After completing our tour of the Bardo Museum, we still had an afternoon left, so we set off to visit the ruins of Carthage. Carthage is, in fact, still inhabited. We go there every Sunday to visit our friends who work at the embassy. It is now a posh suburb of Tunis, resplendent with nice villas and palm trees. But back in the day, it was the domain of Dido (who is called Elissa here, and appears on coins and bills, cell phone commercials, and anywhere else an imperiously beautiful woman is needed). Because the Romans sacked and took possession of the city at the conclusion of the third Punic War, most of the sites now are Roman. But there are a few remnants of the Carthage settled by the Phoenicians. Our first stop was the chilling site of Tophet, which the Romans claim was where the Punic Carthaginians practiced child sacrifice on a truly awful scale. Modern archaeologists dispute the claim, but our self-appointed guide was pleased to reiterate it repeatedly. He gleefully pointed out several carved stone instances of the symbol for the Babylonian deity Baal Hammon, composed of the Egyptian symbols for life, death, and eternity. I’d certainly prefer to believe that the Carthaginians just had a special cemetery for their beloved children who died young.
When we’d had enough of Tophet, we moved on to the Punic port, home of the fleet that made Carthage the ruling power of the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. It’s now a small, sleepy island covered in wildflowers, but you can still see some of the dry docks that held ships when they were not in use.
Having dispensed with Punic Carthage, we were ready to take in its Roman splendor. So we set off for Byrsa Hill, the highest point in Carthage, and now mostly covered in lush modern villas. After wandering around lost among said villas for some time, we finally made it around the back of the hill and wound up to the very top, where dramatically excavated portions of Carthage are laid open to the air. In among the ruins of the Roman city is a quarter of the Punic city that somehow escaped the Roman razing, and shows what a row of Punic shops looked like in the age of Hannibal.
The attached museum contained some real treasures, like a gigantic head of a relative of Marcus Aurelius, an ancient baby bottle in the shape of a duck, and of course some more mosaics.
Our next stop was the truly colossal Antonine bath complex. Lonely Planet informed us that it had once included a large seaside swimming pool, as well as areas for wrestling and other typical Roman sports. More than a bath, it was a huge gym complex, another testament to the prosperity and consequent leisure time enjoyed by Roman Carthaginians.
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