Leisurely cycling through Carthage’s 668-year history

Le Lemon Tour starts with a trek to the Acropolium of Carthage, also known as Saint Louis Cathedral, built in honour of the French King Louis IX.
Sunday 23/09/2018
A view of the Punic Port  in Carthage. (Le Lemon Tour)
A view of the Punic Port in Carthage. (Le Lemon Tour)

TUNIS - While gazing over the Carthaginian ruins, Zied Gaaloul looked at me. “Over a 668-year history, Carthage began and ended in roaring flames,” he said.

I’d spent the afternoon cycling around the various archaeological sites of the old Carthage. We’d arrived at the Tophet of Carthage and explored the ancient children’s burial site that served as a temple to the ancient gods Baal and Tanit.

The tour, conducted by Le Lemon Tour, a cycling tour company established at the beginning of the year, went through some of Carthage’s most famous archaeological sites, such as the Punic Port and the Baths of Antonius.

Le Lemon Tour was the brainchild of Celia Corneil, Nicolas Planchenault and Markus Breitweg, who after arriving in Tunisia — Breitweg in 2014 and Corneil and Planchenault in 2016 — determined that the demand for guided tours was not being met.

“Why not start bike tours of archaeological sites?” Corneil said of the inspiration behind the guided tour service. They also wanted to show that “small projects can equal big results.”

The company is self-funded and relies on 50 locally made bicycles.

Le Lemon Tour starts with a trek to the Acropolium of Carthage, also known as Saint Louis Cathedral, built in honour of the French King Louis IX. It then takes cyclers to the baths of Antonius, one of the third largest thermae built by the Roman Empire, as well as a prominent meeting site.

The third site is the Punic Port, which served as a key military port. Designed as a narrow channel linking the northern circular naval port to the southern oblique merchant port, the port hid the military port from the outside, while allowing the Carthaginians to see towards the sea.

The tour ends on the Tophet, a religious burial site for children, which doubles as a shrine to the chief deities of Carthaginians.

Throughout the tour, participants are educated on the history of Carthage, from its founding by Dido (Elissa), the ancient city’s first queen and her death in the pyre, to Scipio Aemilianus’s victory in the Third Punic War and subsequent burning of Carthage, an event that “brought him to tears after thinking the same could happen to Rome,” Gaaloul recounted.

The tour’s guests are a mix of Tunisians, expats and tourists interested in cycling, history and architecture. In addition to the company’s regular guided tours, it hosts two or three events a week during which up to 20 guests are taken on different routes around old and modern Carthage.

Le Lemon Tour’s operators said they hoped to “consolidate (their) Carthage Salambo branch, see what works and then expand to other historical and archaeological areas.” Corneil said there is significant potential to expand cycling tours to other archaeological sites in Tunisia.

Tours can be booked in advance throughout the week, with rates varying based on the size, length and type of tour.

Groups of four and fewer can purchase a half-day guided tour for about $5.50 a person in addition to a $25 group charge. A full-day tour costs $9 a person and a $55 group charge.  Groups of five or more pay an $11 charge per person for a half-day tour and $18 charge per person for a full-day tour, with no group charge.

Self-guided tours, with a map and information booklet, cost less: $5.50 for half the day and $9 for the full day.

Bike rentals and access to a helmet, lock and basket are provided at no cost and one $4 entry fee provides access to all sites featured on the tour.

For cycling enthusiasts, history buffs or those simply looking for a unique educational activity, Le Lemon Tour provides an engaging way to discover the area of Carthage and learn about its history.

Particpants rest near the Punic Port in Carthage.(Le Lemon Tour)
A view of an archaeological site in Carthage.(Le Lemon Tour)