What Mahdia looked like
In the museum on the first floor is a reconstruction plan of how Mahdia would have looked when it was built by the Fatimids. It reminds me of Valletta (the capital of Malta) which was also a fortified peninsula. Note that the walls once went round the whole town and that the Great Mosque had the sea on two sides. There was also a smaller oval shaped harbour behind the main Fatimid Port.
Mahdia is now on the beaten path, but...
Go off season! November, February, April....the zone touristique hotels stand forlorn and empty, the pizzerias in town are all shuttered and abandoned, but life goes on in Mahdia in winter, and the atmosphere is much much more relaxed than in summer. In spring, Cap d'Afrique is prettier anyway, with all the dandelions and grass everywhere...by summer, this has all died and dust prevails.
Don't limit your explorations to the tourity bit of souk by the Skifa (as you enter the old town)...the souvenir shops do peter out after a few hundred metres, and tourists are still relatively rare in the rest of the medina.
In high season, Mahdia may well be a smaller version of Sousse or Monastir...so to get off the beaten track, hop in a louage heading south and in a couple of hours you can feel like an intrepid explorer in the medina of Sfax, Tunisia's second city and one of my favourite places. See my Sfax page for more.
More Fatimid remains
Opposite the entrence to the Borj el Kebir, local kids may beckon you over to explore the ruins of...well, I'm not quite sure what. Whether palace, brothel or grainstore, they're not very impressive, but worth a wander, if only to chat to the kids and the old women who take their sheep for walks on this ruin-strewn patch of grass. There is a gate, which looks as if it might be there for a purpose, but nobody takes much notice of it, so wander in at will.
The two kids in my photo were keen to show me around, although neither could tell me anymore about the history than the sheep could. They did talk a lot though, and unusually for a tourist site, seemed to want to talk rather than ask for cadeaux or un stilo or des bonbons. No doubt the old woman tending the sheep could have known something about the ruins, but she was a bit shy and did not want to chatter with the likes of me.
Discover Mahdia before others!
Mahdia, 40,000 inhabitants, is the main fishing port of Tunisia, 450 km south to Tunis, 300 km north to Gab?s. It is especially fishing dusky grouper, Epinephelus guazao (m?rou noir in French, mennani ahmar or merot in Arab), gilt head sea bream, Sparus aurata (dorade in French, aura or gerraf in Arab) and pilchard, Sardina pilchardus (sardine in French). The fish market is held every morning in the covered market and is a must see.
Mahdia has a long history that began with the Phoenicians but the city has suffered so many destructions that their remains little of its far away past. However, the city has not been yet invaded by tourists and the medina is worth the visit as well as the Ferhat Ached Boulevard.