My dear travellers and lovers of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of travelogues on the Mr.M blog. The month of July will be dedicated to an unusual country on the African continent – Tunisia, a country known for its olives. At the very beginning of this third post in the series of travelogues, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, the travelogues and fashion stories that you will have the opportunity to read this July were created and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy them.
If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues from Tunisia or you want to remind yourself of some interesting moments and information, take the opportunity to visit the following links:
- Letter from Tunisia: The Magnificent Amphitheater in El Jem…
- Aurélien: Refined Fashion in Sousse on the Mediterranean Coast… (fashion story)
- Letters from Tunisia: Sousse and Port El Kantaoui, meet the beauties of the African Mediterranean…
The Republic of Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. It is part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordering Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It houses the archaeological sites of Carthage dating back to the 9th century BC, as well as the Great Mosque of Kairouan.
Tunisia is known for its ancient architecture, markets and blue shores, it covers approximately 164,000 km2 and has a population of around 12 million. It contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains and the northern part of the Sahara Desert, and much of the remaining territory of Tunisia is arable land. With almost 1,300 km of coastline, it includes the African junction of the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean basin. Tunisia is home to the northernmost point of Africa – Cape Angel, and its capital and largest city is Tunis, located on its northeastern coast, after which the country gets its name.
The third blog post in the series of travelogues about Tunisia will be dedicated to the capital of this unusual North African country – Tunis, as well as an extraordinary town that reminds many of Santorini in Greece – Sidi Bou Said. Tunis is the most populated city and also the capital of the Republic of Tunisia. It is also the capital of the province of the same name since its creation in 1956. Located in the north of the country, at the bottom of the Gulf of Tunis, from which it is separated by Lake Tunis, the city stretches over the coastal plain and the surrounding hills. Its historical heart is the medina, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. A modest town placed in the shadow of Carthage, Kairouan, then Mahdia, was finally designated as the capital on September 20, 1159, under the impulse of the Almohads, and then confirmed in its status under the Hafsid Dynasty in 1228 and the country’s independence on March 20, 1956.
Tunis is the economic and commercial capital of the Republic of Tunisia. The density of the network of roads and highways and the structure of the airport make it the central point of national transport. This situation is the result of a long evolution, especially of centralized conceptions that give a significant role to capital and tend to concentrate institutions there to the extreme. In 2014, the population of the municipality of Tunis was approximately 650,000 inhabitants according to the census of the National Institute of Statistics. However, during the 20th century, the agglomeration developed to a great extent outside the municipality’s borders, spreading over four governorates, Tunis, Ariana, Ben Arous and La Manouba. Greater Tunis had 2,643,695 inhabitants in 2014, or about 14% of the country’s population. In 2017, Tunisia was ranked as the fifth Arab city in which to live well
The city of Tunis is built on a series of hills, which culminates at forty meters above sea level and slopes gently towards Lake Tunis, but presents a steep slope in the opposite direction. These hills, which follow the slopes of the Ariane and correspond to the places called Notre-Dame de Tunis, Ras Tabia, La Rabta, La Kasbah, Montfleuri and La Manoubia, have altitudes that barely exceed 50 meters.
The city was born, a long time ago, at the intersection of the roads that naturally form through a narrow strip of land stretched between the vast basins of Lake Tunis and Sejmouia. The isthmus that separates them forms what geologists call the “Tunisia dome”, which includes hills of limestone rocks and sediments of wind and lake origin. It is a kind of natural bridge through which, since antiquity, passed several important roads that connected Berberia with Egypt and whose Tunisian part passes through Utica and Hadrumetum.
The second road is that of Bejaw, which goes along Medjerda and joins the road to Utica in Tunisia. The third is the Sica road that connects Numidia with Hadrumet. These routes obviously depend on Carthage once it asserts its political and economic primacy in Africa. On these road routes, the traffic flows favored the birth of relays and stages, among which is Tunisia. In an area of 300,000 hectares, 30,000 are urbanized, and the rest is divided between water areas (20,000 hectares of lagoons or sebkha, the most important of which are Lake Tunis, sebkha Ariana and sebkha Sejoumi) and agricultural or natural areas (250,000 hectares). However, urban growth, which is estimated at 500 hectares per year, is to the detriment of this space. It is all the more expensive because it consumes the most interesting lowland land for cultivation.
