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krisek Sousse - A travel report by Krys
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Sousse,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Sousse
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krisek's travel reports

Famous for its medina. But is it nice? Sousse.

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Sousse's medina is UNESCO listed, and its walls are spectacular, but there are virtually no gates. Just gaps in the ramparts! Sattelite dishes dominate the rooftops and massive blocks of flats are erected just yards away...


Sousse's medina and Kasbah seen from the Ribat tower
Sousse's medina and Kasbah seen from the Ribat tower
It was not cool to see that. I would never deny people access to satellite tv, but it would have been diametrically better to install cable tv in the medina and preserve its original character, I believe.

I am not sure how to report on my visit to Sousse exactly. I did not stay too long in the city, given my broken arm and the necessity to depart to the UK for a complex operation. The decision to come to Sousse was made very easily. I scanned the UNESCO World Heritage List on the website, which indicated that Sousse's medina was a Cultural Heritage Site. Although, disappointingly, there were absolutely no images of Sousse in the gallery tab. Overall, it was a good visit and a few sights I found rather impressive, and the mood of the medina - friendly.

It was around 1:30 p.m. when my car parked about 200 yards from the train line, and about 150 yards from the south-eastern walls of the medina. Very convenient indeed! The day was sunny and warm. It was excellent for walking.

The medina of Sousse was located near the large harbour, with the Grande Mosque and the Ribat being the closest to the seafront. The large Kasbah with a tall tower occupied the highest point of the medina at the opposite end. A perfect observation point! The entire medina was roughly rectangular about 400 meters by 700 meters, with the longer side parallel to the harbour. The Kasbah was located at the south-west corner, and the Grande Mosque and the Ribat at the north-east corner. It was very easy to navigate and taking a guide was not necessary. A print out of a satellite picture available on the internet was sufficient to find a way. The northern-most end of the medina, between Dar Essid gate in the west and the Ribat in the east was the 'red light' district and it was considered unsafe for women travellers. The busiest part of the old town were the souks located in the exact centre of the medina.

The train station and the bus terminal were just yards from northern medina wall.

Favourite spots:
The Ribat and the square
The Ribat and the square
The Ribat and the square called Place de la Grande Mosque, complete with a small fountain, were my favourite parts. The square was clean and spacious, had some shade from the several palm trees planted here and there, and was flanked by elegant facades. A few shops and boutiques displayed their colourful merchandise on the pavement adding abstract patterns to the overall picture.

The 8th century Ribat had very solid-looking walls and round ramparts in its corners, and a round tower offering superb outlook for the entire medina, all the way to the Kasbah, and a bird's view of the lovely Grande Mosque, which was inaccessible for non-Muslims. It cost TND5 (€2.50) to enter the Ribat plus TND1 (€0.50) for the camera. I noticed that the structure was being used as a meeting spot for local visitors, who would relax on the walls and ramparts catching up on their gossip out of sight from others. The Ribat was in an excellent state of preservation, the best of all monastic fortresses in Tunisia.

What's really great:
Sousse's souk at the medina
Sousse's souk at the medina
The shop keepers seemed less pestering than in other places in Tunisia. How they managed to develop self-discipline, I did not know. It was sufficient to say 'no, merci' and they did not insist and did not try to drag you into their shop. In fact, I tried to avoid the main souks in the centre of the medina (I had seen many Tunisian souks by that stage of my trip), but those boutiques along the picturesque Rue el-Aghlaba were sufficiently colourful and interesting.

I also liked that the medina was so easy to navigate. Most Tunisian medinas did not require a guide to find the sights, entries and exits, but the medina of Sousse felt very straightforward. It was despite the fact that its Grande Mosque was not located in the centre of the old town, an odd and confusing non-compliance with the Islamic architecture rules.

Sights:
The Kasbah in Sousse
The Kasbah in Sousse
In the nutshell, Sousse main sights included: Dar Essid private museum located in a beautiful 10th century house decorated in 19th century Arab style and displaying jewellery, costume and household items; the Khalaout el-Koubba museum of popular arts and traditions, inside the central souks, with a distinctive zig-zag dome; the Kasbah; the Ribat; the Grande Mosque; the Zaouia Zakkak mosque, mausoleum and medersah with an unusual octagonal minaret; the medina walls and ramparts; the central souks as a sight in their own right; and the very extensive Christian Catacombs dating back to the 3rd century, some 2 kilometres from the medina, only small part of which was open to visitors.

The 12th century Kasbah, a rather late addition to the 8th century medina, was closed until September 2010, so I could not visit it, but it looked impressive from the outside, and apparently housed an excellent Archaeological Museum with an excellent collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics.

