Thursday, April 5, 2012

What did the Romans ever do for Tunisia? Bulla Regia, that's what!

Detail of an underground mosaic, Bulla Regia
If you’ve just climbed to the top of the Roman amphitheatre at El Djem or are fresh from wandering across the seemingly endless ruins of Dougga, then your first feeling on arriving at Bulla Regia is likely to be one of disappointment.

It’s true, the theatre at Bulla Regia is impressive and the Memmian baths are immense. But, but... well, the Roman remains elsewhere in Tunisia are so outstanding that dusty old Bulla doesn’t quite seem to match up. So, why not push on back to the coast for a quick dip in the Med?

Because, if you do, then you’ll miss one of the most unique ancient sites anywhere in the world. If I had to make a choice between visiting, say, the Colosseum in Rome, England’s Stonehenge or Tunisia’s Bulla Regia, then it’s Bulla that’s going to win hands down every time. 

Because, if you take a closer look, you’ll discover a site that is, quite simply, mesmerising. 

And, if that chap with the bucket of water and a dirty sponge proposes to show you the way, even though you shouldn’t really be encouraging him, take him up on his offer.

Which way should you go?

Any way, just so long as it’s down, down, down!

Detail of an underground mosaic, Bulla Regia
For the delights of Bulla Regia are hidden from view, because this is a city where many of the houses were constructed underground. But these aren’t caves hewn out of the rock - unlike at nearby Matmata, which until recently housed several Troglodyte dwellers. No, these are "proper" Roman villas.

Imagine the type of upper-class Roman house that you might have seen in Rome or at Pompeii, then simply transfer it lock, stock and barrel underground - complete with columns and kitchens (you can still see the soot deposits from the ovens), fountains and pools, bedrooms and dining rooms. And, perhaps most amazing of all, carpets of mosaics - some of the Roman world’s most beautiful, most captivating chefs d'oeuvre.

Detail of an underground mosaic, Bulla Regia

And this is where the man with the bucket comes in handy (although, as I’ve already said, he shouldn’t really be doing this). Bulla Regia is dusty, and dust greys out the colours of the underground mosaics and erases their outlines.

So what does our man do for a dinar or two? He dampens the mosaics with his bucket and sponge - and, hey presto, as you can see from the photos, the mosaics then shine and glisten as though they were laid yesterday rather than 2,000 or so years ago.


For reasons that we have never understood, Bulla Regia is not inscribed on UNESCO’s world heritage list; for Tunisian sites that have been awarded this status, see the UNESCO website.

1 comment:

  1. I agree, Bulla is an exceptional site and it's a shame that most Brits see Tunisia simply as a sun and sand destination.