The metropolis of Tunis, whose area increased significantly during the second half of the 20th century, is now spread over several governorates: the Tunis governorate is home to a minority of the population of the agglomeration, while the suburbs spread across the governorates of Ben Arous, Ariana and La Manouba. The municipality of Tunis is divided into fifteen municipal districts: Bab El Bhar, Bab Souika, Cite El Khadra, Djebel Jelloud, El Kabaria, El Menzah, El Omrane, Gornji El Omrane, El Ouardia, Ettahrir, Ezzouh, Ezzouh Sejoumi and Sidi El Bechir.
The existence of the site is attested from the beginning of the 4th century BC. Situated on its hill, Tunis is an excellent observatory from where Libyans can easily follow the outward manifestations of Carthaginian life such as the comings and goings of ships or caravans inland. Tunis is one of the first Libyan cities to come under Carthaginian domination, given its proximity to a large city and its strategic position.
More than once, in the following centuries, Tunis is mentioned in the military history of Carthage. Thus, during the expedition of Agathocles from Syracuse, who landed in Cap Bon in 310 BC, Tunisia changed hands several times. Moreover, its role during the Mercenary War suggests that it was then “one of the chief centers of the aboriginal race”. In all likelihood, the bulk of its population then consisted of peasants, fishermen and artisans. However, compared to Punic Carthage, the ancient tunes remain very modest in size.
Destroyed according to Strabo by the Romans during the Third Punic War, it would have been rebuilt before Carthage. However, it is only the subject of rare testimonies, including that of the Peitinger chart, which mentions Tuni. In the route system of the Province of Africa, Tunes is only the name of a mutation (post office). The Latinized city is gradually Christianized and becomes the seat of the bishopric. However, Tunes will likely remain a modest city as long as Carthage exists.
The region was conquered by Arab troops led by the Ghassanid general Hasan Ibn Numan in the 7th century. Indeed, the city has a privileged position at the bottom of the bay and at the crossroads of trade flows with Europe and its hinterland. Tunis very early on plays a military role for which the Arabs chose it because from now on it is the only important city near the Strait of Sicily. From the first years of the 8th century, the capital of Okrug, which was then Tunis, experienced a strengthening of its military role: it became the naval base of the Arabs in the western Mediterranean, and assumed significant military importance. Under Aghlabid rule, Tunisians rebelled on many occasions, but Tunis took advantage of the economic boom and quickly became the kingdom’s second city. It became the country’s capital at the end of Ibrahim II’s reign, remaining so until 909, when the Shiite Berbers captured Ifriqia and founded the Fatimid dynasty, then again became the capital of the district.
Its role in opposition to the existing government intensified from September 945, when the Kharijite insurgents captured Tunis and gave it over to plunder. With the arrival of the Zirid dynasty, Tunisia gained importance, but the Sunni population increasingly supported Shiite rule and carried out massacres against this community. Therefore, in 1048, Zirid Al-Muizz ben Badis rejected Fatimid obedience and restored the Sunni rite throughout Ifriqia. This decision angered the Shia caliph Al-Mustansir Bilah. To punish the Zirids, he unleashed Arab tribes on Ifrikiya, including the Hilals. Much of Ifriqia was burned and bloodshed, the Zirid capital Kairouan was destroyed in 1057, and only a few coastal cities, including Tunis and Mahdia, escaped destruction. Nevertheless, exposed to the atrocities of the hostile tribes encamped around the city, the Tunisian population, no longer recognizing the authority of the Zirids who had retreated to the Mahdi, swore allegiance to the Hamadid prince El Nasser ibn Alenas, based in Bougie. Later, in 1059, the Governor appointed by the latter, after establishing order in the country, lost no time in getting rid of the Hamadids and founded the Khurasanid dynasty with Tunis as its capital. The small independent kingdom then reconnects with foreign trade and restores peace and prosperity.
After that in 1159, the Almohad Abd al-Mu’min captured Tunis, deposed the last Khurasanid ruler and installed in his place a government responsible for the administration of all of Ifriqia, which sat in a kasbah built for the occasion. The conquest of the Almohads opens a new period in the history of Tunisia. The city, which until then played a secondary role behind Kairouan and Mahdia, was promoted to the rank of provincial capital. In 1228, governor Abu Zakariyya Yahya took power, and a year later he freed himself from Almohad rule, took the title of emir and founded the Hafsid dynasty. With the arrival of this dynasty, the city became the capital of a kingdom that gradually expanded towards Tripoli and Fez.
