It was a really busy time on my adventure backpacking through the north of Tunisia, celebrating my 100th country and honestly – not having a single moment’s rest. It seemed like I should’ve just spent a week sitting on a beach sipping cocktails. But yet, somehow, that would be wasted hours for me. So while backpacking in Tunisia we managed to check out Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Teboulba, Kairouan, Sousse, Monastir and Mahdia in a crazy 9 day frenzy. And – there was Carthage. Probably the most un-Tunisian part of our adventure. Carthage is a UNESCO World Heritage listed city and deserves a full day to enjoy its charms.
Some people try and visit Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in one day. We took it slower and spent a day in each and I believe that way you get to see more and don’t feel you are rushing the main sights. I was surprised by the charms of Carthage. Its scattered Roman ruins are all over the town, interspersed with Mosques and modern day Tunisia. Its an enigma and a pleasant one.
Background on Carthage
Carthage was first founded by the Phoenician princess Elyssa-Dido and it brought African to the forefront of history at the time. The Punic Carthage of Hannon was queen of the seas and Hannibal’s Carthage ruled the world during its shining hour of glory before it vanished. It was Augustus who built Roman Carthage as the capital of Proconsular Africa.
After the Roman era, Carthage was conquered by the Arabs, who eventually decided to ditch it in favour of setting up a city in Tunis. Carthage was left in ruins but it always remained an important watch post for Tunisia given its supreme location on the coast, on the edge of a peninsula.
There is a hell of a lot of history on Carthage to read up on though and it confused me quite a bit on my tour of the main museum and reading the leaflets. In short – it’s an old Roman City which has survived, been well kept, yet it has modern Tunisian buildings and inhabitants all around the ancient ruins. It’s quite an odd place too. One minute it seems like there is nothing here, the next minute you are walking through Roman ruins to a Mosque.
Getting to Carthage
Some people spend the night in Carthage or Sidi Bou Said. We preferred not to. We decided to stay in Tunis and simply go to Carthage on a day trip. Head to the TGM train station in Tunis at the end of Habib Bourguiba Avenue, just past the clock tower.
Here you find the Marine TGM station, where you board for Carthage. The trains are slow, hot, packed and not very reliable. You should be able to get a ticket from Tunis Nord/Marine to Carthage Hannibal for under 60 cents US and under 1 Tunisian Dinar. There are about 5 stops for Carthage so realistically you could get off at any of them and walk all over from there. But we got out at Carthage Hannibal and headed to these 11 main sights on foot, starting with Mount Byrsa.
1. Mount Byrsa
More of a hill than a mountain, head to Mount Byrsa first. Here on this hill in the middle of the town you can see the old church, the museum and the viewpoint. There are some souvenir shops by the car park and stunning views.
In a staunchly Muslim country it is an extreme surprise to see such a well maintained, striking and magnificent Cathedral. Here at Mount Byrsa the Cathedral is part of Carthage’s Christian history.
3. Carthage Museum
When you get to the entrance to the museum on Mount Byrsa, you will notice that there is a charge of 10 Tunisian Dinars to enter ($5 US). This fee is worth paying – it includes entry to all the sites in the town of Carthage and allows you full access to the museum and grounds.
Once inside the museum, check out the relics before heading to admire the marvellous views all the way back to Tunis.
4. Roman Ampitheatre
After visiting the museum, I walked out to the Roman Ampitheatre which is out of the town centre and past a roundabout. There is an entrance where they check your tickets. But you can walk round the back streets and climb in for free if you wish. It’s an old roman ruins with a pool of water in the middle. The condition is poor but you get an idea of what was once here.
5. Carthage Seafront
There are beaches galore in Tunisia and while Cathage does have some sand, it’s mainly the seafront views that you will want to admire here. Gaze out at the Mediterranean and take it all in.
6. Roman Villas
You can walk through the ruins of the Roman Villas – they might check you have the 10 Denar ticket at the entrance though (they didn’t check mine). It’s like a lost city on the hills and inside the grounds there is also a tunnel full of relics and mosaics.
7. Quartier Magon
Probably the least impressive Roman Ruins of this top 11, is the Quartier Magon down by the sea. Worth a look but not too inspiring!
8. Theatre Romain
The ampitheatre on the edge of town was the crap one – this one is closer to the town centre. Don’t let the name fool you – the Roman Theatre is much grander, bigger, well maintained and cooler. I loved it here – I sat down and wrote my travel notes in the hot sun.
9. Parc Archeologique
Down by the seafront is a park – in here are trees, greenery and yet more scattered Roman Ruins. It’s an odd city walking all over it discovering different parts to it, like piecing together some kind of jigsaw.
10. Carthage Mosque
Bring yourself back to reality and up to date by checking out the Mosque in Carthage. It’s up the hill from the Roman Villas and sits clean and pristine high above the ruins. You can also view the Minaret of the Mosque from the top of Byrsa Hill.
11. Thermes D’Antonin
Last but not least in my top 10 are the Thermes D’Antonin. This is a cool spot – a series of Roman Ruins which were once bathing quarters down by the Mediterranean Sea.
All in all Carthage is a cool place to check out – and try and spend a day here to appreciate it best.
Here are some of my videos from backpacking in Tunisia exploring Carthage: