National Geographic : 1943 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine the land bridge once stood. No wonder it is believed that he who commands the Tunisian shoulder will command the Mediterranean and may command Europe. Looking across this strait, the boy Han nibal swore eternal hatred of the Romans. The man Hannibal ravaged Italy for fifteen years. Then he retreated across this fateful strait and defended his country against Scipio, to be utterly defeated in the end. Superb Carthage, with its untold treasures, its homes of a million people, its stables of war elephants, its military harbor large enough for 220 iron-beaked ships, was com pletely destroyed by invaders from across this strait. And across this strait in more recent times Italians have streamed into Tunis until there are today more Italians than French in this French city. Where the many-oared galleys once fought, the pilots of Flying Fortresses and Liberator bombers are thinking of Rome and Berlin. Americans who remain in Tunisia as part of the army of occupation will find some con solation in the wonders and curiosities of that former seat of world power. Dido's Carthage Today the chief impression you have when standing upon the site of once-mighty Car thage is of nothingness. The grass is green and the goats graze and the view across the Bay of Tunis to Bou Kornine (Two-Horned Mountain) is beautiful. The scene is almost as peaceful and rural as on that day in the ninth century B. c. when that shrewd businesswoman, Queen Dido, bought from the country folk "as much land as could be contained by the skin of an ox" and then, by cutting the oxhide into strips, encircled the entire hill. On this hill she built her city. It expanded to take in neighboring hills and those coastal lowlands in which picturesque serpentine harbors still wind through the rank grass. Nor were the Carthaginians content with this. They conquered Spain, dominated the Mediterranean, took part of Sicily, and threatened Italy. "How could such a great city disappear so completely?" I asked the man standing be side me. He was one of the White Fathers who have had so much to do with the exca vation of the treasures of Carthage.* "It's the fate of the aggressor," said the father. If Carthage had curbed her ambition, she might be alive today. She resolved to crush Rome. Rome resisted, and finally destroyed her dangerous rival in 146 B. c. These successful wars gave Rome herself a taste for aggression and she stirred up enmi ties throughout all Europe, thus preparing the way for her own fall. The Yank on leave in a North Africa once more peaceful will be glad to shake off the ghostly spell of Carthage and visit near-by Tunis. Here there normally are really two cities: a bright, modern, musical French metropolis full of flowers and cafes and fine hotels and Parisian shops, and a walled oriental city of narrow, winding streets, the houses being fre quently built over the streets, turning them into cool caves miles in extent. In these caverns are the souks, the bazaars or markets. The Yank's home folks may pre pare themselves to receive perhaps a copper kettle from the clanging metal market, or dainty slippers of Saffian leather from the Souk of the Women, or a tiny vial of attar of roses from the scented tunnel known as the Souk-el-Attarine, or a ring from the Street of the Jewelers, once the slave market where captured Christians were sold at auction. Next door to Tunisia is Libia, scene of many of General Montgomery's exploits. The easiest way to reach it is along the coast through Sousse, Sfax, and Gabes.f A Desert of Blistering Stones The Libian road from the Tunisian frontier to the key city of Tripoli is wide, paved, and as fine as any road in Europe. Between the road and the Mediterranean are rolling sand dunes, and many a voyager in a cruise ship offshore has written in his diary that he has seen the place where the Sahara meets the sea. But the curious fact about these dunes is that they come not from the desert but from the sea. Sand is washed up on the beach by the waves and then blown inland. Back of these coastal dunes and usually unseen from the ship's deck is a Garden of Eden. It covers fertile slopes that rise finally to the hamada, a desert of stones too hot to walk on at midday. Down this incline run surface rivers during the winter rains and subterranean rivers the rest of the year. * See "Ancient Carthage in the Light of Modern Excavation," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, April, 1924. t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Old-New Battle Grounds of Egypt and Libia," by W. Robert Moore, December, 1940; "Cirenaica, East ern Wing of Italian Libia," by Harriet Chalmers Adams, June, 1930; "Crossing the Untraversed Libian Desert," by A. M. Hassanein, September, 1924.