On the old train from Tunis to Carthage, we learn that Hannibal station is closed, and are tol dto get off at Dermech instead. It involves a little longer walk through quiet, pleasant streets. We now have more time to anticipate our exciting day: exploring the ruins of Carthage, the famous city on the north coast of Africa. When we reach the top of the Byrsa hill, we pass Saint Louis Cathedral, buy our ticket, and enter the archeological grounds. After a superficial visit to some Roman-era ruins, we decide to take a chronological approach, and head to the Punic quarter. Sacked in 146BCE at the end of the Third Punic War, the Romans burnt the city, pulled its ships out and burnt them as well, and enslaved the population. They filled the ruins with sand, and eventually, built their own city on top when they realised the strategic importance of Carthage in the middle of the Mediterranean and the gateway to northern Africa.
When we reach a platform with one remaining Roman column, the Punic quarter lies right below us. History lessons come back to mind: the wars with the Romans, the epic march on Rome by Hannibal with his elephants and his occupation of large parts of what is now Italy, the fall of Carthage and the legendary sowing the earth with salt by the Romans. The latter might never have happened, though. Fact is, the city was founded by the Phoenicians (traders from the Middle East) in the 7th century BCE, flourished, became one of the largest cities around the Mediterranean, and thus a rival of the Roman Empire. Its fate was sealed by Roman senator Cato, who pushed for war, ending all his speeches by the famous phrase Carthago delenda est, which translates to Carthago must be destroyed - after Rome already won the first two Punic Wars. Rome only went for Carthago after the Carthaginians attacked Massinissa.
We walk to the far end of the platform, step over a boom gate, and descend to the Punic quarter. From here, it is especially easy to see how the Punic city was destroyed and the Romans filled it with sand, and built their own city right on top. Now that the sand that covered the Punic quarter has been removed, we can get an idea of what their houses and shops look like. The streets are straight, the houses rectangular and small. There are wells, and a system to provide water to the houses is still partly visible. We walk the ruins, and come to the towers the Romans built to support their own city on top. Later, after exploring the Roman parts of Byrsa, we go to the tophet, the Punic cemetery where we find old, small tombstones where infants were buried. There is debate whether the Carthaginians had child sacrifices, or whether these were just unfortunate kids who died young. After this second Punic site, we continue exploring the Roman remains in Carthage.
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