Tunisia's stunning cultural heritage in the backseat for now

The world continues to watch as history unfolds in Tunisia through tweets and videos posted on Facebook.  I'm usually more interested in ancient history, but I've been tracking the political situation in Tunisia for a number of years, ever since I began taking students from the American Institute for Roman Culture (AIRC)- College of the Holy Cross semester program in classics, archaeology, and Mediterranean culture there in 2008.

This brief AIRC video details just how the Tunisia trip prominently fits in our program.  It's an exciting foray into a multi-cultural world that compliments our study of Rome.  Tunisia's layered past allows us to examine the history and material culture of the Berber, Phoenician, Roman, Vandal, Byzantine, Arab, Ottoman, and French. I always get excited when I describe the experience to colleagues and friends.  Surprisingly, many well-traveled people haven't been there, though I do my best to steer them there; its people are warm and friendly, and incredible sites are within easy driving distance of one another.

In a few days, we manage to visit 5 of the 6 UNESCO world heritage sites of Tunisia: Amphitheater of El Djem, Carthage (which includes Byrsa hill, port, Antonine baths, tophet sanctuary (recently re-evaluated), Dougga, Kairouan, Medina of Tunis, Punic town of Kerkouane.   Our trip also includes the quarries of Numidian yellow marble (Chemtou), Bulla Regia, Bardo museum (with the best collection of ancient Roman mosaics in the world), Oudina, Maktar, and others.

I've also recently had the occasion to film segments from the History Channel's Ancients Behaving Badly series, with particular focus there on Hannibal and the Carthiginians in Tunis, Carthage, and Kerkouane.  It was great fun, though challenging, given the the 45+ degree Celsius weather in mid-July.

I've expressed to our colleagues and friends in Tunisia our optimism and preoccupation-- and how it's unfortunately impossible to lead a trip there this spring.  I'm currently considering other venues for March-- and it's not easy to match the richness and close proximity of Tunisia to Rome.  In fact, the flight is as close as going from Rome to Palermo. I am tending to look to Sicily (where the AIRC has begun a new project centered in Roman Siracusa-- more on that later) and nearby Malta as an alternative for this year's spring trip, but rest assured, Tunisia, we'll be back! [slideshow]