Roman ruins are rarely boisterous places, full of noise, laughter and life. But Edward Lewis stumbled across one that is – a place to have a daily wash, and to enjoy the companionship of friends, just as it was for the Romans who built it.
Observing middle-aged men swathed in white foamy soapsuds is not something I would normally write home about and it certainly wasn’t why I was in north-east Algeria.
I had come to look at the Roman baths in Khenchela and had overlooked the fact that for many of the local population the attraction was not the ancient architecture or remarkable state of preservation but the fact there was a free and plentiful supply of hot water – still feeding into two open air baths.
Fully clothed and with no towel in sight, the stares and hush that followed me as I walked around the water’s edge began to make me wonder if my visit was entirely appropriate.
Map of Algeria
As with many such situations, I needn’t have worried. Algeria is no exception to the humbling levels of warmth and generosity that strangers are afforded in this part of the world and within minutes of trying to talk in my best French – or, even less comprehensible there – my best Egyptian Arabic, I was surrounded by a group of men in swimming shorts eager to answer my queries about the baths and their history.