Well we’ve just returned from a wonderful week in Tunisia en famille. Hence the cameleopard (as they were once called) last week. Fascinating place – hard to believe sometimes that we were on the same continent as our old haunts further south. But it was a great holiday and our first experience of being mad and booking just a few days before with LastMinute.com.
A real highlight (apart from the sea and sand and reasonably warm sun) was the Bardo Museum and the ancient Carthaginian & Roman ruins around Tunis. The museum contains the largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world and would take days to take in. We only had a couple of hours. But was striking to see one room dedicated to North Africa’s Christian era, when the art of mosaic making continued (the whole artform was in fact invented in Tunisia and 2 of the 3 schools in the whole Roman empire were to be found in Roman Carthage, now a suburb of Tunis).
It was a reminder of the extent of the Christian world before the forces of Islam took over 3 or 4 centuries later. Seems strange to think of that now, since it is such a steadfastly Muslim region. Nothing is set in stone – and there is absolutely no reason why the west should continue to be as influenced by Christianity as it has been. In fact the signs are there that the influence is disappearing fast. And yet one hears of people still coming to a personal relationship with Christ all over, and even in the Middle East and North Africa. So yet again, nothing is set in stone – there is no intrinsic reason why the Middle East should remain so avowedly Muslim either – impossible though that might be to imagine now. Perhaps this ancient (c5th Century) Christian Baptistry preserved and intact in the Bardo Museum might find a use again…
PS Being a former classics nut the REAL excitement was to see the only remaining mosaic portrait of Virgil, the Roman poet of the Aeneid (appropriately found in Roman Carthage because of the story of Dido in Book IV). I’d never taken in that it was in Tunisia – to turn a corner and then recognise was a huge thrill. Ok i know i’m weird, but please humour these little foibles.