Shopping in Tunisia
"Shopping in Tunisia"
The souk is also a treasure chest of inexpensive and interesting items for collections, ornaments and fun. You can find inexpensive, sequined and gilded harem outfits, jebbas and embroidered vests, scorpions, fossils, seashells, African beads, minerals- the rose of the sands, slippers with turned up toes and Bedouin scarves and headbands, Tunisian stamps, which are truly beautiful (collectors ,visit at the Post Office Museum in Tunis), tiny pottery tea sets, little pill boxes - some in silver, oil lamps, flutes, Tunisian "bagpipes", exquisite perfume bottles, tamborines, essences of perfume, incense, and on and on. Something for everyone !
"of Special Mention"
A collection of traditionally dressed dolls may be found at the official Office of the artisanat shops. Well made and authentic replicas of the costumes and dress of Tunisian women make these dolls wonderful gifts and souvenirs.
"Sidi Bou Said" birdcages in white or olive wood are world famous and can be used as planters, for decoration and ..... for birds. Check the workmanship as this, as well as the size influences the price.
Besides shopping in the souks of the medinas of Tunisia's cities , the weekly market in most country towns and villages offers an astounding variety of products and miscellaneous items along with the fun of sharing in the hustle and bustle of this weekly " event". Country market days are considered a perfect occasion to sell your prize goat.... interested ? plastic bottles, Berber jewelry, wooden kitchen utensils, souvenirs, just about anything that can be traded, sold or bartered.
Villagers arrive at dawn to jostle for a choice place to display their
wares and the market is usually over by noon. The country market is a truly enjoyable experience that should not be missed. Below is a short list of the market days for various towns. Your hotel can also inform you of the day and place, usually the main square.
Monday: Ain Draham, Houmt Souk (Djerba) Kairouan, Maktar, Tataouine Miscellaneous items
Tuesday: Béja, Kasserine, Sedouikech (Djerba) Miscellaneous items
Wednesday: Adjum (Djerba) Jendouba, Sbeitla, Nefta. Nefta's market is famous among those of the oasis region
Thursday: Gafsa, Hammamet, Houmt Souk (Djerba) Siliana and Douz. There is a camel market in Douz
Friday: Djemmel, Mateur, Midoun (Djerba) Sfax, Tabarka, Zarzis, Monastir, Nabeul. Djemmal-camels, Nabeul - livestock, fruits, souvenirs and spices
Saturday: Monastir, Ben Gardane, El Mai (Djerba). Monastir- carpets and rugs which are government stamped upon purchase
Sunday: El Jem, Korba, Ksar Hellal, Enfidha and Sfax. Miscellaneous items
Outside of the official, quality and price, controlled Artisanat (handicraft) shops, where everything from carpets to birdcages bears a price tag, and carpets a stamp of origin and caliber, shopping in Tunisia is definitely an art. Located in the old city (the Medina), the Souks offer a selection of objects of unsurpassed beauty and distinction , excellent arts and craft and traditional work. A sharp eye, nerves of steel, a show of disinterest and a good sense of humor will make shopping a real pleasure.
Inflated prices give both parties the pleasure of bargaining and a golden opportunity to exhibit your talent as an actor. Start by cutting the offer in half, then work up to a compromise if you are really interested. The choice is yours:
Handcarved olive wood: Salad bowls, kitchen articles, vases, lamps, bracelets...beautiful , solid wood , each is distinctively different. This hard and durable wood needs only an occasional slight rubbing with oil to bring out the richness of its patterns. A natural gift from this Mediterranean land.
Authentic Berber bracelets and necklaces can still be found in the souks.
Bracelets are inclined to be heavy - some ornate some exquisitely modern in their primitive designs. The price is usually by weight depending on the silver content and the workmanship. Necklaces are often restrung with the original silver pieces and glass beads, coins or coral, the latter adding to the price. A reputable shop will show you the silver stamp , although on very old pieces this has sometimes been worn away. Copies of original jewelry are more plentiful and often just as beautiful, lighter weight and easier to wear. The fish, hands of Fatma , triangles, arches and other designs are charms to ward off the evil eye or insure fertility. The same symbols are often woven into carpets. Many fine books on Tunisia explain in detail the ancient significance of these signs.
"Pottery & Ceramics"
While Nabeul (Cap Bon) offers a dizzying selection of pottery and ceramics, many of these creations can be found in the souks. Ceramic tiles, platters, and bowls are displayed in every color, hue and design. A careful look will ensure that the hand painting is well done and the piece intact. The use and the region dictate the colors as the yellow/green of Jerba, the earth tones and primitive designs of Sedjane, and the popular blue and white of Nabeul. Guellela (Jerba) holds the prize for the lovely natural color of its clay used to create more "practical" pottery, oil and water jars, bowls and jugs in classical Mediterranean style.
"Brass and Copper"
Embossed, engraved or chased, copper and brass trays, coffeepots, vases and ashtrays are found throughout. The intricacy of the calligraphy and design on the trays set the price, as well as the weight and the size. Ashtrays that can be engraved on the spot with your name in Arabic are a popular, inexpensive souvenir. Both traditional and modern designs are used by the smiths, the choice is yours. The artisanat shops feature items from large fruit bowls to small ash trays of enameled red copper in a beautiful variety of colors and hues.
Hats, pocketbooks, carryalls and hassocks are popular items, in particular the hassocks in natural leather embossed or painted with traditional patterns or the ever popular camel. Book covers are beautifully decorated with gilt and the skill of the traditional leatherworker has in part been reconverted into making quality leather jackets and coats.
Whether you prefer natural wool or camel hair alloucha of Kairouan, brightly colored klim , margoums, or elegant silk, award Tunisia's carpets the prize for quality and price. The selections in every category are infinite and rare is the visitor who can resist such marvels at such reasonable rates. Most carpets are classified by the number of knots per square meter with silk at the top of the list with 250,000 and over! Shopowners will unroll one splendor after another until you find YOUR carpet. The Offices of the artisanat in most cities sell only quality stamped and inspected carpets and while there is no bargaining, prices are reasonable and they can package and send your carpet by plane.
Embroidered or plain , natural shades or intricately patterned, the same skill and art that is used in carpet making is used in the hand weaving of these articles. Pure undyed wool blankets are greatly appreciated in this day of synthetics and fine shawls embroidered with traditional designs make unusual and colorful wall hangings. The colorful ,figurative carpets of Gafsa are often hung on walls of banks, offices and homes and offer a great variety in size and price and color.
While it is possible to unearth a real treasure at the souks in many towns, certified antiques can be purchased at only a few stores in Tunisia. There are fine imitations of ancient coins, stone lamps and statueson sale in many stores and in the museum gift. Browsing through the shops in the souk you will find coins, statues, fossils, authentic traditional women's costumes, art deco, bric a brac, and old versus antique pottery, furniture and art work.