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CoralReef

DIY La Goulette to Carthage by Train: Independent Trip Report

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We are huge history buffs, and wanted to see as much as possible of Carthage, at our own pace. So we decided to take the train independently to Carthage. We were very happy with this decision, since we got to see everything leisurely, and without waiting for restrooms or carpet shop tours. Some of the most enjoyable sites we saw were those where the tour buses didn’t even go. I haven’t seen much specific detail posted on how to see Carthage by train including directions, so here’s the scoop.

The hardest part was getting out of the port. The taxi drivers were so annoying! They kept demanding to know our plans, and offering us lower and lower prices for tours. We like to walk and see the streets when we travel, and we didn’t want a driver waiting while we explored leisurely. But they just wouldn’t accept that we weren’t interested. One even followed us to the train station to inform us that we needed Tunisian dinars for the train (which we already knew) and that the banks didn’t open for money exchange for two hours. He wouldn’t leave us alone until he saw that we had located the train station and were getting dinars from an ATM. Then another driver appeared to pester my husband while I withdrew money. They all spoke English, French, and Arabic, so I advised my husband to claim that we spoke only German. This strategy has worked for us many times in Mexico, but what a mistake here! This guy spoke fluent German, too. Aargh.

 

Anyway, assuming you can get past the pesky taxis, here’s how you get to the TGM train for Carthage from the La Goulette port: go out the port gate. Turn left and walk along the wide port street for a couple of short blocks, until you get to a roundabout and can see a bridge just ahead. Turn right onto the street that has a wall running along its right side. (The right turn is just after a big gas station.) Train tracks are on the left and the city wall on the right as you walk along. You will see the train station in a couple of blocks.

To get Tunisian dinars for the train fare, turn right at the train station and go one block into town; there is a prominent ATM at the end of the street. The train fare is less than 2 dinars per person each ride, and we only took it twice, since we found that the Carthage sites are all easily walkable from each other. We spent about 30 dinars all told (including some drinks), and were able to discreetly change the excess back to euros at the shopping building in the port, before we boarded the ship.

We got off the train at the Salambo stop and walked east towards the coast along Avenue Farhat Hached until we saw the signs for Carthage Tophet and/or “Sanctuaire Punique”. You turn left onto Rue Hannibal, go just past the hotel Residence Carthage, and the Tophet entrance is on the right. Here we purchased our combo tickets to all the sites for 8 Tunisian dinars each, plus 1 TD for photography rights. The ticket comes with a helpful map on the back showing how to get to all the sites. However, for better walking directions and historical background, I highly recommend Amanda Hinton’s Blue Guide to Tunisia, pp. 76-92. I think it’s out of print, but you can order it from Amazon or borrow it through Interlibrary Loan. We made a copy of that section, and found it an accurate and useful guide despite being several years old.

We explored the Tophet necropolis, which includes a fascinating Roman underground vault, Punic stelae, and possible remains of human sacrifices. We left just as the first tour buses were arriving, went back out on Rue Hannibal, and walked north a few blocks through charming bougainvillea-lined suburban streets to the circular military harbor of ancient Carthage. The tour buses didn’t stop at this site. It was thrilling to walk along the shore and imagine Carthage’s naval might in the days when hundreds of ships lined the harbor.

We walked back west to the main drag, Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Turn right on this thoroughfare, and in a few blocks you see the Musée Paleochretienne on the left. There are significant Carthaginian and Byzantine ruins, plus a free, clean restroom (but take your own tissues). Unfortunately, the museum was locked, but the ruins and mosaics were interesting.

To get to the next site, the Magon Quarter, go north along Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Turn right when you get to Avenue de la République, which is a beautiful parkway lined with stately palm trees on both sides. At its end, you can see the ocean. We detoured briefly to the lovely seaside promenade, to admire one of the prettiest pieces of Mediterranean shoreline we have ever seen. Then we entered the Magon Quartier and toured its little museum, showcasing the Roman seawall and excavated Carthaginian artisans’ houses. This was another site the buses didn’t visit.

