Rome, Malta & Tunisia Polaris
Slocum 43 Pilothouse Cutter
Updated December, 2014
Destination Photo Journals
A rendering of what the Colosseum looked like in its prime days.
It is believed that Peter, after a ministry of about thirty years, travelled to Rome and met his martyrdom there in the year 64 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero. His execution was one of the many martyrs of Christians following the Great Fire of Rome.
Michelangelo is most famous for painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel....in reality he was also the master builder of St Peter's.
The Trevi Fountain
Built in 1762, this piazza was usually empty before the 1954 film Three Coins in the Fountain.
Once used for chariot races, it is one of the most beautifully baroque sites in Rome.
Malta's location in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea has given it a great strategic importance as a military base throughout history. A succession of powers, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and the British have ruled the islands. According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul the Apostle was shipwrecked on Malta.
Grand Harbor Marina
Barb, always pushing the boundaries, was the only female in the cafes we visited.
Bread, olives and olive oil are essential at any meal.
Monastir happens to be the birthplace of Bourguiba, the George Washington of modern democratic Tunisia. His memorial is here.
We rented a car and drove all over Tunisia right on down to the edge of the Saharan Desert.
Douiret is a ruined Berber village in southern Tunisia. Located on a mountaintop to help protect it from raiding parties, Douiret was a fortified granary. It was a regular stop on southern Tunisia's ksar trail. The troglodyte houses were dug in the mountain in a meandering fashion along the cliff. Today the old village of Douiret has virtually been transformed into a ghost town as a new town was built below in the early 20th century.
Sousse has an old Medina with its city walls and fortifications, including open and covered bazaars (souks). Buildings of historical interest include the ribat castle and the central mosque.
Tozeur has a fascinating museum showing how the Berber tribes divide up the Saharan Desert where they graze their camels. In addition to branding their camels, the tribes also tattoo their women, so they can keep track of them.
The Chott el Jerid
The Romans conquered the Berbers of this region in 67 AD. Sbeitla reached great prosperity from the olive industry, due to the excellent climatic conditions in the region. The resulting prosperity made possible the construction of a splendid forum and other important buildings.
The city began to decline after 400 AD when the city was surrounded and occupied by Vandals. The arrival of the Byzantines inaugurated a new period of splendor in 647 AD. Eventually the Byzantines lost control over the region signaled the beginning of the Muslim conquest of North Africa.
April, 2014 we flew to Rome and stayed there a few days touring before taking the train to Ragusa, Sicily where Polaris was stored on the hard. The train was loaded onto a barge to cross the Straits of Messina over to Sicily.
We were weathered in at Ragusa for a week which gave us time to do some badly needed repairs on Polaris.
From Ragusa, we motor sailed about 54 miles over to Malta. After staying there a week, we did an over nighter to Monastir, Tunisia where we stayed the entire season.
Archaeological evidence of human occupation around Rome extends back 14,000 years. According to Roman legend, Romulus and Remus, twins who were suckled by a she-wolf, decided to build a city. But after an argument, Romulus killed his brother. According to legend this happened on 21 April 753 BC.
In the 6th century BC the Romans expelled the last king and established a republic. A series internal struggles between patricians (aristocrats) and plebeians (small landowners) as well as constant warfare against the populations of central Italy also began.
In the 3rd & 2nd centuries BC, Rome established control over the Mediterranean and the East, through three Punic Wars fought against the city of Carthage and the three Macedonian Wars against the Greeks. The first Roman provinces were then established: Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, Spain, Macedonia, Greece, Africa. The continuous warfare made a professional army necessary. Eventually, the army became more loyal to its chiefs than to the republic which then provoked internal strife and revolt.
Built in 80 AD, the Colosseum was the site of many gladiators fighting wild beasts. Seating over 50,000, spectators watched spectacles of blood and gore including naval sea battles when the Colosseum was actually flooded.
