Soul of the Mediterranean culture in Roman times found in the ruins of Hippo Regius in Algeria

Algeria is home to 36 million people, but occupies almost one million square miles, by far the largest nation in all of Africa, four times the size of Texas. It is a sparsely populated country, especially outside the main cities. Many Algerians are concentrated in large urban areas such as Algiers, which has a population close to four million.
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So Algeria is primarily a land of vast deserts, a Sahara nation that offers views from cities, large tracts of land with few people but lots of sky. The coast is wonderfully fertile and well watered, a magnificent country that was once the barn of ancient Rome.
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In many ways, it has the characteristics that would be instantly familiar to Californians who cultivate that fertile state: a plain towards the sea that leads inland to a wall of mountains that tend to keep the plain well retained by blocking ocean moisture so that Don’t travel over the mountains. . This is the same geo-climatological configuration along the southern Mediterranean coast and the California coast.
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The great Christian philosopher Saint Augustine was bishop of Hippo Regius, an ancient city whose modern name is Annaba, Algeria. The ruins of Hippo Regius bring me back year after year, decade after decade. I feel, somehow, that the soul of the Mediterranean is hidden among these ancient blocks of stone.
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They remember Rome when it entered the Christian era and they are among the best in all of North Africa, so it deserves a special trip. We can see why this land settled three thousand years ago with rich and undulating mounds covered with flowers, olive groves, rosemary beds, the home of the shepherds and their flocks, whose days are animated with the singing of birds.
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At the height of its activity a couple of millennia ago, the city of Hippo was considered part of Roman Africa, a kind of vassal of the great city of Carthage in present-day Tunisia. Today, Hippo Regius is part of Algeria, although not far from the border with Tunisia. St. Augustine was ordained a priest there in 391. He became bishop coadjutor in 395, then bishop a few years later, a position he held for almost three decades until his death in 430.
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The best way to see the ancient city is to approach it from the seafront, which today has moved a thousand feet away from where it used to be when the Romans stepped on these beaches and roads.
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Walk from the Mediterranean Sea down the small hill to the well-preserved Hippo Museum before touring the ruins, as the exhibits there will help put what you see in the right context, an investment worth doing. For example, the ground floor contains a good collection of sculptures in the Salle des Bustes , including a statute of Emperor Vespasian that was found in the forum. A special gift for me is a very strange armor, almost seven feet high, covered with a red cloak like blood. On the wall there is a meticulously detailed mosaic of four sea nymphs or water spirits.
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There is another collection of fine mosaics in the next room, my favorite is a hunting game from the time of St. Augustine in which lions, leopards and antelopes are chased in a trap.
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We easily forget that in those days the lions were not limited to Kenya and East Africa. They were common as far north as Hippo Regius. It was only the Mediterranean Sea that prevented the lions from wandering around Sicily and Italy. A third mosaic scene, this one of fishermen bringing home their catch, includes what I consider equivalent to an old postcard that shows Hippo Regius as it should have appeared two thousand years ago.
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The ruins of the ancient city occupy many acres of land. You will see that the best houses and the best residential area of ​​the city, in those days as in a modern city, were right on the ocean, where the sea breeze swept its open courtyards. What remains of half a dozen Roman villas of the well-to-do is evident here, their courtyards are marked by columns, some of the walls and floors still visible.
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Two houses especially worth seeing are the Villa del Laberinto and the Villa del Procurador, which I consider to be the most impressive examples of how the rich organized their private homes. Beyond these oceanfront villas, if you continue passing the southern baths where you will reach the edge of the Christian neighborhood and the 150-foot contour of the great basilica of the early Christian period where Augustine probably occupied the court as a bishop. The mosaics on the floor are quite beautiful.
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No modern visitor from Algeria should miss the opportunity to visit Hippo Regius and pay tribute to this vision of the past.