The Gem of El Djem

Ali and I next traveled to the eastern coast of Tunisia and stayed a night in Monastir. Without knowing what I was getting, I booked an old school all-inclusive resort for the night. And by “old school” I mean a buffet full of somewhat older people wearing cruise gear and jostling for well cocktails. I mean packs of unattended children running about, dipping fingers in the frosting of dessert table cakes. I mean Sysco-quality deep fried calamari that miiiiight have been actual rubber bands dipped in batter. And I mean an Elvis impersonator singing in the garden with a synthesizer. Living large!

Still, it was the BEACH. Beautiful and peaceful and wave-y, and we soaked it up till departing the next morning for…

El Djem

When it comes to El Diem, there’s just nothing for it but to SHOW this place.

I’ve visited it before, but this was Ali’s first time. El Djem is a Roman amphitheatre (remember what I said about theatres versus amphitheatres in the last post??) that is about three-quarters the size of the one in Rome. It’s well-preserved, though you would barely know it as you drive into town – there are no signs pointing the way (I’m beginning to see a pattern here…) And it’s just about completely empty. We saw two other families visiting.

Granted, it was 100 degrees or more, so this is not the best time of year to visit. Still, LOOK at the place!

Not the Bardo, but…

Since last year’s shut-down of Parliament, the Bardo Museum has been shuttered, which is an enormous shame for Ali’s visit and that of thousands of other tourists. It’s a magnificent place with light streaming in from skylights to show the detailed mosaics rescued from all over the country. Fortunately for us, there is a smaller but still jaw-droppingly amazing mosaic museum in the town that houses El Djem. This totally lights my fire, as my camera roll will attest.

I can’t help but think of the faces I saw (on a poster) from the ceiling of Debre Berhan in Ethiopia – the big almondy eyes, the chin indentations, the telling expressions…

Also,

Is anyone else hearing “C’mon, get happeeeeee!” in their heads?

Anyway, birds are cool. And then there are symbols and patterns:

And loads of storytelling. I’m still trying not to take too big a picture – the intricacy of the little tiles (“tesserae” I think) just snares my attention – but some of the scenes are breathtaking too.

Is that one lady making a burger for the guy with the lyre? Is that god’s beard strangely wide at the bottom, or is his face melting? And is it smart to go fishing naked?

On this one, I think I’d just like a headcount. How many beasts are in this mosaic? A centaury-type fellow with a tail and a wolf body, so, one? Or is it a merman riding a dog (so, two) that only has front legs (if that’s the case, why would the merman need a weapon?) Or is the guy the one without legs riding a merwolf (that would be two, right?)?

I guess I’ve done enough blogging for today if that’s the best content I can prepare for you, dear reader. I’ll leave you with a map of the El Djem day drive!

See you for the next installment!

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Blog Comments

Keri- Amazing photos! Many thanks.

Re “birds are cool”: amen.

Re the “burger lady”: I’m guessing she’s the percussion section…? But, based on her limited kit (and odd facial expression), I’m thinking the audience wasn’t thinking Art Blakey or Neil Peart…

Re “naked fishing”: categorically NOT a good plan!

-d

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