The original St Peter's Basilica was begun in the 4th AD century by the Emperor Constantine. By the end of the 15th century, after having been badly neglected, the basilica was in need of major repair. In 1447 the pope ordered the construction of a new St Peter’s. From the partial demolition of the Colosseum, 2,500 cartloads of stone were transported for use in the new basilica.
One method employed to finance the building of the new St. Peter's Basilica was the granting of indulgences in return for contributions. To facilitate this, a German Archbishop appointed a German priest who turned out to be a super salesman which provoked a scandal. Another German priest, Martin Luther, wrote to the Archbishop arguing against the "selling of indulgences". This became a major factor in starting the Reformation, the birth of Protestantism.
The oldest of all Roman buildings still remaining intact, it was built in 27 BC. It was remodeled by Emperor Hadrian in 2 AD. Before the 20th century, it was the largest concrete structure ever built.
Still standing today, the hole in the top of the dome allows in a shaft of light.
The Spanish Steps
Built in 1725, the Steps are a favorite hangout for people watching.
The Valley of the Temples at Agrigento is a 6th century BC settlement of Greek colonists which grew to be one of the most prosperous cities in the ancient world.
Pottery found suggests that the islands were first settled around 5200 BC by stone age hunters or farmers from Sicily. The extinction of the dwarf hippos and dwarf elephants has been linked to the earliest arrival of humans on Malta.
A culture of megalithic temple builders then arose from this early period. About 3500 BC, these people built the oldest existing, free-standing structures that exist in the world today.
After 2500 BC, the Maltese Islands were depopulated for several decades until the arrival of a new influx of Bronze Age immigrants. This culture introduced smaller megalithic structures called dolmens to Malta. These are small chambers with a cover made of a large slab placed on upright stones.
Scrolls carved in the stones look similar to those found in the Celtic stone works found in Britain and Ireland.
The stone work also looks similar to Stonehenge in England
Centrally located in the Med, Malta is a prime stop for east or west cruisers. Grand Harbor Marina is a rather expensive although a very convenient location to visit Malta.
Tunisia was not an original cruise destination. However, halfway thru the Med, we ran out of time to escape the EU VAT tax. With some reservations about our safety, we opted to go to Tunisia.
There are really 2 Tunisia's..... the first is a mile wide strip along the coast where there are luxury hotels and tourist towns practically end to end. These are primarily visited by French tourists. Tourism, a major source of income for the country, has been severely reduced due to unrest in this area of the world.
Inland is the real Tunisia, dry and dusty with people living in a different world than we in the west are used to.
Being a predominately Muslim country, our food choices were restricted to mainly chicken, some beef and turkey.... and of course pizza! We did try a little camel.
Food was very inexpensive.... especially the fantastic fruits. However, after several bouts with food poisoning, our enthusiasm was dampened.
Most people do not think of North Africa, the Maghreb, as being populated by Romans. In fact it was a major source for food as well as ceramics.
El Jem is famous for its amphitheater built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD and is capable of seating 35,000 spectators. Only the amphitheater in Rome (about 50,000 spectators) and the ruined theatre of Capua are larger. It was mainly used for gladiator shows and chariot races.
The structures typical for the village are created by digging a large pit in the ground. Around the bottom perimeter of this pit artificial caves are then dug to be used as rooms, with some homes comprising multiple pits, connected by trench-like passageways.
In 1967, intensive rains that lasted for 22 days inundated these troglodyte homes and caused many of them to collapse. As a result the above-ground settlement of Matmata was built. Some of the people continued their lives in re-built underground homes, however most of the families moved to the new surface dwellings.
Today, Matmata is a popular tourist attraction, and most of the population lives on tourism and folklore exhibitions in their homes.
The troglodyte Hotel Sidi Driss in Matmata was used in 1976 as a filming location for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope in which it was featured as the home of Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine. The hotel is designed as a traditional Berber troglodyte underground building and operates as a hotel to this day. It featured again in the 2002 prequel film Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.
