Limin Hersonissou (Chersonesus)

Hersonnisou is something of a surprise. Known mostly as a tourist resort and modern town, few of the foreign visitors seem to be aware that they are amid the ruins of an ancient Cretan, then Greek. then Roman, then Byzantine town. Indeed, it only lost a level of precedence when the Arabs invaded and founded Heraklion (Chandax).

Chersonesus was clearly a thriving city even before th Roman era, and only increased in population  and importance throughout Roman history and into the Byzantine era, when the place was a bishopric. When the Arabs invaded and founded Chandax down the coast a little way, Chersonesus quickly faded from the scene, spending a long time as a tiny, coastal town, ony growing to prominence again in the 20th century.

There are three levels of remains to be seen in Hersonissou. The first are the famous things, mentioned on maps and signs. These include a well-preserved fountain next to the seafront with fish designs picked out in mosaic, the stonework of the Roman port, visible just below the waterline close to said fountain, and the late Roman/Byzantine basilica on the headland above the harbour. This last was dusty and overgrown during my 2003 visit, but was sealed of for work in 2015, so should soon be well looked after.

The second level are the things you can find out if you do some research. The Roman theatre is visible on Dimokratias street. It is rather hard to make sense of until you look at it on google earth, but when work is complete here, it should be an impressive monument. Some miles inland, in the valley on the way to Potamies, you can discern the remains of the aqueduct that fed the city, including ruined bridges crossing the valley. At the far (eastern end of the city) the small church of Agios Nikolaos sits amid hotels and waterparks, but amid the low preserved ruins of a Byzantine basilica.

The third level is the most fascinating for me. Wherever there is a vacant lot or scrub land in the town, work has been done over the last half century to bring the civic remains to light. There are at least half a dozen overgrown areas of ruins that clearly display streets, houses, bath suites, shops, basilicas and the like. There are numerous of these at the town’s western end, mostly around Dimokratias, Sanoudaki and Dedalou streets. Basically, anywhere at the northwest end of the town, between the main drag and the sea, you will find fascinating areas of consolidated ruins just between hotels by the side of the road.

Limin Hersonissou is a town with a secret. Go there and stay there. It makes a good base to visit the ruins of the island, and a few days there will allow you plenty of time to explore the interesting byways of the time, and walk among the ruins.

Remains: 3/5    Atmosphere: 3/5   Access: 4/5    Overall: 3/5

Oudna (Uthina)

Tunisia abounds with Roman sites. Some are obscure and small (Pupput) – some are immense and famouse (Dougga). And then there are a few that are simply astounding places that are virtually unknown to tourists. Such is Dougga. We spent several hours there and the only other living things we saw were a small team of archeologists and a recalcitrant donkey.

In Tunisia, Roman sites whose Latin names start with ‘Th’ (and particularly ‘Thu’) are names that have come down from earlier Numidian settlements, and so their origin is obvious. See Thugga, Thuburbo Maius, Thubursicum etc. Thus Oudna might be seen as a later settlement. There is evidence that Oudna was originally a fountation of settled veterans the 3rd legion, given a stone that references them visible at the Oudna farmhouse and the Augustan name ‘Colonia Pietas Iulia Tertiadecimanorum Uthina‘. The city grew in prominence until the third century when it was attacked and never fully recovered. In the Byzantine era, the capitol was formed into a powerful fortress.

Oudna’s most notable attraction is its amphitheatre, which is being reconstructed with relative sympathy compared with, say Istanbul’s walls. The amphitheatre is a stunning sight and makes the visit worthwhile just on its own. Add to that several townhouses with mosaics and baths, a theatre currently little more than a depression in the ground, a ruined cistern or two, the capitol and forum buildings, two public baths and various odd ruins jutting from the undergrowth, and Oudna is a joy to explore. The forum/capitol area is an impressive survival. The ‘Great baths’ were closed for excavation while I was there, but their scale is impressive, especially given that what is left is the fragments after a stray bomb strike in world war 2.

Not far from the site itself is the line of one of the most intact and impressive aqueducts I have seen. This channel, which ran from Zaghouan in the south to Carthage in the north, over 80 kilometers, is at its most impressive around Oudna.

The loneliness of the site adds to its draw. Never devote less than half a day to it. You cold wander the place for hours, finding fascinating nooks and crannies. And the rural setting is beautiful, with the Djebel Zaghouan rising blue-gray in the distance above the fields. Oudna is a highlight of Tunisia for me. It’s only negative is ease of visiting. Taxi, Louage or hire car is the only feasible possibility.

Remains: 5/5    Atmosphere: 5/5   Access: 2/5    Overall: 5/5