Accommodations:
Sousse's medina and walls
Sousse's medina and walls
I thought I could stay in Sousse for one night, yet sudden changes to the itinerary prevented me to do so in the end. I looked up a few hotels near the medina, which promised cleanliness. They were:

Emira - up to TND40 (€20), inside the medina by the eastern wall, near Bab Jedid, all rooms en-suite.

Medina - up to TND45, inside the medina by the Grande Mosque, all rooms en-suite, often used by group travellers and tour agencies, reportedly the best hotel in the medina.

Hotel de Paris - about TND20, inside the medina, between the Ribat and the northern stretch of the walls, small rooms and shared bathrooms, good rooftop terrace.

Gabes - about TND14 and less for doubles, TND7 for singles, opposite the Medina Hotel, relatively basic with shared showers, but with hot water, some rooms with balconies, in the summer they allow to sleep on the terrace with good medina views for TND5.

Monia - up to TND50, Rue de Remada, 150 meters north of medina, all rooms en-suite, air-con TND5 extra.

Nightlife:
Sousse's medina
Sousse's medina
Having skipped staying in Sousse for the night, I do not have a first information on the nightlife. However, what I heard was that this Tunisia's third largest city boasted a number of decent and safe places to party. Unlike many coastal towns of this Sahel region. Both Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Hedi Chaker had places to sit down late in the evening and start the night action. Some 2 kilometres north from there, was a group of clubs, discos, and dance bars, which were most popular. I heard that the Arena (within the Tej Marhaba complex) with lured partygoers with happy hours between 10 pm and midnight. Almost literally next door, there were Goldrush, Disco-Pub, and perhaps the liveliest of them all, the Bananas Barrio Latino. And there was more in the hotels! The closest to the medina was Cafe del Mar (not the same as the one on the Balearic Ibiza) at the Justinia Hotel, which reportedly did not close until sunrise.

Hangouts:
Terrace restaurant near the Kasbah in Sousse
Terrace restaurant near the Kasbah in Sousse
The restaurant by the Kasbah with a terrace overlooking the southern medina was quite lovely. The personnel was very friendly and their freshly squeezed orange'n'strawberry juice (a perfect detox) was divine. The view was dominated by the satellite dishes, but one could see the harbour in the distance and the Kasbah's walls towered up close. The restaurant had three levels. The terrace on the top level had a few tables and comfortable benches, and was covered with a roof providing shade.

Avenue Hedi Chaker, at the end of the commercial, banks-lined Avenue Habib Bourguiba, right along the not-too-shabby beach, 500 meters north of the Ribat and medina's walls, had a splendid one kilometre-long seafront promenade. It was excellent for strolls in slow motion and to take the sea breeze in the hair. The beach was about three times as long there, if one wanted to walk a bit farther.

Restaurants:
Marmite Restaurant in Sousse
Marmite Restaurant in Sousse
The intriguingly named Restaurant Marmite, just off Avenue Habib Bourguiba, in a small parallel alley, Rue Remada, was a somewhat upscale place. It looked as though it catered mainly for local businessmen. The three tourists of us were a bit of a sensation there, it felt. The service was very professional, but excruciatingly slow. I think we waited over five quarters of an hour for our main dish. When it came, it was a shock! The very strong, cheese tasting fish in couscous put me off considerably. I have never ever tasted fish like that. I really struggled to consume it. I had to leave a fair bit of it on my plate, unfortunately. Yet their garlic appetiser and the lemon sorbet, both on the house, were superb and unexpected! I would highly recommend the place for everyone, who has plenty of time, does not eat fish, and appreciates yummy freebies. There, I tried the very drinkable Chateau Mornag 2006, another local wine, which was reasonably priced at TND15.

Other recommendations:
The Ribat in Monastir
The Ribat in Monastir
A very pleasant Monastir, with its remarkable Ribat was just 10 kilometres or so away. Well served by taxis, louages and buses, and the narrow gauge railway. The Ribat of Harthema, right at the seafront, stood out from the crowd of other attractions of Monastir. Its state of preservation was remarkable. On good, sunny weather, the light brown, thick walls stood austere and solid. Almost mesmerising! From the distance, the fortress looked almost new. And up close one could spot that parts of the structure might have been restored, otherwise the clean-up work, which could have been done instead was extremely successful. I found the core of Monastir to be very tidy. Later, I learned that it was because of the large and flamboyant mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first president, who fought against the French for the country's independence. Just a few yards from the Ribat and the small medina, and the central seafront corniche.

Published on Thursday May 27th, 2010


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Thu, May 27 2010 - 07:37 PM rating by eirekay

Krys, your whole Tunisia series has been such a treat to read! I knew little about this part of the world but you insights have really opened it up for me! Nicely done!

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