B.C. Archaeology

Study Tours of the Ancient World


The inaugural Roman North Africa tour in April was a great success with no major difficulties - we certainly saw an incredible amount with most days very full and all felt we needed a holiday by the end. The group consisted of 16 people and included: Patricia Ball, Steven Darlow, Brenda Garde, Vesna James, Peter and Erica Norris, Kerry and Janet Peadon, Lidia Peruzzi, Caroline and Bryan Riddell, Philippa Shaw, Chris and Kim Shephard, Robert Snow, Isobel Stening. The tour leader was Dr Michael Birrell.

We started our program in Tunis having flown via Cairo on Singapore Airlines. One of our group, Bob Snow, was already in Tunisia and gave us a warm welcome. The following day we went to see the ruins of Carthage - we started on the Bursa Hill where we toured the old Punic houses and Museum, then stopped to see the Roman amphitheatre and cisterns, and saw the Punic Tophet cemetery and harbours. In the afternoon, after a great seafood meal, we had a walk around the scenic seaside Sidi Bou Said shopping district.

We spent a few days in Tunis visiting a number of highlights in the area. This included the Bardo Museum with its superb collection of Punic artefacts and Roman mosaics. The following day we had a walk through the old Muslim quarter of Tunis (I soon realised how difficult it was going to be to get the entire group past the enticing shops as we headed for the Great Mosque!). Lunch was spent in a very beautiful restored merchant's house. The next day we went by bus to see the very picturesque ruins of the Punic city of Kerkouane, located on the seashore east of Tunis. We had a superb fish lunch by the sea and then toured the old Punic quarries at Houaria.

We left Tunis and headed west. We stopped to see Carthage's aqueduct and then headed on to Thuburbo Majus, a sprawling Roman town in ruins. We then headed into the hills to see Dougga, a remarkable ruined city with spectacular outlook. We saw much more of the site than most tourists including the magnificent temples of Saturn, Juno and Jupiter. In the late evening we headed to Le Kef which was to be our base for the next few days. From here we went north to see the underground houses and mosaics of Bulla Regia, enjoying a picnic lunch in the Roman baths. The following day was spent walking around the town of Le Kef enjoying the beautiful sunny weather as we saw the Turkish fort and ethnographic museum. Then we travelled south to Sufetula where we saw the magnificent Roman ruins, the highlight being the famous Temple of Minerva.

Exploring the ruins of the temple of Minerva at Sufetula

We then travelled east towards the coast, stopping at the medieval city of Kairouan before arriving in Sousse where we stayed for an extended visit. We resided in the comfortable Sousse Palace Hotel next to the sea and did a number of day trips. On arrival we celebrated the combined birthday of Caroline and Bryan Riddell with a seafood feast. On one day we saw the Roman mosaics in the local museum and walked through the medieval city to visit the Great Mosque and a merchant's house - again more tempting shopping opportunities for the group! We climbed the watch tower for a panoramic view of the city. We then visited the magnificent Roman amphitheatre at el-Jem and saw the local museum, endowed with more breathtaking mosaics.

We then travelled on to Libya. The country has yet to come to terms with mass tourism but will soon see large scale development of its facilities. Flights in Libya are always something of an adventure with a typically Arab state of laisee faire and chaos at the airport. Despite some uncertainty about whether we would all get a seat on the plane (they had overbooked of course!), we eventually checked into a hotel in Benghazi. The following day we travelled east by bus, stopping to have a look at the Hellenistic and Roman ruins at Ptolemais. We had a delightful picnic lunch under the eucalypts and bargained for Colonel Ghaddafi watches. That evening we checked into our hotel in el-Beida where we stayed a few nights.

The following day we went to see the superb ruins of Cyrene, an enormous site on three levels looking over the plains. We had the time to really explore the magnificent Forum, the Agora, and the sacred enclosure of Apollo. After a pleasant lunch we head down to see Apollonia, the old port of Cyrene, with its picturesque churches and theatre overlooking the sea. The following day we went back to Cyrene to see the museum with its astonishing and breathtaking collection of Roman sculpture - we then had a delightful morning exploring the area around the enormous temple of Zeus, enjoying the spring weather and carpets of wild flowers.

We made our way to Benghazi for our flight to Tripoli and checked into our hotel near Leptis Magna. Being close to the site enabled us to spend more time exploring this unique ancient place. The following day was pretty tiring as we all wanted to see as much as possible - we spent about 7 hours wandering around, exploring the Baths of Hadrian, the Forum and Basilica of Septimius Severus, the theatre, Old Forum and lighthouse before walking back to our hotel along the beach. A refreshing paddle was much appreciated and an ice cream was eventually our reward for all our efforts. The next day we went back to Leptis Magna to see the Museum and then saw the impressive amphitheatre and circus racetrack. It was a cold windy day but that did not deter us from our adventures. In the afternoon, we stopped to see the old Roman villa at Sileen with its superb frescos and mosaics.

The last few days of the tour were spent in Tripoli. We saw the National Museum with its impressive collection of Roman sculpture and also walked through the old city. Our last day in Libya was spent touring the Roman ruins at the seaside location of Sabratha. The highlight was undoubtedly the reconstructed Roman theatre with its enormous colonnaded stage.

The April 2006 group in the Roman theatre at Sabratha

Michael Birrell

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