Unique Places in Tunisia

  • Off The Beaten Path
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  • Off The Beaten Path
    by croisbeauty
  • Off The Beaten Path
    by croisbeauty

Most Viewed Off The Beaten Path in Tunisia

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    Ghar el Melh: the Turquish port

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 7, 2009

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    Unfortunately this port has no pirate origins but it was the main naval base in Tunisia until the 19th century. Nowadays all you can find is some colorful fishing boats and the fortifications that protected it in the past but it’s nice to walk around there and take some pictures. I found specially interesting the constructions to keep and repair the boats (pictures 2 and 3). Nowadays they are dark, dirty and full of rubbish (only few of them still have its original function) but the architecture is very very beautiful.

    Directions: North of Tunisia

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    Ghar el Melh: the fortresses

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 7, 2009

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    In Ghar el Melh there are three fortresses; They are from pirates' time but they have suffered a lot of transformations during the centuries.
    At the beginning (XVIIth century) they were used as slaves' prison; During the French protectorate (1881) they were used as prisons and after the Independence people were sent there to do hard labors. For this reason in Tunisia when you are fed up of a person you say to him: "go to Ghar el Melh!!. Habib Bourguiba decided to move this sad activity to another place. Why so? From Ghar el Melh left the first Tunisians that fought against the French for the Independence so Bourgiba did not want that Ghar el Melh was remembered for those activities;
    Usually you cannot visit the fortress. The best time to admire them is during the month of June when its rooms host an International Photograph Competition.

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    Ghar el Melh: pirates!!

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 7, 2009

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    55km north of Tunis you can visit the nice sea village Ghar el Melh. Ghar el Melh means "salt grottos" due to its proximity to a salt marsh. This is a tiny village (just one road) but its history is fascinating; Founded by Phoenicians it soon became Utica's "pre-port". During the XVth and XVIth centuries Porto Farina (its ancient name) was the base of pirates and smugglers, specially from the British Empire and Malta; When piracy disappeared this port became a navel base but not for long because the lagoon started to silt up; Ghar el Melh is important for another reason: from its port left the first Tunisians that fought against the French for the Independence.
    Although Ghar el Melh is very small maybe its the place that has more interesting things to visit per Km2. You can see the old port (not from pirates' time) and 3 ottoman fortresses. The landscape (the lagoon) is very nice as well and you have a wonderful beach (Sidi Ali Mekki) just at 5 minutes by car.

    Directions: North of Tunisia

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    Dar Chaabane: stonework

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 7, 2009

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    If you get lost in Nabeul maybe you arrive here :-)).
    This happy village is not between the tourist destinations list in Tunisia and by the looks of its people i guess i was "the tourist of the month". I went there just because the weather in Tunis looked threatening and i wanted to visit a new place not far from the capital (just in case);
    What can interest you about Dar Chaabane? Well its a typical Tunisian village (I mean its not corrupted by tourism) known for the stonework (lots of masons live here and you can see them working the stone) where you can buy nice statues for a very good price. No souvenirs stalls, no people saying: "come to my shop!", "Spanish, English?" can be another reason. Besides, I found it surprisingly "alive" despite I visited it during Ramadan month and the weather was very bad, maybe because it was the Market Day (on Sunday). You can find very nice decorated public buildings too, like the mosque, a zawiya and the hammam.
    Pay attention to the doors (picture 3): the stonework is very beautiful!

