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marianne Monastir - A travel report by Marianne
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Monastir,  Tunisia - flag Tunisia -  Monastir
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marianne's travel reports

Traveller in Monastir

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Monastir / Skanes is a favourite holiday destination for European tourists. Skanes beach is a long strip of golden sand lapped by an aquamarine sea. Monastir is interesting on market days when the streets are a jumble of colourful goods and full of people

Monastir Town Beach with the Ribat in the background.
Monastir Town Beach with the Ribat in the background.
Monastir is a bustling medium-sized town with few sights and a fairly disappointing beach. Skanes is 7 km to the north and functions as Monastir's seaside and is referred to as the zone touristique. The beach here is almost perfect and heaven for the package tourist.

The good thing about Monastir is its proximity to the airport. It is only 7 km or 2 metro stations away. The downside is that the airport is busy 24/24 hours. The flight path is right over Monastir and Skanes.

Monastir town has a very mediocre beach flanked by a busy road. None of the town hotels has direct access to the beach, nevertheless they regard themselves as beach hotels probably because they have a cordonned off patch of sand across the road in front of the hotel. However, the sea is very suitable for young children, shallow water and hardly any waves because of the horseshoe-shaped bay.

Transport is excellent. The Sahel Metro has a stop in Monastir centre. It is 30-mins to Sousse (northern direction) and just over one hour to Mahdia (to the south). The airport is two stations away (10 mins), Skanes and Zone Touristique is 3 stations away (12 mins). One train per day travels direct to Tunis (3 hours) or take a train to Sousse and from here 10 trains a day whisk you to the Tunisian capital.

The bus station is at the corner of Avenue des martyrs and Rue Mahmoud Bourguiba. Just veer left when leaving the train station. Don't rely on street names as they are not obvious to find. Actually, most of the time they are non-existent.

ONTT, the tourist information office, is opposite Bourguiba Mosque in the centre of the town. They hand out a very basic map and a list of hotels and some general info about other places in Tunisia.

Monastir is a compact town and we found it easy to find our way. We needed half a day to see all, but stayed a bit longer because our visit coincided with the Saturday weekly market.

Favourite spots:
The Bourguiba Mausoleum
The Bourguiba Mausoleum
Monastir is the birth place of Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia's first president after independence. (it is a name that stayed with me because EVERY town has a boulevard named after him). He was born in 1903, studied in France, married (and divorced) a French woman, led Tunisia to independence in 1956 and died in 2000 in Monastir.

The Bourguiba Mausoleum was built in 1963. This multi-million dinar monument topped by gold and green domes and flanked by two minarets looms over a cemetrery with white tombstones. The smaller green domes mark the tombs of his parents and his second wife.The 18-carate gold-plated larger dome is for the man himself.

That is to say it was once gold-plated. When I visited Monastir in 1994 and in 1997 the gold sparkled in the sun. This time no gold is left. The domes are weather-worn and show grey concrete.

What's really great:
Bourguiba birthplace
Bourguiba birthplace
Bourguiba's marble sarcophagus in the middle of a round chamber inside the mausoleum . On one side is a copy of the Koran on a bookstand. A huge crystal chandelier hangs from the domed ceiling. The vast esplanade in front of the Mausoleum enhances the feeling of grandeur.

The mausoleum is open to the public and free of charge.

Bourguiba's birth place is a nondescript one-storey house on Route de la Corniche just before Place 3 aout (August, his birthday). I almost overlooked the house but a plaque on the wall with Arabic calligraphy must have said that this was the place. (All I could read was 3 and 1903).

The house is not open to the public but a peep through the windows showed an inner courtyard and tiled walls and seats.

Bourguiba as a schoolboy
Bourguiba as a schoolboy
Another reminder of the great man is Bourguiba's statue as a young boy, schoolbooks in hand dressed in school uniform, French style (i.e. a pinafore). It commemorates Bourguiba's schooldays, but the school itself was pulled down to make place for the statue. (it might have been in bad repair, but I have not been able to find out). The glittering gold statue is easy to find in the town centre near the Government Offices. It

The statue is only one block away from Bourguiba Mosque built in Hafsid style, the ruling family in 13 -16th cent. Originally mosques were dark places and had no domes or decorations. This changed in the Hafsid period when domes over the prayer hall were built . They became larger and larger until they covered the whole prayer hall. At the same time decorations became more sumptuous, but they never represented human beings.

