity is 35,000, and is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved.

Kevin and I enjoyed barbecued lamb shish kebob directly in front of the Amphitheatre at El Jem.

The tourist “camel rides” were tempting, but we gave it “a miss”.

The last stop we made was to the museum, which was mostly about mosaics – and yes, they were well preserved and displayed.

Here, I would like to make a point about entrance fees. Throughout our travels, we have often seen entrance fees for citizens/residents at a lower price than tourists. In this case, the tourist entrance is 12 Dinars (about $ 5.17 CDN) and the local price is only 6 Dinars. By the way, that entrance ticket included both the El Jem amphitheatre AND the museum. In my opinion, this is easily explained when comparing the value of their local currency. What is also interesting though, is that they divide their Dinar into “thousandths” and not “hundreds” like we do with the dollar or the euro. The actual tourist entrance fee is 12.000 Dinars, and not 12.00 Dinars. This may seem like a trivial point but I can tell you that we have frequently been confused by the pricing of items, because of this single extra digit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *