Some of the most spectacular of ancient Roman sites anywhere are to be found in the magnificent landscapes of Tunisia, where less than a fifth of estimated ancient remains have officially been unearthed. The Roman province of Africa, of which Tunisia was the heart, was one of the wealthiest regions of the Empire. Known as the bread basket of Rome, for its wheat production, its olive oil was also exported in vast quantities across the Empire.
A condition for optimum preservation was the abandonment of the cities by non-urban successor civilisations. The consequences are impressive: among the Roman world’s best-preserved monuments are the colosseum at El Djem, the town centre at Dougga and parts of the Zaghouan–Carthage aqueduct. From pre-Roman times the mausoleum at Dougga and the exceptionally-preserved Punic houses and ancient harbours at Carthage are particularly noteworthy.
A highlight of the tour are the vigorous, colourful and naturalistic floor mosaics at the Sousse and Bardo museums and in situ on many of the sites. Both in composition and content they present a visual record of the sophistication of the North African empire from the early Christian era to the 7th century. The finest to have been excavated from Carthage, Utica, Dougga and Sousse, are displayed as works of art.
What we see of Tunisia’s impressive Islamic heritage includes the important holy city of Kairouan, the wonderfully busy Medina of Tunis, and other less-visited towns, including Testour, a charming agricultural village with Andalusian roots and an exceptional mosque.
Tunis. Fly from London Heathrow at c. 6.00pm with Tunisair to Tunis. Drive to Sidi Bou Said. First of three nights here.
Tunis, Carthage. A former palace, the Bardo Museum accommodates the finest repository of Roman mosaics in the world. The afternoon is spent visiting the principal sites of Carthage, the capital of the Punic (or Carthaginian) world and later the second city in the western Roman Empire after Rome.
Dougga, Testour. Drive west for a full-day excursion to the superb site of Dougga, unesco World Heritage listed, and one of the best-preserved Roman cities in North Africa. It is also interesting for the way the grand Roman buildings have evidently been added to a pre-Roman city plan with no regular street layout. Remains include Roman temples, baths, a theatre and a circus, a spectacular 2nd-century bc tomb monument and a Byzantine (6th-century ad) fortification that surrounds the Roman forum. About 25 km from Dougga, Testour, founded in the 17th century by Andalusian immigrants, has a unique mosque.
Oudna (Uthina), Thuburbo Majus, Zaghouan, Kairouan. Visit the Roman site of Uthina, a chance to see several good quality mosaics in situ. The amphitheatre has underground vaulted cells intact. Thuburbo Majus is a major Roman city, with a colonnaded forum, fine temples, houses and baths and, by contrast with Dougga, streets laid out on a rectilinear grid. At 51 km long, the Zaghouan–Carthage aqueduct was one of the longest in the Roman world and its remains are breathtaking. Its source at Zaghouan was beautifully embellished with a water temple, set in a courtyard in a hillside terrace. First of two nights in Kairouan.
Kairouan, El Djem. The morning is spent in Kairouan, with visits to the Medina and the Great Mosque (8th/9th century) and other examples of local traditional architecture. The immense colosseum at El Djem could hold 30,000 and is a remarkable sight, towering over its modern surroundings. The small museum nearby contains some exquisite mosaics.
Sousse, Sidi Bou Said. Founded in the 9th century bc, Sousse fell to Carthage three centuries later. Hannibal’s base during the Second Punic War, it subsequently took on a Roman allegiance. In the 7th century it fell to the Arabs. Visit the archaeological museum located within the Kasbah of the old city, which is renowned for its mosaic collection. Continue to Sidi Bou Said for some free time. First of two nights.
Tunis, Sidi Bou Said. The Medina, the vibrant old town, is a maze of alleys crammed with ancient buildings, covered markets and beautiful doorways. At its heart lies the Great Mosque of 9th-century origin, one of North Africa’s most significant Islamic buildings. The rest of the day is free for wandering the Medina or relaxing at the hotel. In the evening a private visit to the Ennejma Ezzahra (Splendid Star), built by master craftsmen in the 1900s as a home for Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger, in homage to his passion for the Middle East. It is now a museum and the Centre for Arab and Mediterranean Music.
Fly from Tunis to London Heathrow with Tunisair, arriving c. 5.00pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,660 or £2,400 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,920 or £2,660 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) with Tunisair; (Airbus A320); travel by private coach; accommodation as below; breakfasts, 6 lunches (including 1 picnic) and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee (not all restaurants serve alcohol and none is served at the picnic); all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, a tour manager and a local guide.
British, US and Australian citizens do not require a visa to visit Tunisia. New Zealand passport holders are required to apply in advance for a tourist visa.
Dar Said, Sidi Bou Said: boutique hotel perched on the hills of the tranquil town of Sidi Bou Said. Excellent views and fine terrace and restaurant. Hotel la Kasbah, Kairouan: excellently located in the heart of the old town. Rooms are simple, but clean and comfortable. The best available accommodation. In the areas away from the main tourist resorts, standards are not as high as in the more developed coastal towns and the capital. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
This tour covers some long distances, involving a lot of travel by coach. There is quite a lot of walking or scrambling over the rough terrain of archaeological sites. Many of the sites are exposed with no protection from the sun or shelter from rain or wind. Average distance by coach per day: 85 miles.
Are you fit enough to join the tour?
Between 12 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.
'Tunisia through Carthaginian, Roman and Islamic history is a unique tour. It was full of amazing discoveries. The Local guide Mehrez and the lecturer Henry Hurst were outstanding.'
'Henry Hurst, with his time spent in the field in Tunisia, gave outstanding lectures and insights. He also provided the group with access to the British consulate in Tunis, which was a special treat. The handouts were first class. Overall, extremely enriching and engaging.'