Tour Guide: Central Tunisia
Tour Guide: Central Tunisia Last updated on Monday 26th April 2010
Central Tunisia contains the Sousse-Monastir region, also called the Sahel; the holy city of Kairouan; Sheitla (pictured) and El Djem, the best preserved and most important Roman monuments in the country; the city of Sfax and the islands of Kerkennah.
The Sahel is the most densely populated region of Tunisia. White villages dot the landscape, and the hills and plains of the Sahel bristles with groves of olive, pomegranate and almond trees. The hills slope towards the sea where they end in wide sandy beaches.
The region has a long history going back to Roman and sometimes Punic times. The Roman amphitheatre at El Djem remains one of the most important in North Africa. The towns of Sousse and Monastir are popular tourist destinations, because of their beautiful beaches, nature and historical interests. The Sahel is known for its traditional weaving, especially the wool embroidery of Mahdia and El Djem.
Thirteen centuries have passed since Okba Ibn Nafi founded Kairouan, the first Islamic city in the Maghreb. It soon became the departure point for the warriors seeking to conquer the Maghreb and spread the teachings of Islam and the Arab ways among the people.
Throughout the 9th-11th centuries, it was the centre of one of the most brilliant civilizations of the Middle Ages. To this day Kairouan remains an important spiritual centre for Muslims. It has escaped the very rapid growth of some Tunisian cities.
Kairouan crafts include rug making, copperware, and shoes; its cobblers produce shoes from balgha (traditional flat pointed slippers), to the finest embroidered creations.
Sfax is the second largest city in Tunisia. It is highly industrialized with a major commercial and fishing port. The city has two distinct parts: the new town and the Medina (old quarter). The Medina is one of the best preserved and authentic in Tunisia. Unlike the souks of Tunis and Sousse, it is primarily aimed at locals who do most of their shopping there.
From Sfax it is an hour's boat ride to the Kerkennah Islands. There are two large islands, Chargui and Gharbi, and several uninhabited islets and rocks. The almost flat islands are covered in palm trees, vineyards with many quiet lagoons.
Kerkennaians have lived here for centuries and have contrived an original technique for fishing which has, until the recent bout of tourism began, sustained their livelihood. Historically the islands have been a place of exile for many including Hannibal and Bourguiba.
Tourism is rapidly developing, with most of the hotels concentrated in Sidi Frej and Rimla. The rest of the archipelago is relatively untouched, and the inhabitants have the reputation for being the most hospitable in Tunisia.
The small town of El Djem in the middle of a plain full of olive trees contains the huge remains of the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire (pictured). Its three tiers of arches are visible from ten miles away. Construction of the coliseum began in the third century BC, but it was never completed due to lack of funds, and political instability.