Thursday, 19 March 2015

El Djem or El Jem

I took this photo while on a visit to North Africa. It was before all the recent political motivated 'Arab Spring' uprisings took place. I enjoyed a day return rail journey from Sousse to visit El Djem or El Jem as both spellings seem to be acceptable. El Djem is a small, almost nondescript Arab town, which is located some distance out in the Sahel desert. El Djem however, attracts many thousands of visitors each year. This is because in the third century AD the Romans built a magnificent 'Amphitheatre'.

The El Djem amphitheatre today is like the pyramids in Egypt, included on the UNESCO world heritage list. Most tourists come here just to see the remarkably well preserved 2000 year old remains. You can wander around at will and as well as the remains, you can see graffiti inscribed into the brick work. Some of it dates from around 1600 and is Arabic. However the majority of graffiti is from 1939-45 the period of WWII. When during the north African campaign the town changed hands several times.

I sat for a while just drinking in the atmosphere of the place when a very ethereal event happened. It started with the feint sound of voices singing, which gradually over time got louder and louder. Until eventually a group of German tourists emerged from the underground tunnels and out into the sunshine in the centre of the amphitheatre. As they emerged they were in a line, one behind the other. Each had a hand on the shoulder of the person in front. They were singing 'silent night' a hymn/carol that has connections with the first world war. This year being the 100th anniversary of the 'Great War' makes that memory even more powerful.

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