We went back along Avenue de la République, turned right on Rue Septime Sévère, and followed the signs to the Parc des Thermes or Antonine Baths, one of the main attractions, and well populated with tourist buses. Saw the still-impressive remains of the huge baths (4th largest in the whole Roman empire!), as well as Roman houses and mosaics, a Punic burial site, and an underground chapel. This site boasts plenty of restrooms and a snack bar. The Tunisian president’s villa overlooks it—look for the white walls, flag, and armed guards.

The next site is the Villas Romaines or Roman Villas. We went west on Avenue des Thermes d’Antonin past Avenue Habib Bourguiba, then under the railway bridge. This was the only point where the walk was briefly less than comfortable, because there was a short section (10 yards) under the bridge, overgrown with shrubbery, where there wasn’t really a sidewalk and we had to walk with traffic. Take the first right turn after the bridge and follow the signs to the Villas Romaines. This site was great! Almost as impressive as the baths, but we didn’t see one single tour bus here. It was worth touring independently just to get to see this wonderful site. There were well preserved villas and stunning mosaics. Just after you enter, look for a long wall on the left with tunnel-like entrances. It is filled with beautiful mosaics salvaged from the site. Be sure to climb to the top of the hill to see the palatial villa restored to near completion, and the remains of the Odeon. The view from the restored villa’s terrace is breathtaking, and it has one of the best Roman mosaics in existence.

Our guidebook said to go back to the main street to enter the Roman Theater. But from the Odeon hill, we spotted an open gate, which turned out to lead to the Theater. It has been restored to performance readiness, so it was easy to imagine how it looked in Roman times. There are still several rows of the original seating left undisturbed. Winston Churchill spoke here to the Allied troops.

The final Carthaginian site was the Byrsa Hill, where the Punic and Roman governments were located. It’s easy to find by looking for the majestic Cathedral St. Louis at the top of the hill, just south of the Theater. We found that the most direct route was via some concrete steps set into the side of the hill, which you can readily see from the street across from the Theater. The guidebook called it “a stiff walk”, but it was really only about three flights of steps. Go around the Cathedral, admiring its mix of Gothic and Moorish elements, to the terrace and museum entrance. From the terrace, there is a stunning view all the way to the port. There are excavated Carthaginian insulae, and a good museum with a large mosaic floor and several fascinating inscriptions. Also restrooms, snack vendors, taxis, etc.

Finally, we went back down the steps, and down the street to the bottom of the hill, where the Hannibal train station was easy to spot. We could easily have taken the train a few stops north to Sidi Bou Said, but we decided to leave that for another visit. Rode the train back south to La Goulette. The ride was entertaining because the train was full of schoolkids cutting up. There were even some teenaged boys riding the outside of the train and trying to knock each other off. From Goulette Vieille stop, we walked the couple of blocks back to the port, shopped a little while in the terminal building, changed our remaining dinars for euros with a vendor, and boarded the ship.

We had such a great day exploring ancient Carthage at our leisure. It was very easy and cheap and safe; I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in ancient history and able to walk about 4-5 miles over the course of several hours. Tunisia was so much prettier and more charming than I expected. We hope to return some day and spend more time.

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Thanks for the detail, that was great! The Blue Guide that you mentioned also has a really good map of the souk and Tunis. Luckily, our library has it.

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Thanks for the great report. this is a "someday soon" port for us.

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Thank you Susan for posting this! I have used several of your DIY posts from the Med boards and I appreciate the detail you include. As I'm also a huge history buff, I'm going to make sure my next Med cruise includes a visit to Carthage.

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Thanks, folks!

 

Cynthia, I've used your posts, too, and I am so envious of your recent Turkey trip. One of my dreams is to sail the Turquoise Coast of Turkey, but I want to work in Cappadocia somehow, too.

 

Anyone who is interested in history: Tunis is a great port. I was amazed at how beautiful and charming the Carthage area was. My photos don't do it justice, but at least they give you the idea.

 

Jan, I love the Sontag quote!

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