First Published: 2017-07-02

Oudhna, a Roman city in Tunis’s backyard
Anyone who visits the sites with knowledgeable guides is in for a treat.
Middle East Online

By Jerry Sorkin - TUNIS

A view of the Oudhna underground vaults

During my many years of living and travelling in Tunisia, I was always struck by the great wealth of archaeologi­cal sites throughout the country. While most visitors are lured by the sun and sea packages, the in­trepid traveller has often been drawn by the wealth of history, both Phoenician and Roman, that are found throughout central and northern Tunisia.

While it has yet to be made known to most of Tunisia’s visi­tors, the Roman site of Oudhna, or Uthina, is in the backyard of Tu­nis and Hammamet, waiting to be discovered. Less than 45 minutes from the heart of Tunis, Oudhna is not a site promoted by Tunisia’s tourism authorities, presumably due to renovation taking place.

The site is all the more inter­esting because of that, however, particularly for the viewer who is learning to appreciate archaeology and how sites are uncovered.

Like many of Tunisia’s archaeo­logical sites, perhaps with the ex­ception of Carthage, it is rare to see lines of buses and hordes of tour­ists wandering through the site, as is often the case in other parts of the Mediterranean. In this regard, Tunisia is a gem but a relatively unknown one.

I asked Aicha Boukari, an expe­rienced tour guide who frequently helps American clients of travel companies, why she likes taking tourists to Oudhna.

“At first view, before reaching the ancient Roman city, I can al­ready admire the beautiful loca­tion with the hills, the farm lands, the homes and the fertility of the soil,” she said. “En route to the site, one passes the amazing aq­ueduct that, during Roman times, carried water from the springs of Zaghouan all the way to Carthage.

All this a mere 45 minutes from Tunis and we have not yet even ar­rived to the actual site.”

Walking through the site Bouk­ari points out the amphitheatre, which is stunningly beautiful and well preserved. “It could probably seat 20,000 spectators, with ar­chitecture that reflects both Greek and Roman styles,” she said.

As we continue through the site, whose unpaved and often unlevel ground does require one watch­ing his step, Boukari pointed to the capitol. Though it is missing some columns, she noted the un­derground floors and the mosaics.

It is clear that anyone who vis­its the sites with knowledgeable guides is in for a treat.

“Sadly, the Tunisian government does very little to promote our sites,” Boukari said. “One would think that after all our tourism in­dustry has gone through since the January 2011 revolution… — the dramatic loss of tourism, com­pounded by the attacks in 2015 at the Bardo Museum and Sousse beach — that we would be trying new ways to make our country known. I really think Tunisia has so much to offer travellers, if they only knew.”

My own multiple visits to Oudh­na concur with her sentiments, both regarding how special the site is and how easy it can be visited from Tunis. I also agree that Tuni­sian tourism authorities have yet to try anything new in promoting their tourism assets.

“One day, we hope soon, visitors will return in numbers again and see that our country is safe, beau­tiful and ready to welcome all who come,” Boukari said.

Jerry Sorkin is founder and president of Iconic Journeys Worldwide and of TunisUSA. He is a frequent contributor to The Arab Weekly.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.

 

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