    Directions: Cap Bon
    Dar Chaabane is 4km north of Nabeul

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    Beja: the city of red minarets

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 7, 2009

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    Beja is not a tourist city. Again by the looks of the people I felt I was “the tourist of the month”. But there are two-three nice things to visit so if you are for example on your way to Bulla Regia, Beja would worth a short stop.
    Let’s begin with the eclectic medina, one of Tunisia’s most authentic, where everything (I’m talking about architecture :D ) is permitted and you can find suggestive corners to take pictures. There are several religious buildings (zawiyas and mosques) very nice but they would need a general lifting. Note the red minaret of the Great Mosque, an uncommon colour for these constructions (usually they are green). There is another red minaret a little bit far from the centre… who knows…
    After the medina there is the colonial (French) area, around the town hall square, very beautiful too; Visit the Muslim cemetery, not far from the town hall, and the deconsecrated church (today a cultural centre) next to it.
    And finally climb to visit (from outside) the Kasbah which has Byzantine origins but nowadays its appearance is mainly from the XIX th century.
    Beja is well known in the country for its meat so if you have time, taste it.

    Talking about public transport, Beja is directly connected to Tunis (1h 30min aprox) but going back to the capital can be an adventure because trains are very crowded and there are few louages (and only until 4-5pm). I assisted to a not nice lesson of Tunisian anthropology (people fighting to have a place on the louage). I just stayed out of the mass and smiled. Sometimes it works with tourist ladies and the driver gave me a place :-). A louage costs 13DT (7€) round trip.

    Directions: Central West of Tunisia

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    Ain Tounga: beautiful Byzantine fortress

    by Elisabcn Updated Mar 6, 2009

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    Ain Tounga is not a tourist place. And when I say this I don’t mean it’s visited by few people: it means it does not appear neither on tourist maps, nor on guidebooks!. There are no indication panels (you know that you have arrived because you see the remains) and no information. But it’s a very nice site that deserves a visit if you are around!
    In Ain Tounga you will find the remains of the Roman city of Thignica (with an interesting market, a forum, baths, theatre, amphitheatre...) and one beautiful Byzantine fortress (maybe the finest Byzantine fortress in Tunisia!) with five towers one of them almost intact. It is very interesting the sophisticated water system projected by Romans (apart from all the channel work there are 17 cisterns and lots of siphons). Also interesting, and sometimes funny, is the way that Byzantines recycled the Roman structures

    Ain Tounga is situated in a very fertile area, full of olive trees. I liked "the picture" of all those roman remains surrounded by the olive trees.

    For more info take look at my travelogue about Ain Tounga

    Directions: Central East of Tunisia

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    Haïdra: border Roman city

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 28, 2009

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    Welcome to the Wild West! Haïdra is a border city: from here Algeria is only at 43Km. And it is also a forgotten city . . . forgotten by locals, by tourists and even by archaeologists . . . and it’s a pity because it’s really huge and very interesting!!! I guess there are more underground remains waiting to be discovered than visible remains.
    We are talking about the remains of Ammaedara, one of the most ancient Roman cities in Africa. The Augustus’ Third Legion settled here by the Ist century AD to protect the fertile valleys against the rebellious tribal lords of the Algerian and Tunisian mountains. After defeating these tribes, Ammaedara was populated with retired soldiers and became a prosperous trading town.
    It’s difficult to have a “vue d’ensemble” of Haidra: it is really huge and the land is not flat. The fact that the road from Kalaat Khasba passes through the middle of the site, does not help either. And it’s difficult to imagine how the city was in ancient times because the site has monuments from different periods, styles and people. For me the best way to enjoy Haidra is admiring monument by monument, looking at them individually and sometimes in relation to the landscape. There are really very interesting monuments kept in very good conditions, like the Third Legion Cemetery, the Arch of Septiminius Severus (192AD)
    (pictures 1 and 3), the reconstructed Church of Melleus (built during the IVth century using the famous Chemtou marble and with interesting inscriptions telling about the conflicting times when the Byzantines were replaced by the Vandals) or the Underground Baths,
    (picture 5) built during the last period of Haidra. But in a country like Tunisia with so many Roman sites, what makes Haïdra so special is its non-Roman buildings (see my next tip) because they are rare. Haïdra is gorgeous at sunset. Consider 3-4 hours to visit it well.

