Dougga feels like a place that time and history forgot. Fortunately, this vast ruined city on windswept hillsides in northern Tunisia has been preserved as UNESCO World Heritage for you to discover.
I’d honestly never heard of the place until our hosts in Tunisia suggested that we go there. It’s an easy day trip from the capital city, Tunis. Our family of three made the trip in a hired car with a driver named Ali. Although he spoke little English, he looked out for our safety and cheerfully put up with my rusty schoolbook French.
A Berber Village
Our day began with a stop at a Berber Village. Life here reflects the culture of tribes who were enlisted in the Muslim conquest of Spain. Horse-drawn carts shared the main street with more modern vehicles as men did the shopping and women tended the kids.
As the only outsiders in sight, we drew a few curious glances. A stern glare from our guardian Ali convinced anyone who might have approached us with bad intentions to keep their distance. More than once, we wondered what he might be packing under his dark woolen coat. Yet, he greeted young mothers and hardworking craftsmen in the the stalls with a warm smile and insisted we try a few local delicacies at each of our stops.
UNESCO World Heritage at Dougga
Dougga is an epic sight that in any other country would be surrounded by platoons of tour buses. But this is Tunisia, where we had the windswept hilltop ruins mostly to ourselves.
As we had noticed the previous day in the ruins of Carthage, only a few tattered signs were there to guide us as we wandered through a well-preserved amphitheater and imposing temples. This was the fringe of the far-flung Roman empire, but all the usual highlights of Roman civilization — from the forum to the public potty — were ours to discover. Some of the ruins were even older, dating back to Punic times in the 4th Century BC when this place was known as Thugga.
The once-grand settlement is now sheep-grazing territory for local farmers. Berbers in traditional dress added an eerie charm to the ruins as they passed by on foot or on a donkey. Yes, this is northern Africa but we were glad we brought warm jackets to ward off the blustery weather.
North Africans who supported the Roman emperor were handsomely rewarded with a lavish lifestyle. In Bulla Regia, we were able to climb down into their ingenious villas built with one level below ground to keep cool in the searing summer temperatures. Stunning mosaics decorated the subterranean rooms.
The drive back to Tunis included a stop at a colorful city market, where a funeral procession was taking place. Ali loaded up the car with more food specialties of the region for us to try back at the hotel.
Terry’s Travel Tips
We were hosted in Tunis by a local family, who hired our car and driver from a local car agency. We stayed in the highly recommended Hotel Belvedere Fourati. It’s #1 on Trip Advisor for a reason and it’s a good place to inquire about hiring a car and driver. Read more in this post about the security concerns when visiting Tunisia’s capital and how to visit safely — relying on the kindness of strangers. And check out this post on another splendid day trip to a Coliseum that is larger than the one in Rome, a very Grand Mosque and a few detours for the Star Wars fans.
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