Sahel's Pearl

30/04/2020 10:24

Farhat Hached square distributes a little bit the city human traffic. Send some to the station where they took trains to the nearby Monastir or farther and away, towards Tunisia. Others expect traffic lights change to speed towards the northern beaches or Port el Kantauri and yet there are those who, without haste, head their steps to the streets of Sousse Medina, the pearl of the Sahel.

In this case the Sahel is not the Saharan steppe, it is the name of the central coastal region of Tunisia. In Sousse, as through the rest of the region, marched on Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantine Eastern Romans and Arabs. Sousse was Hadrim for Carthaginians, Hadrumetum to Rome.

Returning to Farhat Hached Square, a few steps from it, another square, smaller, Martyrs', give access to the Grand Mosque and the Ribat. The location of the mosque is uncommon, as usually were built in the centre of the urban grid. Also lacks of minaret, despite the simplicity of the architecture manifested by Aghlabid. The call to prayer was made from the Ribat Tower. The reason for such eccentricity is it origins, was stronghold before oratory and from its location also defended the port and shipyards from which sailed in the ninth century the Aghlabids vessels which started the conquest of Sardinia, Malta and Sicily.

The afternoon sun crimson stained Ribat walls, one of the finest monastic fortresses in the country. Around there’s a central courtyard with cells distributed around to host believers and a spiral staircase that leads to the top of the Nador, the watchtower which now serves to glimpse the mood of the city. Medina walls only are missed in this corner, it suffered a bombing during the Second World War, the rest is kept in a pretty good condition. In the seventh century Uqba Ibn Nafi Arab troops razed Byzantine Hadrumet defences that Aghlabids rise again. Of the eight original gateways four survived, Bab el Gharbi, Bab el Jerid, Bab el Khabli and Bab the Finge, the door of the blade. It deserved the name along the early years of the French protectorate when a guillotine was installed in front. At the opposite end of the Medina and at its highest point is the Kasbah, the palace fortress that protected the walls. Now houses the Sousse Archaeological Museum.

Amid, between the winding medina alleys, smell the species to mix with the falafel, kebabs or lamb meat. It smells to cumin and coriander, to turmeric and anise; young boys hang around dragging the loaded carts that exceed in height themselves to distribute the goods then hung on some clothing trade or in a pottery shop of kitchen tools. Some of these souks extend into narrow streets that have the advantage of being covered, sheltered from the sun and rain, immune to traffic that does not belong here just as a matter of dimensions.

In these same streets are the zouia of Zaqqaq, with its Ottoman octagonal minaret. This mausoleum is completed with its own mosque and madrassa, the Koranic school. According to local tradition the name corresponds to the Moroccan scholar Ali Ibn Kasim Al Zaqqaq died in Fez in 1506, but they say it is also possible that the name would respond to Abou Jaafar Ahmed El Zaqqaq, a lesser known local scholar who lived in the ninth century.

Also is seen around the Kalat el Koubba curious fluted dome with zigzag frieze, a building that was used as funduk, hostel to peasants which now houses a small Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.

Another small private museum is Dar Essid located on rue des Remparts, in one of the oldest houses in the city. Built in 928, recreates the living of a wealthy Arab family in the nineteenth century. An Andalusian tiled courtyard distributed the way to the rooms. The top floor a coffee shop offers a splendid panorama of the town, from the Kasbah to the harbour.

Leaving behind the medina, lays the modern Sousse with traffic that has little to envy to Tunis. Hadi Chaker walkway along Boujaffar sandy beach is in the soft Tunisian sunsets a constant coming and going of people among the aromas of turmeric and cumin, the new perfume of ancient Hadrumetum.

© J.L.Nicolas


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