After leaving Kairouan, Ben drove us about 65 miles south to the outskirts of the town of Sbeitla. Here, seemingly in the middle of nowhere are the ruins of the Roman city of Sufetula. I've read that the Roman's ability to maximize usage and conservation of water and the soil proved perfect for growing olives. Sufetula became a prosperous Roman town. One can imagine what this town looked like in it's heyday based on ruins left.....
There's a theatre, which I read was in a poor state, but looked decently restored and preserved to me.
Sufetula's most mentioned ruins are the three temples, which are indeed very dramatic looking.
From the left to right, the temples of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva. During the second century, these were considered among the most beautiful in the world.
After the decline of the Roman Empire, Sufetula was still doing well under Byzantine Christian rule. So well, that Gregory the Patrician, for a number of reasons, revolted against Constantinople and declared himself "Emperor" in 646. It wasn't to last very long as the Arabs invaded and Gregory was killed in battle.
Notice anything? Much like El Djem, we were the only people visiting...... As I pressed Ben on this, I was told, "the Europeans come, they stay on all inclusives, they see ruins in Rome, so they don't think these are worth a visit. The resorts have everything for them, so they think, why leave? The one thing they do want to see is the Sahara, you'll see them there."
Right in back of the temples are the ruins of several churches. In the ruins of one of them you can see the baptismal font, like the one we saw in the Bardo Museum.
Walking down the "streets" was a surreal experience, just the sound of the wind blowing through the grass, birds, and our voices among the ruins.
Walking up the path we came to....well, what looked like an empty field.
We were told that under the soil lies an Amphitheatre. Hopefully, it'll see the light of day again....
On the way out, we checked out the Byzantine "house", which seemed like more of a fort. You had to go up stairs in order to enter.
The place felt really cramped, no windows means that it must have been pretty dark. Small rooms, some of which looked like held livestock, in a fortress like structure, just seemed to reflect the times......fear, paranoia, a silo mentality.....a feeling of impending doom hanging over you.
Based on history, I guess the fears were well founded as the Arabs destroyed the town in 647AD.
From Sbeitla, we headed off to Tozeur, where we'd stop for the next two evenings. Along the way, we passed a number little shops lining streets. It was an interesting sight; the shops would be grilling meat out front, there'd be a sheep's pelt or two hanging out front, we even saw one where a sheep was being dispatched in front of the shop....the ultimate sign of freshness! The Missus asked Ben to stop at one of these shops....for lunch. A great idea! So driving down one of the roads, Ben picked this one as there seemed to be a good number of customers.
So, what we soon figured, the lamb pelt signifies that the lamb was killed fresh, the more pelts the better....how many lambs you went through during the day. If you enlarge the picture above, you'll see the cuts of lamb....these guys are awesome butchers, hanging from the ceiling. You walk on in, pick your cut, and how much of it you wanted. This place had been busy, only leg cuts left, but with Ben's help we got a half kilo, enough for a nice meal.
As the folks went to work on our lamb, we took a seat.....this being Tunisia, a whole baguette was soon provided.
Along with two different types of mechouia.....the type we were used to having, covered with a nice layer of olive oil.
Which was nicely flavored...this had some seasoning to it.
And a wonderful, smokey rustic version that was my favorite to date.
For me this had the complete package......onions for pungency, tomatoes for some acid, there was some spice to it. The roasted peppers added a nice smokey component. The Missus told me, "this would make a killer salsa..." Which cracked me up; we started calling it salsa from here on out. Even the harissa tasted like it had a bit more bite.
Meanwhile, the folks went about cutting our portion from the leg hanging on the ceiling.
I'd been wondering about the unique smell and flavor of items that we'd had grilled....I was told that they grill over olive wood, which imparts a unique flavor to the food.
Soon enough our lamb arrived.....
This was amazingly tender....I really had a hard time believing it was grilled leg of lamb.....juicy, tender, simply seasoned with salt. It was my favorite meal in Tunisia to date.
After the meal, Ben told us it was nice that we actually spent money supporting the local economy, not only in the resorts. I recall telling the Missus that all these places would need is for somebody "like Bourdain coming here and saying how great it really it is for it to become chic....." Of course we still hadn't met a single American during our entire trip yet!