When you hear this phrase, the “bread basket” of the Roman Empire, a panorama of beautiful travel photos may spring to mind, from Greece, Turkey, Spain…
Surprisingly, these are the wrong postcards. The “bread basket” of the Roman Empire was their provinces in North Africa, covering vast swatches of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. While today’s Sahara desert is rapidly expanding, there are still areas of these countries where you can get an idea of the fertile allure that it had for the Romans.
Learning about the Roman Empire in Africa may seem somewhat unconventional. Yet, isn’t that what Travelhoppers is all about—finding unconventional and amazing travel experiences? These awe-inspiring sites may be undervalued, but they offer a unique experience not available in Europe. First, Roman sites in North Africa are not major tourist attractions. They are often out of the way and, thus, you may have the entire site to yourself on your own terms, without barriers or restrictions.
Moreover, there are often colorful locals waiting to great you. These crafty vendors can have some incredible treasures, like pieces of Roman pottery or Roman coins. Buy if you’re intrigued—the majority of pieces are authentic, and the governments rarely care about you taking these dime-a-dozen artifacts out of the country. Even if you don’t want to take something home, it’s far more interesting to see these things in your hand, rather than behind museum glass.
Lastly, there’s no better way to get a sense of the reach of the Roman Empire than to see it in North Africa. Their ingenuity and consistency stand out, as each site shows you unique features built around a common model.
So where are the best places to go for a little Rome in Africa?
There are three outstanding sites in North Africa—two in Tunisia, and one in Morocco. All are great day trips away from major cities.
Dougga, like Volubilis, is a destination, not a site that tourists happen upon accidentally. Therein lies its magic—it is perfectly situated so that modern civilization is out of sight and out of mind. To get there, savor the 1.5 hour louage ride from Tunis (a louage is a large passenger van that acts as a long range taxi. It’s an affordable way to interact with the locals and get to more out of the way places). The louage will drop you off at the beginning of a dusty road lined with olive trees. A five minute walk will take you back two thousand years, to a thriving Roman city surrounded by lush countryside. The site of Dougga is spread out, leaving you free to stumble upon the next exciting discovery. Dougga is truly the perfect day trip away from Tunis, and the twenty-first century.