Tunisia in 16:9

Original Post Date - 16th July 2014

I was recently on holiday in Tunisia, a country three years fresh from the Tunisian Revolution that saw its people revolt against high unemployment, corruption and human rights violations. The destination, chosen for its weather and beach front all-inclusive resort of Port El-Kantaoui, offered so much more in terms of rich heritage and history. I decided to go and see as much of it as possible in the little time I was there by taking a two-day excursion; giving a whistle-stop tour of this North African country that, although statistically still wallowing in the firm grips of recession, is peppered with signs of growth.

As always I took along my 5d Mk II, this time equipped with my 17-40mm as I had a particular linear aesthetic that seems to have settled nicely in my mind's eye.

The trip was going to cover 1100km over two days and visit sites such as; El Djem Amphitheatre, Matmata Berber cave dwellings, camel riding in the Sahara Desert, Jeep safari to canyons and dunes, horse and cart riding through an oasis, a visit to the Salt Lakes, and finally a stop at the Great Mosque of Kairouan.

The Colosseum at El Djem was an amazing first hand look at the scale of early architecture and gave a look at just how forward thinking the Romans were in this sense. FUN FACT: According to a tour guide, the Colosseum could evacuate its full crowd (around 35,000 spectators) in around 15 minutes, and was used in the Gladiator film.

Onto the Berber cave dwellings and nearly at the linearity. These houses in the rocks were amazing, (and used as the Lars Homestead in Star Wars) the families that occupy these houses during the day live in modern accommodation but stay here to earn tips from passing tourist buses. The Star Wars dwelling has since been turned into a hotel but still retains some of the original set pieces from the film. Also kittens and doors, who doesn't love a rustic door?

Next up was the Sahara, the pinnacle of the desert stereotype and occupier of so many bucket lists the world over. Check. This experience was pretty special as I shared it with my camel, Colin. The camels were actually unnamed however I thought it apt to personalise my camel from the rest. The Sahara got quite sandy... luckily I had my Giottos Rocket Blower with me which was used for about an hour after we went back on the bus.

I love the cinematic aspect ratios of 16:9 to 21:9 and have really found that they suit my style of shooting straight on, looking for symmetry and lines; a hangover from studying architecture I feel.

The next day we arose at 4am to start our second leg which allowed us to experience the sun rise over the salt lakes near Tozeur. These lakes change colour from aqua blues to deep bronze depending on what particular minerals have surfaced. Obligatory selfie on Tatooine.

We stopped at several places along this Roman-esque straight road allowing for some great photo opportunities, including some roadside vendors who have shacked up next to some of the deeper pools, selling all manner of things, from salt roses, to dolls and bones of the less fortunate beasts who roam these plains. Not far from these vendors, we swapped bus for jeep and ventured into the rocky hills where I was able to take an obligatory cliff selfie.

The journey continued to Tozeur, where our next mode of transportation awaited, a horse and cart trip into an urban oasis, divided into plots of 1-5 hectares owned by different families. Here we were given a demonstration of how the trees are climbed and date are picked. Our instructor being a 53 man that had been doing this for 40 years.

In the denser urban environments I was able to get a better look at the cross section of Tunisian life, the groups of men gathered on many of the streets hinting at the near 30% unemployment rate. The mix at the moment between the old ways (which need to remain for tourism) and the countries modern youth make for an interesting juxtaposition.

Our last stop was in Kairouan where due to Ramadan, the mosque was only open to the public in the morning. However, as usual I found something which I feel photographed well...on the conveniently placed rooftop of the tour guides friends shop. 

The ornate and historic architectural work found throughout Tunisia is worth seeing, from its seemingly basic carving out of rock, to its intricate mosaic patterns and designs. The friendly appreciative (however persistent) nature of the revitalised population adding to the experiences brought by its rich heritage and history.

These two days were well worth my while and I would recommend this to get a small snapshot of what Tunisia really has to offer, the still developing beach resorts could potentially mask, even so soon after the revolution, this countries true potential.

Hopefully you enjoyed my images and insight, thanks for looking.