Saturday, March 20, 2010

Tunisia: A Rich and Lengthy Heritage

Yes, the 100% Tunisian Olive Oil Trade Mission has been the experience of a lifetime.

Before getting to olive oil, food and wine, any discussion of Tunisia must begin with the people and their rich cultural heritage. Tunisians are kind, giving, passionate, and welcoming. They make you feel right at home. One of their many mules would be helpful to transport these gifts home to D.C. To understand the people of Tunisia (and olive oil), you must look to their proud and lengthy heritage. Next to Tunisia, Europe is a pup, and America is not even a glimmer in its mother’s eye. Upon arrival, the Phoenicians planted the first olive trees 3000 years-ago. Apparently, there is a 2,500 year-old tree, which we will see on our next trip. The 1000 year-old tree at Fendri Farms had enough “WOW” for me.

The Phoenicians, Byzantines, Carthaginians, Romans, and the French add layers and layers of rich Tunisian cultural heritage. For example, Thuburbo Majus, which we visited on our first day, was the ancient Roman capital city in North Africa. Unlike other Roman ruins that I have visited in the past, less than 10% of the 40 hectares (98 acres) were roped off to the public. You can walk amongst and upon them, touching and feeling as you go. Never have I sensed the presence and energy of ancient Rome like this.

There are the larger ruins at Dougga, but they will be saved for the next trip. The largest and best-preserved ruins outside of Rome reside in this small North African country on the Mediterranean Sea, cradled between Algiers from the west and Libya in the south. This is the gateway to the Mediterranean Sea, which explains its popularity among conquerors throughout history.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the people collected pieces of Roman architechural wonder to build the famous, magnificent mosque in Kairouan (photo). The spread of Islam throughout North Africa and into Europe has its roots in this mosque. Kairouan is considered one of the four Holy cities of this part of the world, along with Mecca (Saudia Arabia), Medina (Saudia Arabia) and Jerusalem (Israel). Interestingly, Medina also refers to old-walled city center in Tunisian cities.

This richness can be conveyed best through photos, so check out the pics at

Next…olive oil, food and wine….

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