National Geographic : 1924 Apr
ANCIENT CARTHAGE IN THE LIGHT OF MODERN EXCAVATION BY COUNT BYRON KHUN DE PROROK FEW sites of antiquity have a more illustrious history than the penin sula on which lie the accumulated ruins of the dead cities of Carthage. Phoenicians, Berbers, Numidians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantine crusaders, and, lastly, the Arabs have all left their traces, and to-day in the strata of thirty centuries lie the mute evidences of long racial warfare and the dethronement of past splendors. Here, where peace now reigns over the marble dust, is a natural beauty and gran deur equal to any of the famous scenes along the Mediterranean shore, and the panorama viewed from Cape Carthage explains Queen Dido's selection of the site, in the ninth century B. C., for the first Punic city of Carthage. From the summit of the ancient hill called Byrsa (meaning "hide," and remi niscent of the Dido story of the bull skin, see page 398) is unfolded the landscape which was once the scene of the great tragedy of the Mediterranean. To the east lies the magnificent Gulf of Tunis, of azure blue shading off into emerald green near the shores (see map, page 394). On the opposite bank rise the majestic twin summits of the sacred mountain of the Carthaginians, the Bou-Kornein (see page 399). There stood the temple dedi cated to Baal, but only a few stones mark the spot where the flames of votive offer ings once paid homage to the insatiable Phoenician gods. To the south, in an amphitheater sur rounded by purple mountains, its hundred minarets reflected in the Tunis lagoon, lies "the White Mantle of the Prophet," as the Arabs call the city of Tunis to-day (see Color Plates, pages 415 to 422). The picturesque village of Sidi-bou Said crowns the northern promontory of Cape Carthage (see illustration, page 305). It looks somewhat like a white clove, the sacred symbol of the Cartha ginians, for its roofs and domes spread out like wings above the blood-red preci pices that stand sentinels above the en trance to the Gulf of Tunis. This is the scene so often gazed upon by Iido, IPyrrhus, lasdrubal, Ilamilcar, Hannibal, Scipio, Cresar, Cyprian, Au gustine, Genseric, and St. Louis, and its history is made still more eloquent by the resurrection of its buried ruins. The excavation of Carthage is diffi cult because of the great topographical changes that have taken place since Punic days. For these changes the Medjerda River is responsible to a considerable de gree, as its alluvial deposits have en croached upon a large part of the penin sula, completely covering a portion of land which in all probability was once occupied by the city. To-day the Arabs still call these marshes Bahar el Azrag, meaning "the Blue Sea." WIIEREI TIIHE MIGHTY FLEETS OF TUE CANAANITES ANCIIORED From motion-picture films taken by air plane last summer it is quite evident that there are vast submarine walls at Cape Kamart, to the northwest of the penin sula (see map, page 394). Excavations at this point, it is believed, will throw some light on the old baffling mystery as to the site of the Punic ports, where the mighty merchant fleets of the Canaanites plied to and fro. (As may be remem bered, the Phoenician, whose Roman name was "Punicus," was a native of Canaan, in the lowlands of Palestine, prior to the invasion of the Jews.) According to the descriptions of Ap pian and other Roman historians, we know the ports to have been circular at one time, with the admiral's military pal ace in the center, and at another period quadrilateral. It is said that as many as 220 galleys could be anchored at one time in the harbor. Actually a series of har bors, they were of imposing architecture and were marked off by gigantic columns, between which the ships were moored. The sea has risen three and one-half yards since Roman days, and there are many ruins under water in the gulf and at La Marsa, north of the rebuilt city.