Tunisia: Phoenicians to Romans, Mosaics to Mosques
October 17-27, 2013 (plus Malta extension October 27-30, 2013)
Thursday & Friday, October 17 & 18, 2013 - Depart USA | Arrive Tunis, Tunisia
Arrive in Tunis on October 18th and transfer from the airport to our hotel, located near the seashore. Late this afternoon or early this evening, take a walking tour of the cliff top village of Sidi Bou Said. Its gleaming houses and stunning location above the Gulf of Tunis make for a wonderful stroll through its maze of lanes and alleys. For centuries, Sidi Bou Said has attracted generations of European artists and writers, and today can be called a “living museum.” Enjoy a welcome dinner at our hotel. Overnight at the Golden Tulip hotel for four nights. (D)
Saturday, October 19 - Tunis | Carthage | Tunis
Today, enjoy an excursion to Carthage, founded circa 800 B.C. by the Phoenicians. According to the archaeological record, Carthage flourished for centuries until the Romans ordered the Carthaginians to evacuate their city in 149 B.C. When they refused, the Romans laid siege for three years. In 146 B.C. the Roman sack of Carthage and the slaughter of many hundreds of thousands of people resulted in complete devastation. It was not until 46 B.C. that the Romans rebuilt the city and ruled it directly from Rome as its nearest African province.
Our visit will include numerous sections of Carthage, including the tophets, Punic ports, Antonine Baths, Byrsa Hill, cisterns, and the Carthage museum, which houses an unparalleled collection of Punic artifacts. Time-permitting, we will also have an opportunity to visit the nearby World War II cemetery in Carthage—the only U.S. War cemetery in North Africa. Dinner is at our hotel this evening. (B,L,D)
Sunday, October 20 – Tunis | Cape Bon Region | Tunis
This morning is devoted to the world famous Bardo Museum, housed in a former palace of the Ottoman Bey. The Bardo’s earliest exhibits, dating to the 7th century B.C., are Punic remains such as pots, lamps, stelae, and masks; and its most exquisite exhibits are the Roman and Byzantine mosaics from sites all over Tunisia, many virtually intact and dating from the 2nd century B.C. to the 7th century A.D. The museum’s Islamic section displays examples of early Koranic scripts, jewelry, and 16th century prints of Tunisia.
Continue on to tour the Cape Bon region of Tunisia, a fertile agricultural region that was developed by the French as the heart of Tunisia’s wine industry. As we travel the Cape, we will have opportunities for scenic stops, such as at the Punic city of Kerkouane and in Nabeul, at the southern base of the peninsula, where there is a small but interesting archaeological museum. Return to Tunis late this afternoon and have dinner at our hotel. (B,L,D)
Monday, October 21 – Tunis | Oudna | Tunis
This morning we will take an in-depth walking tour of the medina of Tunis, the historic heart of the city, including a visit to the Zitouna Mosque, which dates to the 7th century. After lunch we drive to Oudna (Roman Uthina), one of Tunisia’s more recently excavated sites that is still a work in progress. See the fine amphitheater, nearly a dozen villas with many mosaics, cisterns, and storage areas. From Oudna, we return to Tunis for an evening at leisure. Restaurant suggestions for dinner will be provided, as there are many enjoyable dining options. (B,L)
Tuesday, October 22 – Tunis | Utica | Bulla Regia | Ain Draham
This morning we depart Tunis, driving north along both scenic back roads and main roads. This area remains relatively undeveloped, with small coves along the ocean and fertile farmland. A relatively small site compared to many of the sites we visit in Tunisia, Utica was recently restored, providing yet another good example of Punic origins subsequently built over by the Romans. The ruins visible today include a complete Roman housing block and part of a Punic necropolis. From Utica, we travel northwest to Bulla Regia, an unusual and very well preserved site that features underground Roman villas; a Temple of Apollo, the oldest extant structure on the site; a 4th century theater built by Marcus Aurelius; and a museum. From Bulla Regia we drive into the mountainous region of the northwest, where we check in to a rather modest hotel, as hotel options are limited in this region despite the beautiful setting. Dinner is at our hotel in Ain Draham this evening. Overnight at the Nour el Ain hotel. (B,L,D)