Metameur was inhabited for thousands of years until recently when houses were built in the valley below with water and electricity.
Hedada was the movie site for Star Wars - The Phantom Menace. It was the town of Mos Espa on the Planet Tatooine.
Sousse was founded by the Phoenicians 11th century BC. The city allied itself with Rome during the Punic Wars, thereby escaping damage or ruin and entered a relatively peaceful 700 year period under the Romans.
In the 7th century AD Arab-Islamic armies conquered what is now Tunisia and rapidly spread Arab culture across what had been a thoroughly Romanized and Christianized landscape. The Arabs seized the city, which in the aftermath of Rome's fall was but a remnant of its former self.
In the centuries that followed, Europe gained technological ascendancy and began pushing back Islam. Sousse was briefly occupied by the Normans in the 12th century, was later occupied by the Spanish, and in the 18th century was the target of bombardments by the Venetians and the French. Tunisia was officially made a French protectorate in 1869.
Driving thru the Saharan Desert was an amazing experience.... wind whipped sand onto the road forming drifts that were sometimes almost impassable.
In the same period, the bankruptcy of small farmers and the establishment of large slave estates provoked the migration to the city of a large number of people causing even more civil strife.
Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD which gave freedom of worship to the Christians. He also founded a new capital in the East, Constantinople. Christianity became the official religion of the empire by an edict issued in 380 AD by Theodosius, the last emperor of a unified empire. His sons, Arcadius and Honorius, divided the empire into a western and an eastern part. The capital of the Western Roman Empire became Ravenna.
Rome was sacked in 410 AD by the Visigoths. The city, impoverished and depopulated, suffered a new looting in 455 AD by the Vandals. Weak emperors could not stop the decay. Finally on August 22, 476 AD the Western Roman ceased to exist. The Eastern half of the empire (Byzantine) continued in existence until 1453 AD when Mehmed the Conqueror sacked Constantinople....just 40 years before Columbus discovered America.
In 1547 Michelangelo, then in his seventies, succeeded as the building superintendent in the construction of St Peter's. He is today regarded as the principal designer of a large part of the building as it stands today, as well as bringing the construction to a point where it could be completed. Michelangelo died in 1564, leaving the drum of the dome complete.
The dome was completed in 1590, it rises to a total height of 448 ft. It is the tallest dome in the world. In the mid 18th century, cracks appeared in the dome, so four iron chains were installed between the two shells to bind it, like the rings that keep a barrel from bursting. As many as ten chains have been installed at various times, the earliest possibly planned by Michelangelo himself as a precaution.
The Palazzo Venezia
Built in the 15th century, Mussolini used this place as his podium to preach his philosophy to the Italian citizens during WW II.
The Roman Forum
As far back as 300 BC the Forum was the center of Roman public life: the site of triumphal processions and elections, the venue for public speeches, criminal trials, and gladiatorial matches, and the nucleus of commercial affairs.
Here statues and monuments commemorated the city's great men. The teeming heart of ancient Rome, it has been called the most celebrated meeting place in the world. Many of the oldest and most important structures of the ancient city were located on or near the Forum.
Rendering of what the Forum looked like in the ancient world.
The workmanship of these prehistoric stone masons is really amazing.
This plain building is where the local inquisitions were held. According to the signage inside, torture was infrequent and it was really a friendly place. Ha, Ha!
This is Barb refusing to go any further on one of our forced marches.
Tunisia is named for tuna, and it is still plentiful along this stretch of the Med.
Barb finds a new friend.... and pays many dollars for tour guide services.
A wealthy merchant's home.
With mean annual rainfall below 4 inches and daytime temperatures sometimes reaching 122 F or more during the summer. Solar radiation evaporates the water from the lake until it is almost entirely dried up.
Salt at its edges is collected for processing. Chott el Jerid was used as a filming location for Star Wars .
Polaris is stored on the hard in Monastir, Tunisia…. A total of 240 miles under the keel in 2014.
Fair winds. We would love to hear from you!