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Sidi Bou Said Travel Guide: 107 reviews and 345 photos
After a long time spent in excited anticipation of visiting Tunisia, we finally arrived in La Goulette by ship. It was a brilliantly sunny and steamy morning; and though it was still early in the morning, the elevated temperature was felt immediately. The town seemed to be enveloped in a heated haze. Only one ofther smaller European cruise ship had preceded us into port. As our ship slid into its own berth, my focus was on the view in town -- a jumble of bright white buildings, a park with green grass shaded by palm trees, and the remains of a walled fortress.
This visit to Tunisia would highlight some "firsts" for me--- it would be the first time I would set foot on the continent of Africa; my first visit to an Arabic country; and, it would be the first time that I would experience such a distinctly different culture from any of my previous travels. We were eager at least one of the most significant historical sites in the Mediterranean -- Carthage!!
Since the sights we wanted to see were not within walking distance of the ship, we decided on a 4-hour ship excursion which included Sidi Bou Said, and Carthage. I originally wanted to take a much longer excursion, which would have included a trip to the Bardo Museum, a visit to the Medina and souk, and also lunch at a local restaurant. However, because everyone in my family had had enough of museums at this point, I compromised on the 4-hour excursion although I was very disappointed that I did not get to see more during our 1 day in Tunisia. When traveling with family, compromise is the operative word. The important thing is that we came away with a lasting impression of Tunisia, Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, and the American WWII cemetery in particular.
Sidi Bou Said is a feast for the eyes--- the startling deep blue of the Bay of Tunis is replicated in the deep Cerulean blue painted accents on whitewashed buildings. Everywhere there are deep pink Bourgainvillas tumbling over garden walls, lacey ironwork covered windows, cobblestone streets worn smooth over time and the exotic script of Arabic writing. Little shops full of colorful Tunisian pottery, clothing, birdcages, mosaics and artwork caught the eye at every turn. The attraction of Sidi Bou Said is in its beauty, its perfect location overlooking the Gulf of Tunis and the friendliness and politeness of its people which was appreciated.
Sidi Bou Said also enjoys the advantage of its proximity to Carthage, one of the major historical areas in this northern part of Tunisia. It was also the birth place of the "patron saint" of Sidi Bou Said whose name was Abou Said ibn Khalif ibn Yaia Ettamini el Beji. We saw his tomb on one of the main streets in the old part of Sidi Bou Said.
A Moment in the Day of .......
As the tourist buses arrive in town, men gather at their favorite tea shop mid-morning to engage in the age old custom of sipping mint tea, indulging in conversation with their friends, and gazing at the tourists. I wonder what their thoughts are as they see our group snapping photos and peeking into every nook and cranny of their village. Perhaps you want to stop and join them, but there is no time and the intrusion may be unwelcome. Certainly no women are seen enjoying the same past time. In fact after thinking for a moment, you realize that you see virtually no women at all on the streets of Sidi Bou Said. And then I wonder: why? We have been told by our guide that in Tunisia women have the same rights as men. Ah then, but it is obvious that custom often plays a more influential role in the lives of the people than what is written into civil law.
I used the little free time we had here to barter for several pieces of colorful, handmade Tunisian pottery and even postcards. I found shop owners to be courteous and polite. If your offer is too low, a shop owner might say, "Could you make your offer a little more agreeable, please." I am impressed. My son later tells me that one shop owner compliments or jokes by saying, "Your Mother's French is very good." It is not true, of course, but again for some reason I am impressed. Good actor or good business man?
Surprisingly and unexpectedly I find myself dreaming of returning to Tunisia to see so much more and observe the people and their customs!!
The history of Tunisia is like that of many countries. It endured an ever changing parade of invaders who left their mark on Tunisia in one way or another. The nearby city of Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians, but it was the Romans who colonized most of Tunisia and left the most enduring mark of their existence in northern Tunisia particularly in the towns of Carthage, Dougga and Sbeitla. They were followed by the Vandals of Spain who ruled until Arabs arrived around the time of AD670 and whose influence spread in a wide arc across North Africa. It was the Ottoman Turks next followed by the French in the later part of the 19th century who left their language as a stark reminder of their long rule there. Many people still speak French along with English and native languages.
Habib Ben Ali Bourguiba
Born in Monastir in 1903, Habib Bourguiba became the first President of Tunisia in March, 1956. Bourguiba, was a highly educated man who studied law and political science in Paris. He became a leader in the struggle for independence from France and the sovereignty of Tunisia. He was proclaimed President for life on the same day independence was claimed for Tunisia in 1956.
President Bourguiba is often compared to Turkey's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Both were forward thinking men. Bourguiba, who was pro-Western, made education and womens' rights high priorities. He prohibited polygamy, legalized divorce, and raised the minimum age at which girls could marry to age 17. These changes in womens' rights were extremely advanced in the Arab and Islamic world. Bourguiba was President until 1987 when he was "impeached" by his successor supposedly for old age & ill health. Subsequently and inexplicably, he was kept under house arrest for the rest of his life. Bourguiba died at the age of 96 in April of 2000, in the same town where he was born. Bourguiba was a Sunni Muslim.
Update: Since my visit, the "Arab Spring" is a movement that has taken place in many countries in North Africa and other parts of the world, and the man who virtually deposed Bourguiba was himself "deposed" when Tunisia became the first country to overthrow its leader during this movement.
- Pros:Feast for the Eyes, Beautiful Bay of Tunis, Proximity to Carthage, Tunisian Crafts
- Cons:Intense sun! Heat!
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