The Doors of Sidi Bou Said
One of the first things I noticed about Sidi Bou Said was its attractive architecture of white-washed buildings with deep blue accents much like what I have seen in pictures of Santorini, Greece. The intense colors of Bougainvilla along with palm trees are beautiful, and I love the lacey scrolled ironwork surrounding windows, but it is the unique doors of Sidi Bou Said that really catches my eye.
These unusual doors are typically arched, some with Moorish arches and may be outlined in alternating color blocks of white and black. Most doors themselves are painted a brilliant deep Cerulean blue color and often have artisitic patterns made by using large, wrought-iron black nail heads. Patterns are often elaborate and symbolic. For example, the outline or picture of "hands" in art, doors or everyday goods are said to be symbols of good luck or keep evil spirits away.
These beautiful doors themselves seem to be the signature of or symbol of Tunisia and so you may see them, as we did, as enlarged pictures and mounted on a building; on postcards; on ceramics; in metalwork; and even on magnets. When I think of Tunisia, one of the things I will remember most are the beautiful and exotic-looking doors.
Shopping & the Art of Negotiation
The delicate art of bargaining, bartering, and negotiation when shopping can be an enjoyable pursuit or a less than enjoyable experience, depending on what you make of it. In many countries it is expected that customers will bargain or negtiate when shopping.
I am rather new at bargaining and I enjoyed trying my hand at it in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia. It is never my intention to bargain someone down to such a low price that they are insulted or angry. It is also never my intention to get ripped off, although maybe I have been. I feel strongly that there can be no enjoyment in being a stingy, miserly jerk of a person who basically walks away with an item almost for free. I aim for fairness on both sides always.
I have read that a good start for bargaining is one-quarter or one third of the asking price depending on what the item is (some people say one-tenth of the asking price). I tried to be very polite and respectful of everyone I bargained with and I bargained until I was happy (or close to it) with the price as was the shopowner. In one particularly nice shop with Tunisian pottery, the first asking price was 60 Euro for a handpainted, oval bowl of good size. I kept saying "too much (money)". I did not leave with the large bowl, but I left with a very nice decorative piece & another smaller bowl included in the deal for 30 Euros. I also purchased a plate and vase together for even less. Maybe I did OK because the shopowner said, "No more" and politely ushered me out the door.
At another roadside shop I was lookiing at postcards and a teenage boy told me a folding "book" of postcards was 1 euro. It wasn't a high price of course, but the "book" that he wanted me to take was a little worn from handling already. So I bargained with him to give me a few more new postcards with the book for the 1 euro or so.
Village of Artists
Sidi Bou Said is sometimes called the "Village of Artists." It had been a favorite of artists, poets and writers in the early part of the 20th century. The intense beauty of the sea, the architecture and color of the place is simply awe-inspiring. Capturing this amazing beauty in watercolors or oils would be no small accomplishment. So it is no wonder why artists such as Paul Klee, Gustave-Henri Jossot, August Macke and Louis Moillet visited Sidi Bou Said and spent time here. Sidi Bou Said also attracted notable Tunisian artists such as Tahia Turki, Brahim Dhahak, and Amma Farhat whose work, unfortunately, I am not familiar with.
Paul Klee, a Swiss-borne artist, came to Sidi Bou Said in 1914 with Jossot and Macke. It is said that Klee experienced a turning point in his artwork here when he came to understand the significance of light and color and the embodiment of it in his work became pivotal. It is said Klee exclaimed, "Color has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it, I know that it has hold of me forever......". Much of Klee's earlier works were black & white sketches. Although artists like Klee are famous, I am not a fan of modern art in most cases.
From my own point of view, it is the native Tunisian artists whose work is seen in roadside shops today that is of importance to me. The artists who handpaint the intricate designs of the beautiful Tunisian pottery, the leathercrafters and weavers, the mosaic artists and painters. It is their artwork which I shall remember and not a modern painting in some cold museum.
Sidi Bou Said
Take the tram from central Tunis to this beautiful village in the north of the country. Has great views across the bay and the buidings are stunning - all painted white and blue. Can be quite a steep walk up a narrow road and tourists visit here by the bus load so can get quite busy. The tram also takes you to Carthage
Views of Sidi Bou Said
One of the best viewpoints in Sidi Bou Said is up near the old lighthouse. Take a left at the main square at the top of rue Habib Thameur and climb uphill for a few minutes. The streets are much quieter up here. A small opening off the street gives excellent views over the town, the gulf and as far as Carthage in the distance.
