After leaving Cartagena, Spain we had a day at sea while the Captain took us back across the Mediterranean again. Since we were at sea, it was a formal night and everyone got dressed up for the Captain’s Ball. The dining room and ship’s public rooms were all decked out in blingy gold.
We anchored of the coast of Sousse, Tunisia at 8 am. Our tour was to begin at 9 but the Immigration officials had not arrived on board to clear the passengers. We were the last group to get approval so our tour started an hour and a half late. The ship was anchored quite a distance from shore due to nets in the water so the tender rides were long. Thankfully the water was calm.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and spoke excellent English. He also spoke Italian because he lived in Italy for five years, Berber from his mother, Arabic from school, French because Tunisia was a French Protectorate until 1956 and the business language is still french, and German. He shared a lot of the history of the country on the one hour bus ride to El Djem. Tunisia has 55 million olive trees in 164,000 sq. km (1/2 the size of Italy). Olives do well, our guide said, because they are very patient trees. If there is not enough moisture they will just wait and bear fruit every two years. 85% of Tunisia’s olive oil is exported to Italy, where it is re-branded and exported all over the world as 100% pure Italian olive oil. Five kilos of olives provide 1 litre of oil. During harvest season everyone in the country; old, young, men and women, businessmen and military pick the olives. A gas ‘station.’
Thysdrus (El Djem in ancient times) was a thriving market town on the crossroads of the Sahel trade routes. During Roman times a huge amphitheater was constructed to provide entertainment for all the people passing through. The games and spectacles were paid for by wealthy local businessmen. It was the third largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. It is thought to have been built between 230-223 BC and could seat 30,000 people. We had to purchase a ‘camera ticket’ in order to take photographs at El Djem: that was a new experience. There was always someone you could pay to take your photo with a camel.
When we completed our tour of the amphitheater the bus took us across town to the Museum to see the collection of Roman mosaics and a re-constructed Roman villa which I will tell you about in my next blog.