Medina of Tunis
The Medina of Tunis was one of the most important Islamic cities. It contains some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains dating from the Almohad and the Hafsid periods.
These ancient buildings include:
- The Great Mosque (including the Muslim University and library)
- Aghlabid Ez-Zitouna Mosque ("Mosque of the Olive") built in 723 by Obeid Allah Ibn-al-Habhab to celebrate the new capital.
- The Dar-al-Bey, or Bey's Palace, comprises architecture and decoration from many different styles and periods and is believed to stand on the remains of a Roman theatre as well as the tenth century palace of Ziadib-Allah II al Aghlab.
With an area of 270 hectares (over 29 hectares for the Kasbah) and more than 100,000 people, the Medina comprises one-tenth of the population of Tunis.
Map of Medina of TunisLoad map
Tunis was, compared to the Moroccan Medinas I visited, a rather enjoyable visit. It seems a bit cleaner, vendors are much less aggressive and it’s easier to navigate within the streets. The downside is that it lacks real highlights. It’s one of these places where you can aimlessly wander around for one or two hours and somehow nothing is really memorable. The government district and the Kasba are worth passing by. The main mosque was closed for non-Muslims. We walked from our hotel to the Medina. The rest of the center of Tunis is, compared to the others I saw in Tunisia, the closest to a decent city with a normal street layout and even a city train. The Avenue Habib Bourguiba is mentionable, with the Tunis Cathedral and the theatre. For most, Tunis is probably an easy pick, as it’s the main airport to enter the country and several other WHS are within reach.
The old town of Tunis is one of the best medinas one can visit in the whole Arab world - and certainly one of the most accessible. It may not be overly spectacular, but it gives you a good impression of Arab history and culture - and it is definitely cleaner than, say, Cairo. A nice cup of tea and some haggling in the bazaar make for an enjoyable day.
The Medina of Tunis is perhaps the best Medina in the country, whilst the sites are nothing spectacular, and you can walk straight past them if you do not keep an eye out!, but the atmosphere of the labyrinthine streets is great!
The main way through is just an endless stream of shop keepers trying to sell you souvenirs, but if you duck off down some side alleys and get to some other markets you will start to see more of the real Tunis. It takes some time to really get acclimatised to Medina life but once you do it is great!
The central mosque I found to be a little disappointing especially as, not being a Muslim I had to pay just to walk through the gate to a very small viewing area to see a courtyard that was being renovated.
The best thing to do is just to get in and wander aimlessly, buy things from the vendors; especially the Barbary Figs (Prickly Pears!) they are sold on carts the whole way around the medina and they cost 100mils. (About ,08 € cents) and they even get peeled for you, go into a tea room and just sit with the locals who are ridiculously friendly, then go off and barter for some souvenirs.
Tip: if you want some roof top views many of the shops have terraces which you can go up to but don’t expect to get away to quickly when you come down to quickly as you will at least have to look at the carpets and pipes (at special price for you because they like you) or alternatively use a camera in front of the main mosque and within a few moments you will have some one showing you around with a few stops at their ‘brothers’ perfume shops, It is all part of the fun though!
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