Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gladiators, Mosaics, Etc. (Saturday, May 8)

After our whirlwind flights to get to Africa and a day to recuperate in Tunis, we took a two-hour train to Sousse, our base of operations for a bunch of sightseeing in the area. We are staying in the medina. We are not doing that ever again (but more on that later).

Today we took a 90-minute louage (a kind of shared taxi) ride to El Jem, the largest and best-preserved Roman ampitheater outside of the Coliseum. Wild. You can see the little staging rooms where the Romans would house, say, lions, or Christians. The rows of (30,000!) seats and stairways are beautifully sculpted, and everywhere are little notches in the marble and brick where ropes or beams must have hung. The vastness is astonishing, and kindof fearsome.It doesn't take too much imagination to picture yourself in front of the screaming hordes.

Afterwards, we walked a short way to an unnamed museum, which houses the most stunning mosaics we have ever seen. The museum is in a restored Roman mansion, with a number of breezy open courtyards and a pool. While the workers and slaves of the time lived near the ampitheater, the wealthy traders of the area lived in this section in lavish homes. It is where it's at. Everybody says the Bardo Museum in Tunis has the best mosaics, but they are wrong. Get thee to El Jem.