To the prime city, important suburbs are added to the north and south enclosed by another fence surrounding the medina, the kasbah and these new suburbs. Later, in 1270, Tunisia found itself caught up in the Eighth Crusade: Louis IX, hoping to convert the Hafsid ruler to Christianity and pit him against the Egyptian sultan, easily captured Carthage, but his army quickly fell victim to an epidemic of dysentery. Louis IX himself died of it on August 25, 1270, in front of the ramparts of the capital. At the same time, expelled by the Spanish Reconquest, the first Muslim and Jewish Andalusians arrived in Tunisia and took an active part in the economic prosperity and development of intellectual life in the Hafsid capital.
The medina, built on a hill with gentle slopes that descend towards Lake Tunis, is the historic heart of the city and is home to many monuments including palaces such as Dar Ben Abdallah and Dar Hussein, the Beylik Mausoleum of Turbet El Bey or many mosques including the Great Mosque of Zituna . Formerly surrounded by its fortifications, now largely gone, they are framed by the two working-class suburbs of Bab Souik to the north and Bab El Jazeera to the south.
Located in the immediate vicinity of Bab Souika, the popular district of Halfauines known to have been the subject of international attention thanks to the spread of the film Halfauine, child of the terraces. But to the east of this original core, first with the construction of the French consulate, the modern city is gradually constituted, with the establishment of the French protectorate at the end of the 19th century, on the land left free between the medina and the lake because it serves as a reservoir for the waste water of the medieval city.
The axis of the structure of this part of the city is the avenues France and Habib-Bourguib, designed as the Tunisian equivalents of rue Rivoli and Champs Elysées with their cafés, grand hotels, shops and cultural facilities. On either side of this tree-lined axis, north and south, the metropolis has expanded to form different districts with different faces, the north welcoming fairly residential and business districts, while the south welcomes industrial districts. and poorer.
North of Avenue Bourguiba is the Lafayette quarter, which still houses the Great Synagogue of Tunis and the Habib-Thameur Garden, located on the site of an old Jewish cemetery outside the walls. To the southeast, the district of Little Sicily borders the old port area and owes its name to the original settlement of workers from Italy. It is now the subject of a reconstruction project that includes the construction of two twin towers.
North of it, the long Mohammed-V avenue that leads to the African Square or 14 January 2011 crosses the district of the great banks where there are hotels of lakes and congresses, as well as the old headquarters of the party in power. It leads to the residential area Belvedere, which is located around Pasteur Square. Belvedere Park opens here – the largest in the city and its zoo, as well as the Pasteur Institute founded by Adrien Loir in 1893.
Thus, at the beginning of the 21st century, the medina was one of the best-preserved traditional urban units in the Arab world. With an area of 270 hectares (plus 29 hectares for the Kasbah district) and more than 100,000 inhabitants, the Medina represents a tenth of the population of Tunisia and one sixth of the urbanized area of the agglomeration. The urban planning of the Tunisian medina has a peculiarity in that it does not respect geometric layouts or formal compositions.
The complex organization of the urban fabric inspired a whole colonial literature where the dangerous, anarchic and chaotic medina seemed like an ambush territory. However, studies started in the 1930s with the arrival of the first ethnologists showed that the articulation of space in the medina is not random: houses are articulated in a socio-cultural way, codified according to complex types of human relationships. The built-up area is generally characterized by the contiguity of large lots and common ownership.
Domestic (palaces and bourgeois houses), official and civil (libraries and administrations), religious (mosques, tours and zauias) and service (shops and fondues) architectures are very porous despite the clear zoning between shops and apartments. The notion of public space is therefore ambiguous in the case of the medina where streets are considered extensions of houses and subject to social beacons. The concept of individual property is weak and market stalls often overflow onto the public road.
The Souq in Tunisia consists of a veritable network of covered alleys in which there are shops of merchants and artisans grouped by specialty. “Clean” trades are located near the Zitouna mosque because they do not cause any disturbances with smell, noise or water use. These are cloth merchants, perfumers, dried fruit merchants, booksellers and wool merchants, as opposed to tanners, fishermen, potters and blacksmiths who are relegated to the periphery. Thus, there is a codified hierarchy of trades: perfusion trade silk weaving, saddlery, clothing making, slipper production, weaving, pottery and finally blacksmiths and dyers.
