The New York Times, January 13, 1879, p.2:|
ANCIENT AFRICAN CITIES.TUNIS AND CARTHAGE.
TO TUNIS BY STEAMER--THE PALACE OF THE BEY--
A DISMAL GRAVE-YARD--CARTHAGE AND ITS CURIOSITIES--
VESTIGES OF ANTIQUITY.
From a Special Correspondent.
TUNIS, Monday, Dec. 16, 1878.
I am here at last, but not without difficulty, Algeria being one of those places which are much easier to get into than to get out of.
The interests of the public have certainly been admirably consulted in the arrangement of the local communications, the Biskra stage reaching Batna exactly one hour after the departure of the diligence for Constantine, and the Constantine train getting down to Philippville in excellent time to give the traveler a fine view of his boat steaming leisurely out of the harbor. But despite these considerate arrangements, the inhabitants have been unreasonable enough to complain, and even to draw up a formal petition which may possibly produce some change when the authorities have time to look at it.
Of the intermediate port of Bona, little need be said, except that it forms the sixth of the "uniform series" of seaboard towns, described in my letter of Dec. 7. It must be owned, however, that the last two towns of this series are a decided improvement upon the other four. Bona has actually advanced so far as to possess a handsome stone quay, where one may step ashore without fear of clamorous boatmen, whose ignorance of the laws of physical science makes them contemplate thrusting a man into 20 boats at once.
At Philippeville again, where no such quay exists, the authorities have hit upon the ingenious plan of deputing an uncompromising old gentleman in a sail-cloth cape to receive the local boat-hire from every passenger before embarking, thus leaving the boatmen themselves no chance of extorting a sou, which may account for their wearing, one and all, the dejected look of men who feel that their life is a failure.
From Bona to Tunis is only one day's voyage, although, in this glorious weather, no one would be likely to regret its lasting thrice as long, especially as our saloon party are all old travelers, and very pleasant, sociable fellows. For a wonder, we have on board neither that troublesome "autocrat of the breakfast table," who must always have everything his own way, nor that still more objectionable individual, whose mission is, apparently, to roam over the whole ship, from stem to stern, asking the meaning of everything he sees, and plaguing the Captain and officers, when at their very busiest, with ingeniously trivial questions.
I remember one of these pests on the voyage from the Cape Verde Islands to Brazil, who crowned his performances by getting hold of the Captain's sextant and pulling it about, saying he was "making an observation," whereupon the Captain made another which I had better not repeat.
Tunis, though deprived of its most lucrative trade by the suppression of piracy, has still a considerable traffic, carried on chiefly by the Jews, who form at least one-fifth of its 120,000 inhabitants. The city itself, with the exception of a few handsome streets, near the main railway depot, is merely the "Arab quarter" of Algiers over again; but the approach from the sea forms an unsurpassed picture. In the brightness of the early morning you glide into a deep, smooth, land-locked bay, flanked on one side by the towering peaks of a magnificent range of mountains, and on the other by a succession of low green slopes, in the hollow of which the broken remains of a splendid resevoir are all that is left to show where Carthage once stood.
Across the deep blue of the bay, like a bar-sinister drawn athwart some brilliant eustacheon, lies the sandy shoal that separates the open water from the shallow lagoon on which Tunis rests; while the little town of Goletta, on a low, promontory midway along the great crescent, throws its dazzling whiteness into the panorama, although a small round-shouldered fort, through whose embrasures a few rusty guns peep timidly, as if in terror lest some one should come and fire them, is now the sole representative of the terrible batteries which Admiral Blake's cannon blew to pieces in 1648.
A 25 minuntes' run by train along the sandy beach of the lagoon, in a queer little car, with a railed gallery slong either side of it, brings you to Tunis itself, which lies along the level shore in one great mass of white, like a drift of new-fallen snow.
The Bev's country palace of Bardo, four miles from the town, has a high reputation as one of the local sights; but, in strict justice, one can only say, "There was nothing to see, and I saw it. Any one who has visited a decayed mansion in the Faubourg St. Germain, at Paris, in which a few old family portraits and tapestries still lingered as remnants of its former splendor, can imagine the interior for himself; while the exterior, with its bare white walls and gaping doorways, looks exactly like a railway station smitten with leprosy.
