National Geographic : 1943 Jul
Americans on the Barbary Coast And the final shock, after a short train trip from the burning sands to chilly Batna, is to wade through snow a foot deep! It was on this high and frosty plateau that the Romans preferred to build their cities. We pass the Roman arches of Lambese, which mark the headquarters of the famous Third Legion. We reach the amazing ruins of the city of Timgad, founded by Trajan A. D. 100, de stroyed by Berbers in the sixth century, again destroyed in the seventh century, buried for twelve centuries under the deposits of torrents, and finally dug up by the French. Here the life of a Roman town may be studied in detail. Crossing Tunisia We come to the end of Algeria and the bor der of Tunisia. The borderland is a howling wilderness. But British and Americans plowed through it. Before they cut the road deep and clear with their trucks and tanks, crossing Tunisia by this route was a job for an explorer. The trail was a vagrant wisp that lost itself time and again and was likely to bring its follower to grief in the savage mountains around Tebessa. Fired with enthusiasm to explore this pos sibility of a short passage to Libia, I set out by car one stormy February day with an American companion. From Tebessa the dirt road started out bravely in the direction of our goal, Feriana, beyond the mountains. The road seemed quite reasonable-it had two definite ruts. As we went endlessly on, it grew less rea sonable. When day faded, so did the road, and we frequently brought up before a bush or great rock, the plain inference being that we had lost our way. Then I would walk back through the blind ing sleet and endeavor, with a flashlight, to find the lost trail. At last, when it was lost irretrievably and we had resigned ourselves to the prospect of sleeping the snowstorm through in the open car, we heard the bark of a dog. We blew the horn. Dogs came from nowhere. After a time Arabs followed them with lanterns. The car was stuck in its tracks. We walked after the Arabs through ghostly Roman ruins to a square black fort. Inside, it was a cold, bleak vault of stone. There were no windows. The wind whistled in through gun slits in the thick stone walls. Now and then over the storm came the yip of a jackal and once the quavering human wail of a hyena. Since uprisings of the tribes were now rare, there were no French soldiers in the fort; only half a dozen Arabs. They gave us all the comforts the place af forded. We were seated on sheepskins on the floor. A flicker of fire was started on the great hearth. The lantern gave a smoky light. We conversed by means of a little Arabic and much pantomime. We were told that it was impossible to reach Feriana by this route. We would have to go back to Tebessa and try again. But they would not think of our going until morning. The conversation lagged and the tomblike room grew more chilly in spite of the fire. We could hardly hope for food in such a place, so the surprise was all the more de lightful when it came. A huge bowl of disjointed chicken was placed on the floor. The Arabs and their guests sat in a circle and plucked out frag ments with their fingers. A cartwheel of barley bread was passed around. It was only half an inch thick, but a foot and a half in diameter. We broke off pieces. To the hungry, it was delicious. The food was washed down with drafts of muddy water from a goatskin. Preparations for bed were simple. We lay down on one sheepskin and drew another over us. When morning glimmered in through the gun slits, the snow had turned to cold rain. We struggled back to Tebessa, frequently getting out in the downpour to push the car out of a mudhole. Our passion for explora tion was satisfied. We never did get to Feriana. Shoulder of Tunisia Promises Bridge to Europe The great shoulder of Tunisia jutting into the Mediterranean has as its epaulet the glit tering city of Tunis and the neighboring naval base of Bizerte (page 8). From this vantage the United Nations hope to shoulder their way into Europe.* Nature had the idea first, for in prehistoric times the Mediterranean was bridged by land at this point and men and animals went back and forth. The old bridge, now known as Ad venture Bank, lies today about 1,300 feet under the surface. This is a slight depth com pared with the greatest depth of the Medi terranean, more than 13,000 feet. Sicily is less than a hundred miles from the African coast. No wonder the bridge of planes now covers this narrow strait where * See "Time's Footprints in Tunisian Sands," by Maynard Owen Williams, March, 1937.