North of the Zitouna mosque, which it partly passes by, opens the El Attarine souk (fragrances) built at the beginning of the 18th century. It surprises with its stalls full of bottles containing a wide selection of essences and perfumes. From this souk, the street leads to the Ech-Chaouachine souk (chechias) whose corporation, that of chaouachi, is one of the oldest in the country. They are mostly descendants of Andalusian emigrants expelled from Spain. Two other markets open onto the El Attarine market: the first, which runs along the west facade of the Zitouna Mosque, is the El Kmach souk (fabrics), and the second, the 17th-century El Berka souk, which houses embroideries. but especially goldsmiths. This is why it is the only souk whose doors are still closed and guarded at night.
In the heart of the souq there is a square where the old slave market was located until the middle of the 19th century. The market of El Berka leads to the souk of El Leffa, where all kinds of rugs, blankets and other weavings are sold, and is extended by the souk of Es Sekajine (saddlers), built at the beginning of the 15th century, specializing in leather. On the outskirts are the markets of El Trouk, El Blat, El Blaghgia, El Kebabjia, En Nhas, Es Sabbaghine and El Grana, which sell clothes and blankets and were occupied by Livorno Jews.
Sidi Bou Said is a village in Tunisia, located twenty kilometers northeast of Tunis. It has almost 6000 inhabitants according to the last census. Located on a cliff overlooking Carthage and the Gulf of Tunisia, it rises 130 meters above sea level and bears the name of a Muslim saint in the region: Sidi Bou Said.
The Punic Carthaginians, then the Romans, would use the height of the current Sidi Bou Said to place a fire tower there. A mosaic measuring six by five meters and coins from the time of Augustus also prove the ancient existence of the Roman villa. In antiquity, the village was nicknamed the Cape of Cartagena. After the Arab conquest in the 7th century and the fall of Carthage, this cape maintained its strategic position through the construction of fortifications (ribata) and lighthouses. In the 11th century, the heights of the village were chosen by the Almoravids to defend the northeastern coast of Tunisia. Watchtowers and fire towers are built there. They also give the hill its name: Djebel El Manar (“Mountain of Fire” or “Lighthouse”).
Abu Said Khalaf Ibn Yahya el-Tamimi el-Beji (1156-1231), alias Sidi Bou Said, learns on the street that he lives in Tunisia and has since kept his name. Towards the end of his life, he retired to Jebel Menara, a ribat built on a hill above Cape Carthage, to keep watch and teach Sufism there. Considered an authentic Sufi, he was then nicknamed “Lord of the Seas” because of the protection that sailors sailing near the place thought they received. He died in 1231 and was buried on the hill. In the 18th century, Husein I er Bey (1705-1740) built the current mosque in which he furnished the saint’s zaujiya, which was undoubtedly the first element of the village that would bear his name. Archaeological traces identified on the northern slope suggest that the surrounding wall then bypassed the site. Today, the veneration of saints is alive. From the 17th century, the charm of this village seduced the Tunisian bourgeoisie and the Beylikalle Husseini family, who built luxurious residences in the Arab-Muslim style there, such as Dar Delagi, Dar Mohsen, Dar Thameur, Dar Arif, Dar Lasram, Dar Debbagh, Dar Cherif , Dar Bahri, Naceur Bei Palace, etc.
The village was named Sidi Bou Said when it became the seat of the municipality in 1893. Later, on August 28, 1915, a decree was issued to ensure the protection of the village, imposing the blue color of Sidi Bou Said and the white color so dear to the Baron d’Erlanger and prohibiting any anarchic construction on the cape. Sidi Bou Said is related to the location of Carthage, which UNESCO classified as a world heritage site in 1979. However, UNESCO guidelines are giving way to urbanization that is developing from Sidi Bou Said to La Malga and Salambo; overhead power and telephone lines also mar the landscape.
In addition, the municipality is not able to control the development of the village market. Until 1825, the village of Sidi Bou Said was off limits to non-Muslims. Since that date, Sidi Bou Said has attracted a number of artists, musicians and writers, including Chateaubriand, Gustave Flaubert, Paul Klee, Auguste Mack, Alphonse de Lamartine, Georges Diamel, Jean Divino, Max-Paul Fouche, Colette and Simon, Gideon de Beauvoir .
The houses of Sidi Bou Said, which combine Arabic and Andalusian architecture, with dazzling white exteriors and blue doors, are scattered randomly along the winding streets. Inside, there is often a paved courtyard, T-shaped reception rooms, slender columns, arcades and walls of colored ceramics arranged up to the ceiling. A tourist hotspot in the colors of the Mediterranean Sea, listed since 1915, this place is nicknamed “little white and blue paradise”.
