Friday, September 18, 2015

Roman and Punic Carthage!

Today I had the incredible chance to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams and visit historic Carthage. Although today the neighborhood of Carthage is a large, modern, treed suburb of Tunis (one south of Sidi Bou Said), a few pockets of Punic and Roman ruins remain. 

We visited the sites roughly in historical order-- Punic Carthage was founded in 814 BC by Phoenician traders. Most of the city has been destroyed and repurposed by later invaders, but one segment of a temple remained. The most prominent purpose of the temple was as a place of sacrifice to the gods; legend has it that Phoenicians in Carthage sacrificed their first born children, who thus were buried in the temple where we visited. (Historians tell us it is more likely that people actually sacrificed stillborn children and animals.) 

Our esteemed program director, Mounir, gave a demonstration with Ryan on the sacrificial altar. 

Also in Punic Carthage were gravestones. The following one has the image of the moon goddess Tanit.

Here I am on the altar.

Also at the Punic site were some Roman vaults of a later era (note the modern buildings right behind them!)

Then we were off to one of the main sites of Roman Carthage, which is still intact in a more significant way. Most of Punic Carthage was burned by the Romans, who then sprinkled salt on the razed earth to symbolize infertility of the soil and took any leftover building materials for their own city about 80 years later. 

This is one of the Roman boulevards which connected parts of the city. At one point, 700,000 people lived in Roman Carthage! 

One of the largest remaining sections of Roman Carthage is the bathhouse, though only the basements remain in any significant way. The bathhouse symbolized wealth and power to Roman Carthaginians and was a place to see and be seen (not to mention to see an impeccable view of the Mediterranean). 

Here I am perched on a piece of carved granite, a great show of wealth given that it had to be transported from western Egypt. 

Wisconsin girls in Carthage! 

The last site we visited today was one with both Roman and Punic history. At the top of the hill, it was the home of the temple, library, and government. The story about the Phoenician acquisition of the hill goes as follows: Dido, a queen, was fleeing a foreign army when she landed at Carthage. Hoping to buy a piece of land to start a new city to protect herself, she paid a significant sum of money to a local king. He told her that the amount of money she had offered would buy land the size of a bull's hide. So Dido cut the hide into long, thin strips which she stretched around the hill,  claiming a large piece of land for herself. As such, the area is known of as Carthage Byrsa (which means the name for bull's hide, and is from the same origin as the English word "purse"). 

I love the view here--ruins, modern suburbs, and the Mediterranean. 

Although for a long time, archaeologists believed that Byrsa was only a Roman site, a few years back they uncovered a Punic section of the city, pictured below--both the Phoenicians and the Romans chose to make Byrsa the central point of their cities. 

As always, I'm thrilled to be in the amazing Tunisia! Today, the history major in me is especially happy to be here. 

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