Left Guelma and headed south. Must admit after yesterday’s slight dashing of high hopes I decided that I was going to approach today ill-informed as to exactly what we were off to visit. Risky strategy although it is actually less risky when you travel with lerned scholars, as they retain all the information (and more) that you would otherwise be scrabbling to find amongst the pages of numerous books. But it worked. Head was suitably blown.
We headed south of Guelma. Stopped off on the way to buy a picnic lunch. These random moments in towns are all memorable. We arrive, pile out of the bus and for half an hour the locals get to watch a bunch of tourists race around trying to find the right shop for the right ingredient. Everything is new to us and things like local graffiti, a sheep in the back of a battered truck, the strange colours of fizzy pop drinks, the display of bread and the young men kicking around on the streets are all intriguing. Meanwhile, the locals look on, clearly enjoying the random entertainment we reciprocally provide.
The first site was Khemissa. Nothing in the guide book, as I took a sneaky peek (am not a massive risk taker evidently). But as we rounded the corner and took our first glimpse of the stunning orange coloured stone set against lush green grass, a Simpsons-esque blue sky with white fluffy clouds I decided that this site was going to be a photographer’s dream and that bearing in mind it was a Roman town I would identify the salient landmarks on my own and thus I departed from the group and headed off to explore.
Set on a hill but spilling onto the plain below, this site was already dramatic but it’s position in the surrounding landscape was truly glorious. The archaeology seemed to grow out of the hillside and the view from the small old forum which was perched on a terrace and bounded on one side by an appropriately small basilica, was simpy breathtaking. Clambering over ancient ruins reminds me of my family holidays when I was young and sometimes it is more the experience of the place and its effect on me that means more to me than wanting to know the minutiae of detail of every stone and inscription. It reminds me of my youth.
Dropping down the steep slopes I meet two other travellers busying themselves with unravelling the residential quarter of the site. I pick up snippets of their thoughts, we discuss a reused block with an inscription that had been part hollowed out into two troughs, and then I was on my way. What a priviledge for me to be able to dip into moments like that.
We meet for our lunch in the Roman theatre (after drinking the cold coffee I had usurped in the morning) and then we are on our way to the next site of Mdaurouch. Again, no entry in the guide book. The guide book is officially useless. Not as perfectly situated as the last site but Mdaurouch won on scale. It resembled a graveyard in that the remains, as viewed from afar, consisted mainly of upright blocks which form the framework of the wall construction. So each upright looked like a tombstone. It made the site a little impenetrable and difficult to understand but once we started walking the joy was in the detail and the walk.
Fun drive home to Constantine which involved passing a sign indicating we were 100km from our destination and then 30 mins of driving later another sign indicating we were still 100km from Constantine. We broke open the bacardi and suspicious fruit juice cocktail at that point.