Wednesday, October 23 – Ain Draham | Chemtou | Dougga | Kairouan
Begin the day with a visit to Chemtou, a town surrounded by hills that were sources of much marble and stone during the Roman period. A Roman settlement was established here in 27 B.C., and it remained an ancient quarrying center until the 6th century decline of the Byzantine Empire. The main attraction in Chemtou is a small but interesting museum whose emphasis is on Roman building materials and methods of excavation. From Chemtou, we will take scenic country roads to Dougga (ancient Thugga), Tunisia’s most expansive site. Covering some 60 acres and laid out on a steep slope some 2,000 feet above the plain, Dougga was known as the “city of temples.” Visit the theater, which today is used for the Dougga Drama festival and accommodates almost 3,500 people; the Temple of Saturn, under which was found evidence of a pre-Roman sanctuary dedicated to the Carthaginian god Gal; and the Temples of Augustan Piety and Mercury. The grandest structure is the Capitol that was dedicated to the gods Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, and to the glory of co-emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucus Verus. From Dougga, we drive through the Medjez river valley, where lunch will be arranged. Continue on to Kairouan, where we check in to our hotel and have dinner. Overnight at Le Kasbah hotel. (B,L,D)
Thursday, October 24 – Kairouan | El Jem | Sousse
Kairouan’s location along the old caravan routes provided a base for a flourishing crafts industry, which lives on today in its rugs and textiles. Today we will take a walk through the heart of the city’s medina, past sellers of carpets, leather goods, brass works, and spices to the Great Mosque. The mosque has been rebuilt several times since its original construction in the 7th century, and features a grand courtyard said to accommodate 200,000 people as well as a square, 114-foot tall minaret. Departing Kairouan, we drive southeast to El Jem, one of the most extraordinary sites in Tunisia thanks to the marvelous ancient amphitheater located in the heart of the town. The theater was built in A.D. 230 and accommodated 30,000 spectators. Nearby is the museum of El Jem, which houses some lovely mosaics and the remains of some recently-excavated luxury villas. From El Jem, we continue on to the seaside city of Sousse, Tunisia’s third largest city, where we have dinner and overnight. Overnight at the Mövenpick Resort & Marine Spa for two nights. (B,L,D)
Friday, October 25 – Sousse | Monastir | Lamta | Sousse
This morning we visit the historic heart of Sousse. For many years before the founding of Carthage, Sousse was a thriving trading center. Eventually, the city fell under control of the Byzantines, and in the 7th century it was conquered by the Arabs, who realized the value of its location and revived the town as a major port. Visit the Great Mosque, originally constructed in 850; walk through the souk, dominated by woolworkers; and continue on to the Kasbah, constructed around the 9th century.
From Sousse we head south along the coast, stopping in Monastir, the birthplace of Habib Bourguiba, the leader of Tunisia’s independence movement and first president. Continue on to Lamta, which was the Roman port city Leptis Minor. Even though Lamta is not open to the public, our group has this special opportunity to visit the site and learn about important discoveries made here under the direction of our AIA lecturer/host, archaeologist Nejib ben Lazreg. Return to Sousse, where we have the remainder of the afternoon and evening at leisure to enjoy this seaside city and our resort/spa hotel. Dining suggestions will be provided. (B,L)
Saturday, October 26 – Sousse | Thuburbo Majus | Zaghouan | Tunis
This morning we depart Sousse and travel inland to the vast, sprawling site of Thuburbo Majus, one of the best-preserved sites in Tunisia. It was occupied by the Berbers, Phoenicians, and (in 27 B.C.) the Romans, and was converted into one of many Roman garrisons in North Africa. The imperial remains are typical of a Roman city and include the towering Capitol, with its 30-foot tall columns, and Forum, built between A.D. 161 and 192.