    Directions: West of Tunisia

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    Lalla Oasis: river oasis

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 24, 2009

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    An oasis is an isolated area of vegetation in a desert, surrounding a water source. There are very beautiful mountain oases in the west of the country (I have a tip about Mides) with beautiful waterfalls and nice views. Lalla Oasis, at 7km south east of Gafsa, is a little bit different because it is a river oasis so if you are around Gafsa it deserves a look. In Lalla there are some informative panels about its flora and fauna which make your visit more interesting. But it’s a pity because it’s not very well kept!

    Directions: West of Tunisia

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    Gammarth: French War Cemetery

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 24, 2009

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    The French War Cemetery is very beautiful. Not far from the American Cemetery, they were built in the same period, the story is more or less the same and they have the same purpose, but I found them quite different. While Americans “created” in the middle of nowhere a wonderful landscape to “contain” their cemetery (when you are there everything is so perfect and so different . . . you have the feeling that you are not in Tunisia), the French cemetery forms part of the landscape itself and the tombs (simple and only decorated with a white cross and a green helmet) are elegantly spread on the slopes of the hill and facing the turquoise sea.
    I think it’s a matter of culture.

    Since March 1940, 340000 soldiers from all North Africa took part of l’ Armée d’Afrique in the French campaign. By the end of the hostilities l’Armée d’Afrique was reduced to 120000 men: French Algerians, Moroccans and Tunisians all muddled up. The Tunisian campaign started on 19th November 1942 with the battle of Medjez El Bab and finished on 13th may 1943 with the capitulation of the Axe forces in Africa.

    Important: anyone can tell me which is the difference between the inscription “mort pour la France le…” and the inscription “décédé le…” ??.

    Updates: again JL resolved my questions about Tunisia (well in this case about France too). Thanks JL!!!

    "Mort pour la France" is an official title that gives a few advantages to the family (wife, children) and awarded to (to make a long story short) those that were killed at fight.

    Mort pour la France

    Those that are not awarded that title might have been killed for example in road accidents, not on the front line. Or by illness, not on the front line, etc. I have read that death of soldiers in road accident was a very frequent thing.

    Directions: Tunis city, banlieue Nord

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    Jughurta's Table: kiss the sky!!

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 23, 2009

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    Jughurta's Table is great!!. It's a mesa 1.255m high that has its name from the Numidian King Jughurta , who used it as a natural fortress against the Romans. The best views of Jughurta's table are from a distance. Even if it is surrounded by other mountains it's clear why you want to go to Jughurta's . . . it's very impressive !!
    Jughurta's Table raises 200m vertically above its base and the climbing is not difficult. It should take you less than 2 hours back and forth. On the top the guardian will welcome you and he will show you some spots, like the remains of Senan's fortress (a local leader who during the XVIIIth century tried to resist the Bey's troops) and some troglodyte dwellings. Legend says that Masinissa, the first king of Numidia, Jughurta's grandfather and ancestor of the Kabyle people, built the first fortress there around 200 B.C. Apart from the remains there is also a zawiyya (veeeeeery interesting specially if you visit Jughurta's during a cold and windy day!) where two saints are buried (i did not know that you could open and close a tomb like you do with a jewel case ;-)), (picture 4) and some water reservoirs. If the weather is good and the sky is clear you will have wonderful views of the country and you will be able to greet your neighbour Algeria !
    On the way to Jughurta's Table you will find a lot of police controls, basically due to its proximity to Algeria's border. Remember to register yourself at the National Guard's office at Kalaat es Senam.

    Dedicado a mis geólogas preferidas XX

    Directions: West of Tunisia

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    On the way to Jughurta's Table . . .

