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Adventurous Trek to Oudna, recently discovered Roman site in Tunisia

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From: Melissa Enderle (melissaenderle_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Thu Dec 18 2003 - 12:49:57 PST


Dear All,

Although school continues to be busy, I fortunately have had the chance to
take a few short trips outside the city limits of Tunis and visit some of
Tunisia's Roman sites.

Today one of the teachers asked if I wanted to go to Oudna, an ancient (but
newly-discovered) Roman site about 30 minutes from our house. She has two
large dogs that quietly rode in the back seat. Itıs nice to get out of the
concrete white building surroundings and out into the rolling, green
countryside.
 
Traveling on the road that hugged the path of the Roman aqueducts that at
one time carried water from the springs in Zaigouan to Carthage, we knew we
were close to the site. Things were going well until we abruptly stopped at
the sight before us ­ a storm-made river flowing over the now-impassable
road. Drat! We could see the fortress (built over the Roman-age royal
dwellings) high on the hill before us. After following a different road, we
decided that it seemed to meander farther away from archaeology site. So, we
turned around and headed back to the storm river. Grateful that I had worn
sneakers and jeans, I soon wished that I had some boots. The wet, muddy
ground began clinging to my shoes and weighing it down, reminding me of when
we picked sweet corn early on a dew-filled summer morning for sale ­ the mud
clung to the rubbers so thickly that I would almost lose my footwear!
 
Realizing that there was no place narrow enough to cross, we headed back to
the road. Perhaps another tractor or large truck would be headed the same
way, able to successfully navigate through the floodwaters. Sure enough, a
large truck that had crossed towards us turned around offered to take us
across ­ how nice! After thanking him, we headed across the green fields
towards our destination. In the unplowed wet fields, jack-in-the-pulpits and
a variety of early purple and orange wildflowers poked their way in between
the dominating thistles. I hope that the wildflowers are merely a bit
confused by the warm weather we had in late November, so they will instead
come back in spring when Mom and Dad arrive. I am so eager to share with
them Tunisiaıs magnificent example of Godıs glorious creation.
 
After passing through the entry gates, we headed to the amphitheatre, still
in the process of excavation and restoration. Much smaller and in less (at
least what we could see) complete state than the one in El Jem, this
amphitheatre didnıt have the same impact. After that, we headed towards the
groupings of short walls on the opposite side of the road, beyond a cluster
of large stone blocks belonging to some Roman building. Just excavated in
recent months, a large layout of what appeared to be a home was visible.
Beyond one wall was the impressive well-preserved mosaic depicting daily
life: hunting and farming scenes, local animals, and the dwellings of the
local people. Beneath several inches of fresh rainwater, the mosaic colors
were more vibrant and the details more plainly visible. I enjoyed seeing the
mosaic in its natural, original environment ­ would archeologists choose to
keep it here, or would it end up in the Bardo museum, where it could be more
preserved and viewed by more visitors? A few rooms down, a larger mosaic of
people in Roman-style clothing commanded attention, framed in a rectangle
and surrounded by cherubs attending the grapes on the meandering vines. A
short distance away, another dwelling had been excavated, revealing more
fully the semi-circular mosaic of a fishing scene on the wall of the private
bath.
 
Moving onward, we headed towards the huge sections of a structure perched on
a hill, obviously moved from their original horizontal position to near
vertical ones by some significant force. Later, we found out from a local
young man that the structure had been an unfortunate recipient of a bomb
during WWII. While the upper structure was now unrecognizable, the lower
portion was incredibly well preserved. Further darkened by the windows and
alternate entrances that had filled in, the underground area was quite dark.
Next time we will have to bring a flashlight to explore further. What had
the structure and its underground area been used for? Close-by, we came
across another site that had narrow wooden stairs leading sharply down into
a lower area. The configuration of the vaulted arches reminded me of the
Antonine Baths in Carthage. The young Tunisian man who was eager to practice
speaking English confirmed our presumptions. Of course, he could also speak
Arabic, French, Italian, some German and even Chinese. To think that most
Americans are only able to speak their native language!
 
As we followed the narrow path towards the fortress on top of the Roman
building, the recent waters washed up fragments of pottery, marble, and
mosaic pieces. The closer we got to the excavated sites, the larger the
pieces of marble became- various shades of grey, white, orange and peach.
Before we saw the structure our young guide described as a palace, he was
eager to show us more mostly-underground structures that he said were once
used to hold prisoners. Although he was unsure of the structuresı original
purposes, they reminded me of the cisterns just a few minutes walk from my
house. So close to the aqueducts, it was definitely possibleŠ. Already
somewhat tired from the trekking through muddy fields, we reached the
immense ³palace² prominently making its mark below the smaller fortress so
out of place on top. Our young guide explained that while excavation and
restoration has begun in several places at Oudna, there is so much that
remains to be done ­ but not enough money is available to do a thorough job.
 
After thanking our ³guide² and his friend for the tour, we headed back
through the fields to the flooded road. Just as we reached the water, an
elderly farmer drove up, hauling bales of straw on his small wagon. Thankful
for the lift, we hopped on the bales and encouraged the large water dogs to
follow us through the muddy floodwaters. After he kindly drove us right up
to our car, we thanked him for the ride and had a simple lunch before we
headed back to the urban Tunis.
 
Although it was quite a trek (especially due to the muddy fields), it was an
enjoyable adventure, full of new discoveries. I hope to go down South for
the Christmas break, which sounds like another great adventure. More
opportunities to see new places and be filled with excitement as we discover
a vastly different area of Tunisia. And for me, itıs an opportunity to take
more photos to be used as inspiration for more artwork!

Until later,
Melissa

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