Bourguiba Mosque
Bourguiba Mosque
The beach hotels are in Skanes opposite the airport. They cater for European package-tour tourists are All Inclusive or offer half-board. Activities range from water gymnastics to evening entertainment programmes in which the guests play an inter-active part.

All hotels look like palaces, have grandious lobbies with lots of marble and clattering fountains. The gardens are beautifully laid-out and the pools are of a good size, with paddling pools for children. The stretch of beach in front of the hotels is reserved for the hotel guests. The sand its raked and cleaned every day.

All in all, there are 27 hotels in Skanes. (with an average of 200 rooms this means that in the summer season there are 10.000 tourists (probably more) in Skanes alone)

Monastir travelogue picture
Nightlife is non-existent in Monastir. Alcohol is only served in the tourist hotels in Skanes.

Cafés and restaurants are everywhere and easy to find. A number of upmarket restaurants and cafés are near the Marina. It is a shady quiet spot and a good place to sip geranium or orange blossom flavoured Turkish coffee or just a café au lait with a pain au chocolat.

paying for her shopping
paying for her shopping
The medina, the old city centre, is disappointing. It is not a warren of small, winding alleys because large parts were torn down and replaced by wider streets. Only few areas of the old medina are still there but most of these are packed with tourists stalls because vendors have realised that tourists like to do their shopping in oriental atmosphere.

Each town or village in Tunisia has a set day for its weekly market when farmers come to town to sell their produce and merchants set up stalls and sell anything from razor blades to househould crockery. It is on a Saturday for Monastir and well worth a visit as stuffed toy camels, desert roses and prepacket sachets of herbs and spices are pleasantly absent.

Monastir Ribat
Monastir Ribat
The Ribat is Monastir's most photogenic building. A ribat is a stronghold on the coast and built to protect the country from Christian invaders. The soldiers billeted in the ribat were considered holy warriors. When they were not fighting they studied and lived a religious life.

The oldest part of the Ribat dates back to 8th century. The greater part of the building has been successfully restored and gives the feeling of being old. It was the location for several films such as Monty Python's Life of Brian and the Italian directed Life of Christ.

The courtyard is surrounded by defensive walls and has one tower serving as a watch tower. The warriors lived and studied in vaulted cell-like rooms. The prayer room is now used as museum and displays Islamic writings, Roman pottery and glassware, phials to hold scent and colourful woven fabrics from Egypt. My definite favourite was a 18th cent Turkish marriage certificate in Arab calligraphy with tiny flowers dotted within the text.

Other recommendations:
Monastir travelogue picture

Tunisia is not an all-year sunshine destination. Summer season in Monastir starts in April and ends in October. To be on the safe side don't come early April or late October as rain and thunderstorms will certainly spoil some of your days on the beach. (If that is the place you wanted to be)

Spring and autumn bring rain, sharp showers and ocassionally longer periods of rain.

Winter has mild days and usually brillantly blue skies. Beach life is possible on certain days but only in spots protected from the wind. It is the perfect time to explore nature, go for walks and visit Roman remains.

It goes without saying that July and August are the most crowded months because it is the main holiday season for all European countries.

Published on Friday November 23th, 2007

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Wed, Nov 28 2007 - 11:28 PM rating by downundergal

As usual a terrific report packed with useful travellers tips. I got the feeling that this spot was a little too much on the tourist trail to be on one of your favourite spots to visit.

Mon, Nov 26 2007 - 02:19 PM rating by worldcitizen

Rich in information, inviting descriptions and so much more! As always, a good and useful report. Guess, noone expected anything less! Well done!

Sun, Nov 25 2007 - 05:24 AM rating by bineba

Thanks for another great report.

Fri, Nov 23 2007 - 01:41 PM rating by rangutan

I loved this place and you have described it extremely well here. Tip: reduce the size of the pic in "Nightlife" or add text and the only gap in the report will disappear?

Fri, Nov 23 2007 - 01:01 PM rating by adampl

Marianne, another fine report packed with useful info (esp. about the climate). Good to know about the market day - it must be a great experience to observe it live.

Fri, Nov 23 2007 - 12:39 PM rating by davidx

As always, most interesting and informative with really impressive pictures.

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