The most picturesque sight of all is precisely that which no one ever notices, viz., the great native cemetary outside the town, on the slope of the ridge which overhangs the lower extremity of the bay. On the brightest and clearest morning that bare, bleak hill-side, with its countless graves, would look gloomy enough; but seen beneath the fast-falling shadows of a December night, its desolation becomes absolutely overwhelming.
The jagged rocks on one side, shelving steeply away down to the sandy shore; the ancient Roman wall on the other, looming out against the darkening sky in gaunt and ghastly ruin; the wilderness of broken headstones, crumbling tombs, low, white domes showing spectrally through the deepening gloom, with their one narrow entrance yawning black and grim in the centre; the dismal "Salt Lake" glimmering faintly amid the darkness far below; the Plain of Carthage in the distance, with all its fearful memories; the dead, utter silence, broken only by the shriek of some passing nightbird, all combine to form the wildest and most dreary panorama imaginable, in the presence of which the hideous fancies of Eastern mythology, the ghoul, the vampire, the afrit, appear not merely possible, but perfectly natural.
CARTHAGE, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 1878.
The New-York of antiquity, as Carthage may fairly be called, is so essentially a thing of the past that to approach it by railway appears quite a solecism. Rome and Damascus are still living cities, and there is nothing unnatural in entering one by train, or the other by stage; but it certainly does seem incongruous to rattle up in a well-cushioned steam-car, with a first-class ticket in one's pocket, to the site of a capital whose independent existence ended 2,000 years ago.
Nevertheless, the spot is well worth visiting, if only for the sake of the cordial welcome and inexhaustible information given to all comers by good Father Bresson, of the French Mission, whose neat little Chapel of St. Louis, with its low white wall and embowering foliage, marks the spot where the last of the crusading Kings of France perished fruitlessly in 1270.
From this central point, once the actual citadel of Carthage, what is left of the famous city may be taken in at a glance. In the garden of the chapel itself, a few uneven blocks of fire-charred stone mark the site of the Temple of Æsculapius, which the last defenders of Carthage fired over their own heads when all was lost.
In the summit of the same ridge, one solitary fragment of crumbling masonry represents the Palace of Dido. The Temple of Jupiter, where Hannibal swore his fatal oath of eternal enmity to Rome, shows its half-destroyed foundation through heaps of rubbish, a little to the right; while all around the base of the hill lie, thick as hail, the smooth, round sling-stones that dealt death among the Roman legionaries as they came charging up the slope on a bright Summer morning in 146 B. C.
Far out on the plain, the course of Adrian's aqueduct is marked by a line of broken arches, and a little Arab village stands on the spot where Regulus fought his last battle, while a vast hollow on either side of the railway betrays the site of the famous Circus where the "Martyrs of Carthage" died for their faith.
This smooth plateau sweeping down to the sea, so thickly strewn with ruins that every step crushes some fragment of the ancient city, was once the fashionable quarter of the Punic beau monde, traversed by the Carthagenian Broadway, the Via Cœlestis, leading to the great theatre, whose circular basement is still visible beside the broken remnants of the Gymnasium.
On the brow of the hill above still linger a few traces of the fort that defended the harbor, and below it, last and grandest of all, is the splendid resevoir whose mighty arches, overshadowing the deep, still water beneath, have all the effect of a Gothic cathedral built over a Venetian canal.
But it behooves me to close my chronicle and make haste on board, for the wind is already rising, and before we reach Corsica most of my fellow-passengers will probably realize to the full the impromptu version of Partant pour la Syrie, wherewith I startled our French officers last night:
Partant pour l'Algerie|
Le jeune et simple Dunois;
Son billet il a pris,
Et payé cher, ma foi!
"Ecoute doune, O bon Dieu,"
Il prie en s'embarquant,
"Fais que le ciel soit blen,
Et pas un souffle de vent."
Les vagues roulent ca et la,
Dunois se sentit mal;
Il va tout droit en bas,
Le visage triste et pâle.
"Qu' une fois j'atteigue la terre,"
Il crie en vomissant,
"Je n'irai plus en mer,
Pas même pour dix mille francs!"
[unsigned, but written by DAVID KER.]
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