I have been intending to go to El Jem for quite some time but being up…
Beja sits on the lower slopes of the Khroumirie Mountains between the Mediterranean coast and the Medjerdah River. It is about 109km west of Tunis and is sometimes known as Bedja or Bajah. It lies on the green slopes of Djebel Acheb surrounded by fertile land. Beja has long been a collection and distribution centre for the agriculture produced in the surrounding area, making it a place of wealth and prosperity.
Beja was built as a military town, laid out in a uniform grid pattern, but has since developed into a charming place to visit with some interesting archaeological remains.
The simple white-washed houses with their red roofs contract sharply with the surrounding green fields and hillside. There is an Islamic style church in the central square and a local medina situated behind it, one of Tunisia’s most authentic.
The attractive minaret of the Great Mosque is red with white tracery detail and is designed in Almohad style. The former most important shrine of Sidi Abdel Qadar is now used as a kindergarten and the former French church is a book fair.
The Old Town remains almost untouched and is very interesting to explore on foot. It has numerous mosques along its bustling streets which are lined with shops. Men gather to smoke and talk beneath shady trees in the town square. In front of the House of the People is the small mausoleum of Sidi Bou Arbaa. Sights to look out for are the remains of the ancient gate (Bab el Ain) at the end of Rue Kheireddine and the nearby ancient water fountain. In the western quarter are some old cave dwellings, still in use. Beja is in a surprisingly green and fertile area of Tunisia.
The craggy mountains are covered with tall pines and cork trees. Farms have cattle, sheep and horses and fields grow acres of wheat and grape vines. Attractions close to Beja are the Byzantine fort or Kasbah which was until recently used as a military base in the more modern 19th century buildings. The old fort with its round tower is now open to the public and can be reached up a steep lane. There are fine views from the viewing platform at the top.
The original Kasbah dates back to the time of Justinian when the town was named Theodoriana in honour of the Emperor’s wife. At one time it was so large it had three gates and twenty towers. Now all that remains of the old fortress is the keep with two round towers. Henchir el Fouar is a splendid Roman site just 8km northeast of Beja on the road to Mateur. It was the site of Belalia Major and excavations in the 1960s unearthed two Christian basilicas and the Roman baths along with a small Roman Forum. A Muslim fort has since been built on the foundations of one of the basilicas. Henchir Rhiria is just 9km west of Beja and has Roman ruins with a huge gateway remaining which forms an interesting centrepiece.
The best known attraction just a short drive from Beja is the Pont de Trajan or Trojan’s Bridge. This 10km long structure dates back to Roman times and spans the Oude Beja. The well-preserved bridge still has three arches and was built by the Romans as part of the road from Carthage to Bulla Regia.