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 23, 2009

    This was my first attempt to go to Jughurta’s Table, following the road from Maktar to Haidra. Here you are on the Dorsale Mountains, the continuation of Morocco and Algeria’s Atlas Mountains. Views are gorgeous, superb, wonderful. . . I could stay there admiring these landscapes for hours. Unfortunately it was not possible in that occasion but we took nice pictures :-)

    Directions: West of Tunisia

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    Haïdra:byzantine fortress & other constructions

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 23, 2009

    The Byzantine fortress was built by the command of Justinian in the middle of the 6th century, and is said to be the largest of its kind in North Africa. Constructed from the old roman road until the banks of Oued Haidra it measured 200x100 metres with walls 10 metres high. Inside there is a chapel, a church and other remains. The sandstone used to the construction of these buildings is very beautiful (picture 5).
    Other monuments that deserve your attention are the Numidian Tombs
    (picture 1), beautiful, put on the land like objects or sculptures; the Vandal Chapel
    (picture 2)with some inscriptions from the Vandal kings of the VIth century, is small but very interesting because there are few examples of constructions from this period; and finally there are other fine remains without a known purpose where you could imagine to find John Wayne (roman version with his toga) behind the corner.

    Directions: West of Tunisia

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    Zama: yes I did it!!

    by Elisabcn Updated Feb 14, 2009

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    I was very interested in visiting Zama because there it took place one of those important events that changed the World History: the Battle of Zama, where Hannibal was defeated by the roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio and meant the end of his power and the emergence of the Roman Empire. That happened in 202 BCE during the Second Punic War. There would be another Punic War, the Third Punic War, but it was just to be sure that Cartago never will recover again (after the Second Punic War Romans prohibited Cartago to spend its money in wars so they used it to theirselves becoming a prosperous and beautiful trading city and Romans started to be afraid. . .).
    Nowadays Zama Regia is known by locals as « Jama » and it’s a tiny and lost village of about ten shacks (picture 3).Although being a very off the beaten path place, its inhabitants were not surprised to see us, I guess they are concious of Jama’s importance. The archaeologic site is closed to the public, archaeologists keep on doing excavations and studying the remains but the guardian was kind enough to let us come in. But photography is strictly forbidden inside and he will follow you everywhere to be sure that you respect it. What you can see today is a Roman city built some centuries after the battle, with the remains of a market, a temple and some dwellings. (picture 2). But you can immagine by the landscape the position of the Romans and the Cartagininians and how Romans moved forward.

    (http://www.roman-empire.net/army/zama.html).

    By the way, gorgeous landscapes !(picture 4).

    Directions: Central West of Tunisia
    12 Km West of Siliana

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    Haddej: troglodytes' houses and angry kids

    by Elisabcn Updated Jan 16, 2009

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    Haddej is until now the only place that I recommend you not to go. Lonely Planet describes it as a place where you can find original troglodyte houses, without all that Matmata’s touristy accessories. . . Haddej was also used to shot some scenes of the Monty Pyton’s Life of Brian and “the marriage cave” should worth a visit as well. But as soon as you arrive there some angry kids will follow you everywhere asking for money . . . it was very disgusting!!! So our visit to Haddej lasted less than 10 minutes, the time to take 2-3 pictures, I could not stand all those angry kids!!. What a pity . . . because the landscape, with all those white domes (zawiyyas for some saints) was beautiful!. Oh, I have read that most of the families owning a troglodyte dwelling here, charge you an entrance fee to visit it . . . mah!

    Directions: South of Tunisia

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    Tamezret: village on a hill

    by Elisabcn Written Jan 16, 2009

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    On the way to Matmata, the sleepy village of Tamezret deserves a short stop. Some tourist buses do it, but they only stay at the foot of the hill, where there is a tourist café and people can take nice pictures of the valley and buy some souvenirs. The real Tamezret is on the hill, walking in all those climbing streets until the white mosque on the top. There are some villages like Tamezret in the country but almost all of them are abandoned so Tamezret is interesting because it is still alive and more or less well kept.

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Tunisia Off The Beaten Path

Reviews and photos of Tunisia off the beaten path posted by real travelers and locals. The best tips for Tunisia sightseeing.
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