The gift of Ismailia was offered to Bey Hamud Pasha’s slave, freed for her legendary beauty, Leyla Zina bent Abdallah El Genaoui. However, in 1799, Hamuda Pasha put the house up for sale, which passed through the hands of several families, and now belongs to the artist diplomat. Dar El Anabi, the grand residence of Mufti Mohammed Taib El Anabi, formerly Dar Enaifer, was built in the 18th century and remodeled in 1955. It consists of fifty rooms and is nicknamed the “palace of a thousand and one nights”. His library of great value contains essentially Arabic works. It has been converted into a museum featuring traditional Arab-Muslim items and clothing displayed in different rooms, including a 22-kilogram wedding dress. Naceur Bey Palace, originally called Dar Essalam, was owned by Sheikh Ben Achour. Sadok Bey offers it to his nephew, Naceur Bey, who enlarges it to suit his summer beylic requirements.
Home of music, the village is also home to the Center for Arabic and Mediterranean Music in the Rodolphe d’Erlanger (1872-1932) palace, originally Enejmo Ezzahr (“The Shining Star”), also called the “House of the Baron”. French-British baron, painter, musicologist, esthete. At the beginning of the protection of the city and its musical enrichment, he greatly contributes to the notoriety of the locality by upgrading the traditional Tunisian architecture. Utilizing refined interior decoration that he drew and designed himself and a lavish garden whose layout was inspired by the best garden arts in Islamic countries, Erlanger Palace has been open to the public since 1992.
Other large bourgeois summer residences in Arab-Muslim style, also with some Italian inspiration, were built in the 19th century and gradually became the main residences in the 20th century: Dar Essid (purchased in 1955 by Hedi Essid of the Jaafar family) 21, Dar Delagi, Dar Thameur (from Mahmud Bey, sold to the Thameur family), Dar Mohsen, Dar Toumi (now Dar Said Hotel), Dar Sfar, Dar Senoussi, Dar Cherif, Dar Bahri (built and still inhabited by descendants of the Bahri Family), Dar Lasram , Dar Khalsi, Dar Laroussi. Later, in 1973, the US government decided to build its embassy on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Carthage and the Gulf of Tunisia. The construction was entrusted to Brahim Taktak, a Tunisian who graduated in Belgium, whose mission was to update the local architecture to make it comfortable for holding large receptions.
The municipal gallery was originally housed in the former barn of Dar Lasram. It initially became Baron d’Erlanger’s museum, with a permanent display of Andalusian musical instruments Erlanger bought in Spain and his paintings, as well as the art collections held there. they were patiently gathered by the designer of the place and later by his heirs. After the independence of Tunisia, the museum was transformed into a pottery club for children and then into an exhibition gallery available to Tunisian and foreign artists who wish to exhibit. In addition to several art studios, there are other galleries in the village: the Ammar-Farhat Gallery created in 1988 by Abdelaziz Gorgi, the Azzedine Alaia Gallery located in his former house or the Cherif Fine Arts Gallery founded in 1979 by Hamadi Sherif in his father’s house.
Sidi Bou Said is also famous for its cafes whose terraces are very popular places for Tunisians to relax:
- Cafe Halija (or Cafe des mats) in the center of the village, which used to be the entrance to the mosque, hosted Malouf evenings organized by music lovers from the village.
- Cafe du Nadhour (from the lighthouse) gathers customers who come to listen to a popular storyteller (fdaoui).
- Cafe de Sidi Chaabane (or Cafe des Delices), which opened in the late 1960s, offers a unique view of the Gulf of Tunisia.
- A cafe in the village square that was the domain reserved for the elders of Sidi Bou Said.
Every year in mid-August there is a mystical festival – called Kharja – that mobilizes the whole village, with processions of different religious brotherhoods coming from all over Tunisia to pay their respects and seek blessings in Sidi Bou Said.
My dear travellers and adventurers, we have come to the end of this third special travelogue in the series of travelogues about Tunisia where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the northern part of the African continent. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia in cooperation with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Tunisian culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Tunisia.
A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.
I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia once again for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Tunisian culture in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about Tunisia and the presentation of Tunis and Sidi Bou Said that adorns the heart of this unusual country on the African continent? Have you had the chance to visit Tunisia so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
In the following stories from Tunisia, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey takes you to this unusual country!
From Love from Tunis,
This post is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.