Tunisia – The Jewel of the Mediterranean

In Travel Inspiration by Nora Hamdi

When someone says Tunisia, you think of sandy beaches, traditional sweets, and Star Wars (yes, it was filmed in Tataouine in the South). When someone says they’ll be going to Tunisia for the holidays, you may assume it’s because they found a great deal from Thomas Cook. As a result, when I found out I was going to Tunisia for 3 weeks, I wasn’t surprised at all. You must now be thinking then, why this article? The reason is that even though Tunisia is a recognised hot-spot for Tourism, there are still regions away from the coast which are treasures in their own right which are often ignored. An example of this is Sidi Bouzid.

The countryside of Sidi Bouzid lined with olive trees and mountains in the distance.

El-Hawamed, Sidi Bouzid, lined with olive trees and mountains in the distance.

My first stop was to the birthplace of the Arab Spring, Sidi Bouzid. Upon first glance, greenery is scarce. Comparing it to the lush fields of England, it’s basically the Sahara. But there is a reason why Tunisia has developed the reputation of “Green Tunisia” amongst the Arabs, or “Tunis El-Khadra”. The brilliance of the scenery is in its simplicity. That is, the untouched beauty, from the countless olive trees that are perfectly aligned and the few high mountains that form a border around the completely flat terrain.

It is important that we bear in mind that Tunisia is a very small country. It’s the smallest country in North Africa with a population of around 11 million. However, when night falls and the stars light up the sky, it almost feels as though you are standing in a land so vast that your mind cannot comprehend. The lack of heavy industrialisation in Southern regions has left them lacking skyscrapers and any other obstructions to star-gazing. The lack of pollution removes that barrier of smog that one would find at a place like Primrose Hill, and makes the stars in their countless numbers shine ever brighter.

Fruits and vegetables are grown locally, with farming being the main occupation. Markets teem with families selling their produce, with donkey-driven carts moving down the road to replenish the stock. The stalls hold a variety of vibrant colours and smells; peppers, pumpkins, potatoes. Old men sit on the floor and sell bags of garlic, next to women selling traditional Tunisian bread, ‘kesra’. Walking through the marketplace with all the bargaining and haggling over prices, you cannot but feel a sense of admiration for the way people can continue their lives despite political and economic upheaval. Even though Sidi Bouzid is going through a tough time, and has been for several years, they find a way to plough forward and keep trying to stay afloat.

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I then headed to a more touristic region; Sousse. I was still hung-up over having to leave Sidi Bouzid that I didn’t see much of it at first. It was only when I was driving and passed the coastline that I realised what I had been missing. Of course there are pictures included with this article, but I will make a feeble attempt to describe it with words. The Mediterranean Sea lay ahead, painting my eyes with a deep turquoise that I couldn’t escape no matter where I turned. Its movements were calm, softly caressing the coast then withdrawing its touch only to return. A volleyball match was being played, teams divided into the Tunisian workers and a few English tourists. Language was no more a barrier than the net that stood between them, and the sound of laughter filled my ears. In that moment, it was no wonder why Sousse was such a touristic destination. It was stunning.

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The next day, I toured the entire city. First off was the Grand Mosque, which dates back to the 9th Century AD. Although it was so old, it was beautifully kept and clean. A minaret loomed over the courtyard, and with an immense amount of bravery I climbed the uneven worn out stairs to reach the top. I don’t know how many of you have ever played Assassin’s Creed, but the view and adrenaline was like when one has climbed to the top of a minaret in the game, except without the fall. It was breathtaking. Sousse was visible from all angles, the beach to the east and the city centre to the west. In that moment, all stresses were relieved from my mind, and the only worry I had was the climb back down.

Then there was Ribat, a building even older than the Grand Mosque, followed by the museum. The museum held such an enormous number of mosaics, and according to the tour guide Tunisia has the second largest number of mosaics in the world. There were also gravestones from the 9th Century with Latin inscriptions, and teapots dated even before Christ. I then paid a visit to Port Kantaoui and was wowed by the cleanliness, beauty and elegance of the area. The weather was perfect, hot and sunny but with a perfect breeze.

To conclude, go to Tunisia. Whether it is the coastal cities or the inner regions, you are sure to be mesmerised.