Another nice viewpoint is the rooftop of the Dar el Annabi museum. You can see across the rooftops of the town and to the gulf in the distance.
Dar el Annabi
Dar el Annabi is an interesting museum in the centre of Sidi Bou Said. The lady who runs the house is a descendant of the man who build the house in the 19th century and many of the rooms have been left untouched from those early days. It's a good example to see how 19th century Tunisian aristocrats might have lived.
You can tour the various rooms of the house where there are exhibits on traditional Berber weddings and on the way of life at the time. Other rooms include prayer rooms, library, summer room and bedrooms. There is a nice courtyard in the centre where you get a complimentary glass of mint tea and there is also a shop there selling the usual stuff aimed at tourists.
Best of all were the views from the roof. You get a lovely view over the town and to the Gulf in the distance.
Tea with a view - Cafe Sidi Chabaane
Head through the lovely village further along Rue el Hadi Zarrouk and you will see it down a series of steps down below you to overlook the sea below. An exellent place to sit and sip tea and coffee - they tend to tea with pine nuts or almonds but didnt make much difference to the flavour - and they dont get much into mint tea as the moroccans do but you can at times get it if you want it.
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wander around the blue and white streets
Great for photos, very photogenic houses and streets - white and blue, bit like Chefchouen in Morocco! - but sea in the back ground, especially with pink and red bouganvillea in bloom , very colourful combinations. The buildings from small houses to big villas have character, interesting architecture. Just wander and roam and look.
Then sit and have coffee somewhere with a view so you can look some more!!
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There is a nice beach in Sidi Bou Said but it's a long climb down from the centre of town. You take the steps on the street beyond Cafe des Nattes. If the climb down feels long the climb back up is a lot worse!
I was hoping to go swimming here though it wasn't quite warm enough on the day. Nevertheless it's a nice place and a good way to escape the tourists in the centre of town.
At the end of Rue Hedi Zarrouk there is a lookout that should not be missed. In a town filled with so much eye candy, it stands out, which is saying a lot. It was interesting to notice that during our short stop there, there were many local youths just hanging out, enjoying the view like us.
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Dar el-Annabi is an 18th-century mansion that has been converted into a museum. Rooms have been restored to give visitors a glimpse into the family life of its former occupants.
While the rooms are very interesting and very well decorated, especially the prayer room and the study, the highlights are definitely the central courtyard, with its giant birdcage, and the terrace, from where you can see all the way to Carthage.
There is also a small shop inside the house, but they didn't sell anything we hadn't already been offered from the street's many vendors.
Dar el-Annabi is open from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Admission is 3 dinars.
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Blue and White
With the arrival of Baron Rodolphe d?Erlanger the light blue and white colours were applied and Sidi Bou Said became the village as it is known and love today. Baron Rodolphe d?Erlange's house is now a museum of traditional life and we really enjoyed a visit here. Afascinating insight into the old customs and aslo less crowded than the streets. Well worth the entrance fee of 5 dinars for the two of us.
Rue Habib Thameur
Sidi Bou Said is situated 20 km North of Tunis and owes its name to the Muslim saint Abu Said Ibn Khalef Ibn Yahia El-Beji. Rue Habib Thameur is the main street through Sidi Bou Said - and you can see from this pic how congested it gets. Its so pretty with its blue and white houses perched on a cliff with views of the Bay of Tunis that it has become a magnet for touristic coach tours.
Abu Said died in 1231 and was buried on the Jebel; his mausoleum became a place of pilgrimage and the village of Sidi Abu Said was built around it. The In the 18th century, the Husseinite Beys (Turkish governors turned kings) and later the wealthy burghers of Tunis erected residences, roads and thus Sidi Bou Said gradually got its present typical architecture.
Siid Bou Said
The Rue Habib Thameur climbs up through the village to a small square.Shops and tourist stalls are now replaced by cafes - the square is dominated by the legendary Cafe des Nattes. Further on the road leads along and down to the sea with views of the harbour and the Gulf of Tunis, flanked by the mountains behind.
Coffee & shisha in Sidi Bou Said
Sit and sip a green tea with mint or at the "Café des Nattes" and/ or continue upwards to the "lighthouse" and the fabulous view from "Sidi Chebaane" café.
My favorite Tunisian tea treat was the aux pignons - tea with pine seeds.
Very often in the evenings you have concerts of traditional Tunisian music - malouf.
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