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Winter sun in Tunisia
February 2012

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Bab El Bhar, or Porte de France in Tunis Bookmark and Share

Here's where the old town of Tunis begins: the gate Bab El Bhar.

The "Gate Of the Sea" was built in 1860. There's a legend that tells the sea used to be at the footsteps of the gate, but that's not true.
The name was given because the gate looks to the direction of the sea so.
It's still called Porte de France, which is the name it had during colonial times.

There are about 700 monuments in the Medina of Tunis. Palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas... That's what I call a wealthy cultural city!

If so many buildings are protected, it's of course for cultural reasons.
But there's also an economic reason behind this. Those old buildings don't have the comfort of modern living, that means elevators, garages and so many things that might seem obvious today.
The richest families left the medina to live in more comfortable houses in modern Tunis, la Marsa or modern Carthage.
For the last few decades, most houses here have been inhabited by middle-class or popular families, that have little or no means to take care of their houses.
By listing the buildings, the authorities aim to help economically to protect the medina.
But acccording to this article by the local paper La Presse, the restoration of the Medina has been on hold since the 2011 revolution.

To read more about the protection of Tunis' old town, visit the website of the Association de Sauvegarde de la Medina de Tunis.

A man walking the streets in the Medina in Tunis
Patisserie Yassine in the Medina of Tunis

Getting inside the Medina of Tunis is like travelling in time. It feels like a very different city and it's hard to imagine that we were actually in a quite modern capital city.

For centuries, Tunis was a small town that lived under the shadow of the mighty Carthage.
It only started to enjoy some glory of its own after the Arab conquest of the 7th century. Carthage, which was Byzantine at that time, was once more destroyed.
Instead of rebuilding a new Carthage, the Arabs settled in Tunis. But the town wasn't as important of other places like Kairouan or Mahdia.

In the 13th century Tunis finally became a provincial capital under the Almohad Dynasty, thanks to its strategic geographical position.
Many Andalousian Jews and Muslims settled in Tunis chased by the Reconquista in Spain. They brought a new wave of economical and intellectual prosperity to the city.

was captured by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century.
The Ottoman Governors were the Beys, and each one built his own palace. Some of them were built inside the Medina, or some outside, like the Bardo, which is now a museum.

A cat sleeping in a car in the medina of Tunis
The minaret of the Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis

When the French instaured a protectorate in 1881, Tunis was ready for another lifting. But this one took place outside the Medina.
Some of the most emblematic buildings are along Avenue Habib Bourguiba.

Tunisians are proud of their heritage.
As we were on our way to the Medina, we were talking about our visit while waiting for the traffic light to go green. The man that was waiting by our side told us where to go, gave us a few tips, and told us a few historic details.
He didn't wanted to sell us anything, he was a man proud of his city that wanted to share something about his town with us.
We had a few similar experiences during our trip.

We were also invited to a terrace from where we could have a panoramic view of the city, with its minarets and its parabolic antennas.

Minaret of the Zitouna Mosque, as seen from the Youssef Dey Mosque in Tunis

The Medina is the historic, commercial, and also the religious core of the city.

Several very interesting Mosques are found around the small pedestrian streets.

This one is the Ez-Zitouna, or Al-Zaytuna Mosque and its minaret is kind of the landmark of Tunis.
The name means "Mosque of the Olive" and is the oldest in the city, from the 8th Century. The columns of the courtyard were recycled right from the ruins Carthage.

Youssef Dey Mosque in the Medina of Tunis

This one is the Youssef Dey Mosque.
Built by the Ottomans in 1616, it was the first mosque with an octogonal minaret.
Since 1926, the mosque is an annex of the University of the Ez-Zitouna Mosque.

The courtyard beautuful. There are some fine marble columns and the mausoleum of the founder of the mosque and its family.
We were allowed to get in, but inside it isn't really impressive, the nicest part is the exterior.

The Kasbah Mosque in Tunis

The Kasbah Mosque was built in 1230 as a private Mosque for the rulers of the Hafsid dynasty.
As Tunis changed hands over time, it became a public mosque.

I don't know what does the rope hanging from the minaret means.
This mosque stands on Kasbah Square, not far from some government buildings. Several demonstrations took place here during the 2011 Revolution.

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Zaouïa Sidi Ben Arous in Tunis

This picture was taken inside a Zawiya, a relugious building with a large a library, just beside the Zitouna Mosque.

This Zaouïa is also the Mausoleum of Sidi Ben Arous, a tunisian scholar from the 15th century who lived between Fez in Morocco and Tunis.
Ater his death, a Zawiya was built here, where he used to pray.

The courtyard can be visited and it's very well maintained. We stayed there for some time: There isn't much ro see, but it's a very peaceful place.

Paint it Blue!

Paint it Blue!
If I should remember Tunisia for one colour, that would be blue. While most houses are white, doors and windows are often painted blue.

Tunis and Sidi Bou Said are the kind of places where the front door becomes a work of art
Click here for some pictures of Sidi Bou Said.

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A cat looking through a blue window

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