Zaghouan: Where the Temple of Water and Andalusian heritage meet

Friday 08/04/2016
The Mine Cave in Djebel Zaghouan (Courtesy of the Speleology association of Zaghouan)

Zaghouan, Tunisia - Zaghouan is a peaceful town that rests at the ridge of the Djebel Zaghouan, on the northern side of the Tuni­sian Dorsal mountains.
Dating back to Roman times, Zaghouan offers a glimpse of the past through archaeological sites, including the Temple of Water, and gives a taste of adventure through mountain activities such as caving and hiking.
Zaghouan, 70km west of Tunis, is best known for its rich springs. The modern town was built on the ruins of the Roman town of Ziqua, from which the name Zaghouan was de­rived.
“Ziqua is believed to be derived from the Latin word aqua, which means ‘water’, as the region was reputed for its water springs. Water has always been a hallmark of the region,” said Abdelkader ben Hnia, a guide in Zaghouan.
The importance of water in the history of Zaghouan is best illus­trated by the Zaghouan Aqueduct, which was ordered built by Ro­man Emperor Hadrian in 128AD to transport water from Zaghouan to Carthage after a drought of five years in North Africa
Extending over 132km, the aque­duct is a masterpiece of architecture and is one of the longest built during Roman times.
“Despite the destruction of an im­portant part of the aqueduct during the Roman wars, the remains are of a grandeur and majesty that surpass destruction,” ben Hnia said. “The aqueduct testifies to the genius of the people of their time who man­aged to devise an intricate system to transport water.”.
“The aqueduct took more than 30 years to build,” he added. “It was de­signed to allow the transportation of water travel through force of gravity only. It was believed to have trans­ported between 17 million and 32 million litres daily from Zaghouan to Carthage.”
At one end of the aqueduct lies the spring flowing from Zaghouan mountain. The Temple of Water was constructed in 139AD around the waters’ source. It showcased Ro­man scriptures and statues of Ro­man gods. The surviving works are housed in the Carthage museum.
“The temple is proof of the im­portance of water in the culture and daily life of the people of this town since ancient times,” ben Hnia said. “The temple was built to venerate water as a source of life. ”
The aqueduct was often reno­vated, including a restoration by the French during colonial rule to trans­port water to Tunis.
In addition to the Roman ruins, Zaghouan includes a beauti­ful old city that showcases Andalusian architecture brought by the Moors, who settled in Zag­houan during the 17th century after fleeing Spain.
The Moors also established new agricultural methods and a new plant species. Every year, Zaghouan has a festival during harvest of the flowers of the plant, the oil of which is believed to offer many benefits.
”The Moors also brought with them a special type of pastry that Zaghouan is famous for in Tunisia, the Kaak Warka, made of dough and almonds mixed with the water of the flower of Nesri (Rosa Canina), ben Hnia said.
“They also brought Malouf music. which is still alive today, and one cannot visit Zaghouan without at­tending a Malouf concert. Families pass down the music of Malouf from one generation to another and there are many groups still active.”
In addition to Zaghouan’s rich his­tory, it boasts beautiful landscapes and a mountain famous for caves that are open for ex­ploration. More than 25 caves are dispersed through the mountains of Djebel Zaghouan, offering the visitors a unique experience of stunning caves showing marble and limestone.
“Speleology, caving, hiking and mountain climbing are all different activities that one can enjoy in Zag­houan. The region has been known for speleology since the 1980s when a group of German travellers visited the town to explore its mountains,” said Hamda Ghalleb, president of the Association of Speleology and Hiking in Zaghouan. “Ever since, Zaghouan became a destination for speleologists.”
He said explorations in 2012 re­vealed another floor to the main chamber measuring to 1,600 metres, making Mine Cave, which reaches a depth of 425 metres, the deepest cave in Tunisia.
“We also found its natural en­trance and we found in it scriptures dating back 4,000 years,” Ghalleb said.
“The mountain of Zaghouan reaches 1,295 metres extending over 9 km with stunning cliffs. Visitors who come to the town are enam­oured by the beautiful scenery and the amazing landscapes it offers,” Ghalleb said.