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Dougga is an ancient Roman City in the North of Tunisia quite near Tunis covering an area of 65 Hectares. It was originally called Thugga in Punic times but once the Romans inhabited the city they changed the name to Dougga. It became a world heritage site in 1997 and is recorded as being the best preserved Roman small town in North Africa. It is situated on a slight hill with rolling plains below the city. I was pleasantly surprised how green the countryside was as I had always imagined Tunisia to be dry and arid the surrounding hillsides are covered with olive trees, Pomegranate trees and vineyards.
The nearest place to get something to eat is about 3 miles away in the one and only Thugga hotel in the village of Teboursouk. We stopped here for lunch which was quite delicious eating wild boar which surprisingly was quite pleasant and tasty. You can see the start of the Atlas mountains not too far in the distance.
It was first settled around the 6th century BC then by the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd Century's AD. Strategically it was a perfect place to build a city being built on high ground giving a good command over the surrounding countryside. It must have been a busy city with the most up to date (for the time) roads, houses, shops, theatres and a massive bath house. There are temples and a huge forum still mostly intact. I found it quite beautiful and very scenic.
It took approximately two hours to drive here from Tunis but once reaching here it was quite worth the early morning start to arrive here. We practically had the whole site to ourselves apart from a couple of French Tourists who had arrived by car. We got off the bus right in front of the huge Amphitheatre so we were able to explore the theatre straight away which is pretty much in good shape. Surprisingly the acoustics were still very good and the guide who was heavily pregnant stood on stage and told us all about the theatre. It could seat 3500 although the city only had 5000 inhabitants so it must have been a pretty important part of people's lives and recreation to seat so many people in one go.
There are quiet good roadways throughout the city with underground sewerage system, aqueducts and cisterns that held the water to feed the city. It must have been quite a thriving little city in its time and one can imagine daily life and people going about their daily business, trading in the markets, working, farming, attending the meetings in the forums the daily bathing rituals in the bath house and attending the different temples dotted around the city. We walked all around the deserted city taking in the views and exploring all the buildings and small houses. It really was quite fascinating. At the massive bathhouse one lady nearly knocked herself out bending down to enter the frigidarium as the doorway was quite low but once inside the frigidarium was very large. There were still some mosaics on the floor and these were evident throughout the city although the best ones have been removed and are on display in the Bardo museum in Tunis. Some of the mosaics are still quite beautiful bearing in mind that they are open to the elements.
The baths of the cyclopses.
Having walked around the city we headed down to the mausoleum stopping on route at the public toilets. The 12 place toilets were set in a semi-circle with water channels running below to take away the waste. There was a beautiful mosaic just in front of the toilets. There would have been absolutely no privacy for those using the toilets. Whereas today some people spend time in the loo reading a book I guess people would have sat here for a while chatting about various things like the weather? So much for maintaining people's privacy and dignity.
The Punic- Libyan Mausoleum.
The mausoleum stands erect some distance down the hill away from the city. Because of its grandeur there is some speculation that it was a Royal tomb. In 1842 the British consul to Tunisia ruined the mausoleum damaging it quite severely by removing a bi lingual inscription on the side of the tomb. The tomb was practically destroyed by his mindless actions however a French archaeologist was able to reconstruct and restore the tomb to its grand appearance and it is through his efforts that what you see today is the brilliant restoration of the tomb. After examination of a similar description at the British Museum it has been translated as being the tomb of Atban the son of Lepmatath and Palu dating from the 2nd century BC. Apparently there is a similar tomb in Libya which was built in memory of another Royal with similar inscriptions. The tomb is 21 metres tall and stands erect and proud against the back drop of the surrounding country side. There are no other tombs around it although there are some burial grounds around the city which makes this one stand out proud.
Is it worth a visit?
Yes I would say so despite the long journey to reach the ruined city taking two hours it really is quite beautiful. We spent approximately 3 hours here walking all over the city. I would suggest that you need quite sturdy shoes as the old Roman roads are quite uneven you definitely need to bring something to drink with you especially if you visit in the height of the summer as it is quite hot there. You do need to exercise some care as some of the doorways are quite low and there are no safety rails on top of some of the buildings whereas in some there are a few. There are some toilets and a small cafeteria not that we used the café as we were off to have lunch in a local village hotel but at least you can buy a drink if you wish. The city of Dougga is a perfect example of Roman and Punic architecture and is well worth a visit.