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Carthage, the lost city

carthaginian elephants

Tunisians are aware of the richness of their history.

Names of hotels and restaurants are often reminiscent of the glorious past of the country: Ulysses, Hannibal and his elephants and, above all, Elyssa "the adventurer".

According to Virgil's account, Elyssa is the Phoenician name of the legendary princess Dido, who founded Carthage in 1814 BC.

Byrsa hill

Dido, dominion over the Mediterranean, rivalry with Rome! Yet beware, once you reach Carthage's ancient sites to the North-East of Tunis, great efforts of imagination will be needed to bring back this impressive past.

It might be of some help to think that Flaubert himself had to strive for "resurrecting the past" during his own trip to Carthage.

Antonine thermal baths

There are few remnants of the ancient city, which used to stretch over 60 square kilometers from Sidi Bou Saïd up to La Goulette.

Moreover, the remains are scattered among the select houses of what is now a wealthy suburb of Tunis.


Carthage even shelters the Presidential palace, located next to the Antonine Thermal baths.

Take pictures carefully when visiting the baths (one of the best preserved site in Carthage): the presidential guards check on the surroundings of the palace and it is forbidden to take pictures of them.

Visit the ponds of the Punic port, a testimony of the sea power which used to control the Western Mediterranean, conquering the whole of Northern Africa, Spain, Sicilia and Corsica.

Or else, take a stroll in the remains of the Roman Forum on Byrsa hill. From there, the view overlooks the modern Carthage, the Gulf of Tunis and Tunis lake.

It could carry you into the atmospere of Flaubert's historical novel "Salammbô" about the turbulent story of Carthaginian soldiers'attempts at uprising.

Punic foundations

A small square of ancient Punic foundations can be seen next to the Roman forum.

Bear in mind that Carthaginian buildings were wooden skyscrapers six or seven floors high!

 This is the reason why the city was so completely destroyed according to the Roman Senate's will in 146 BC.

If you have some time left, go in search of the Tophet, the legendary sanctuary, where Carthaginians are said to have sacrificed thousands of children. Archaelogists are divided over the issue.

Indeed, this black legend could be a mere Roman slanderous invention!

Fabio Benedetti-Valentini ©


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