En route to Tunis, stop at Zaghouan (ancient Ziqua), whose mountain springs were an important water source for Roman Carthage. The monumental, 2nd century fountain (nymphaeum) sits on the hill above the large pool that once filtered the water before it entered the aqueduct that carried water the 70 kilometers from Ziqua to Carthage. We arrive in Tunis mid-afternoon, and have the remainder of the afternoon free to re-visit the medina, a short walk from our hotel, or explore other parts of Tunis independently. Gather for a farewell dinner in a wonderful setting. Overnight at The Palace Golden Yasmin hotel. (B,L,D)
Sunday, October 27 – Depart Tunis | Arrive USA (or Malta)
Transfer this morning to the airport for flights homeward or to Malta, for those continuing on the post-tour extension. (B)
Sunday, October 27, 2013 – Depart Tunis | Arrive Malta | Mdina | Sliema
From Tunis, take a short, 50-minute flight to Malta, where you will be met at the International Airport. Begin your exploration of the island at Malta’s old capital, Mdina. On a walking tour of the old city you will see the exterior of the Cathedral, whose imposing bastions provide a panoramic view of most of the island; and visit the 1st century B.C. Roman Villa, featuring fine floor mosaics. Continue along the narrow, winding roads to St. Paul’s Catacombs, which date to the 4th and 5th centuries. In the late afternoon, drive to the seaside town of Sliema, your home base for exploring Malta. Our boutique hotel provides a lovely Mediterranean atmosphere, with the sea, cafés, and shops all within a short walk. This evening, enjoy a welcome dinner of Maltese cuisine. Overnight at The Victoria Hotel for three nights. (D)
Monday, October 28 – Sliema | Hal Saflieni | Neolithic Temples | Valletta | Sliema
For this morning’s excursion you will be joined by special guest Dr. Nicholas Vella, a noted Maltese archaeologist from the University of Malta who co-directs the Zejtun Villa excavation in Malta and the Malta Survey Project. Begin the morning with a visit to the Hal Saflieni Hypogeum. The Hypogeum (“underground” in Greek), a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a subterranean structure dating from 3600-2500 B.C. It is the only known underground, prehistoric temple in the world and the deepest of its three levels is almost 35 feet below ground. The Hypogeum was closed to visitors from 1992-96 for restoration work and, since it re-opened, only 80 visitors are allowed per day (by advance arrangement). Drive to the southern portion of the island to visit the island’s famous, intriguing megalithic temples, dating from 3600-2500 B.C.: the temples at Tarxien, which are renowned for their detailed carvings; plus the temples at Hagar Qim and Mnajdra, overlooking the sea.
Bid farewell to Dr. Vella and continue on to Valletta, the capital of Malta. After lunch at leisure, enjoy a guided tour of the city, including the National Museum of Archaeology, housing a range of prehistoric artifacts from Malta’s Ghar Dalam phase (5200 B.C.) through the Tarxien phase (2500 B.C.); St. John’s Co-Cathedral, featuring impressive Baroque architecture and precious works of art; and the Grand Master’s Palace. Return to Sliema and have dinner at our hotel. (B,D)
Tuesday, October 29 – Sliema | Gozo | Sliema
We start early today to visit Malta’s sister island of Gozo, barely 20 minutes from the mainland. Visit the Ggantija megalithic complex, dating from about 3600 to 3200 B.C., which is among the oldest and best preserved temples in the world. Continue on to Ta’ Pinu Church, Xlendi Bay, and Victoria’s Citadella, which presents the opportunity to visit the Gozo Museum of Archaeology, the Folklore Museum, and the Old Prison. Gather for a nice farewell dinner in Sliema this evening. (B,D)
Wednesday, October 30 – Depart Malta | Arrive USA
Transfer this morning to the airport for flights homeward. (B)
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