Captivating Carthage (Tunisia)

9th grade, English Literature lesson, in a chilly air-conditioned
classroom in Dubai: Mrs Kataky’s crystal voice boomed through the room
bouncing off Shakespearean verses from the The Merchant of Venice.
Thebes, was awaiting her beloved with baited breath, on a moonlight
night at the ruins of Carthage. I was instantly drawn into the mystical
world of antiquity. How I yearned to explore the distant land of
Carthage- the land almost a manuscript of a thousand years of historic
events, of battles won, of kingdoms lost, of voyages extraordinaire, of
civilizations grandiose. Oh how I wished that day……

Flash forward, 8 years on and today as if a dream come true, I stand on
the sun drenched beach of Carthage, Tunisia. The day began with me
huddled comfortably in a car from the hotel, as the raindrops pelted
onto the glass. The dreary sky sung a paean, though I’m not sure for
whom. The gelatinous tufts of frigid cotton glowing in the sky squeezed
out heavy drops and the weary trees soaked in every drop of crystallized
bliss. The car sped up and the drops began to make patterns on the
window; brilliant watery labyrinths. A beautiful start to a beautiful
journey. We were off to Carthage!!!!

A quaint village, Carthage is nestled next to the sparkling blue
Mediterranean. As we cruised into this seaside town, the clouds had shed
their greyness and were bouncing off the sunbeams. A hilly settlement
with tortuous roads , each bend has a splendid view of the shimmery blue
gem, the sea. The palatial villas on the hillside shone brilliantly,
their blue- green porcelain shingles catching the sun; each villa more
beautiful, more perfect than the previous one. Their windows were
intricately laced in bright aquamarine blue. The flowers were in
abundance, bougainvilleas and roses and geraniums bulging out of
perfectly manicured gardens adding a burst of riotous pink, blue and
orange to the white landscape. The president of Tunisia lives in his
palatial villa on the hillside and one could clearly see why! There is
just one word to describe this town- charming, ever so!

Our first stop, the Roman Villas. Ruins of an ancient settlement on the
shores, it was reminiscent of a time when this land flourished under the
rule of Julius Cesar. As I peered into the green expanse I could
imagine Queen Dido’s flotilla touch base here as she escaped from her
tyrannical brother Pygmmalion, King of Tyre and perform a consecration
to the Gods on the sandy beaches. It was her wiliness that got the first
piece of considerable land from the Carthaginians. She was allowed to
take up land the size of an Ox. She plumly, killed the animal, took its
hide, cut it into thin strips, knotted them together, long enough to
cover an area large enough to set a new city! Wily charms. Elaborately
laid out, the villas were a true reflection of life in those days.
Cobbled roman streets meandered past modest but complex homes, generally
excellently preserved, each with rooms opening on a small courtyard
and developing on several floors. Some even had a sub -terrenean area
where rain water was collected. Children must have run around their
togas and the folk must have been extremely healthy with particularly
strong thighs to maneuver their way along the steep climbs. Most
important of all (my personal opinion ofcourse) the stunning view of
the ocean from every room!!! One pricey piece of real estate it must
have been. Amongst the most majestic of ruins at Carthage are the Baths
of Antoninus Pius. Constructed on two levels in the mid second century
it still retains a lot of it colossal qualities. Buzzing with tourists,
this is a lovely spot to sit down at the Café, sip on a coffee and take
in all the splendor and calmness and just wonder. This same land that I
tread on today was where legionnaires walked a thousand years ago. Such
great legacies were passed on, many to die a sorry death. So much has
changed since, yet much has remained constant. The magic of ephemeral

As we rode back, our car passed a perfectly scenic spot, just round the
bend from where one could see the entire town of Carthage stretched out
from the harbor onto the hillside. Apart from being an established
agriculture and industrial centre Carthage had been, during its days of
glory, a particularly important port, both merchant and military and
the landform clearly indicated the reason for the choice. Carthage was
perfectly poised, shielded from any attack because of its beautiful
concave harbor! As the pink ball fire settled on the blue horizon,
bursting into the sky a myriad colours, the car rolled into the
distant highway…away from Carthage…away from a distant dream…away…. But I do carry with me memories deeply engrained of awe, of joy, of wonder!

Madhumita Subramanian