Many Asian and African countries, including Tunisia, are predominantly Muslim, so the religious sites you are most likely to encounter, are, predictably, mosques. This is a brief tip of advice, written from the point of view of a non-Muslim, female traveler (yours truly!!!):
- Do dress modestly, covering arms, legs, shoulders and the like, no frivolous dressing will be allowed. Hire the modest dress if needed;
- Check whether you are allowed into the mosque at all, since most of them admit you only into the courtyard, and some do not admit non-Muslims at all. However, in several countries you may be able to visit the interiors of many mosques;
- Respect the boundaries laid and do not attempt to enter further (I saw such a thing once, and it did arouse ill-feeling);
- If possible try to avoid going even to the courtyard on Friday afternoon, since I remember this is the most important praying time of the week;
- If you are curious, feel free to ask questions (though not of people hurrying to pray) and most likely you will be answered: I’ve always found people proud of their culture and heritage and ready to explain it;
- Do not criticize things we in Europe and in the West might (such as separate praying space for men and women), for such are the customs of the land and mosques are the least appropriate places for such topics.
This advice is based only on common sense, but it allowed me to see something of the mosques and learn loads of interesting info on Muslim countries, their religion, and culture. Really helped me when we had a general education class on religions at University:))
The marina is a picturesque area where there are lots of yachts berthed. There are shops - a supermarket, several gifts shops, restaurants, cafes, apartments and a hotel. This is the spot where you will find tourists and locals alike wandering up and down the promenade or sitting in the cafes.
It is the perfect spot to just sit and people watch sitting in one of the cafes. There are one or two establishments around the marina that advertise the fact that they sell alcohol. Such places aren't as numerous as in non-Muslim countries.
Just a brief wander
I didn't spend long in Monastir; my visit came at the end of a long, hot and busy day. So there was time only for a brief wander around the main historical buildings near the harbour and beach...no chance to explore the medina.
The marina and beach were packed with people.......the beginning of August, and holidaymakers from Algeria and Libya and elsewhere, as well as Europeans, and local families too (there is a 3 month school summer holiday).
Monastir, like Sousse, is very tourist-focused but I found the hassle in Monastir much more overt. I don't know why; perhaps trade had not been so good that day, or this summer. Or perhaps, because of its links with Bourghiba, it is even more used to visitors and its traders behave accordingly. At any rate, it was the only place where I had to be really quite sharp to get rid of a child hassler.....used my teacher's voice (in French) and didn't feel happy doing so.
So. Monastir: densely-populated, as it all this bit of Tunisia (even in Roman times......all that money to be made from trade in olive oil!). It's also the birthplace of Habib Bourguiba, President of Tunisia from its independence in 1956 until 1987 and a man still held in high esteem by Tunisians. He chose to be buried in the town, his family mausoleum in the Koubba of Sidi el Mezeri cemetery, (near the marina) is massive, with a gilded dome and a pair of minarets.
Monastir has two ribats. The larger, the Ribat of Harthema (with a few Roman columns to be seen), dates from 796 and was the first ribat to allow female students and teachers. The interior is the same as the other ribat I visited, at Sousse: small cells around a central courtyard, with just one shared room (the prayer hall). And it's especially famous because it was used in Monty Python's 'Life of Brian' (and in Zefferelli's 'Jesus of Nazareth' too).
The smaller ribat, that of Sidi Dhouwayeb (or Sidi Dhouib) lies to the side of Harthema and is, I believe, older although I have no date for it. I didn't have time to go in. Both ribats have been substantially rebuilt over the centuries.
The Great Mosque stands between the two ribats.....it dates back to the 9th century.
So .......plenty of history still to be seen, without going anywhere near the medina. My guidebook says the original medina was around the ribat (which makes sense) and what exists today was once almost a suburb, and mainly dates from the 18th century. I didn't feel cross about not having time to explore further.