Around Medenine

The small village of Metameur, 4km west of Medenine, has Le Caf Metameur (75 640 294), which is set in the renovated ghorfas of a 17th-century ksar. It's a favourite of tour groups and a nice detour if you're exploring the area. The caf is clearly visible from the Gab s-Medenine road, 1km to the east, on a low hill above the modern village. The Hotel les Ghorfas (75 560 533 fax 75 656 458 per person TD15) offers rustic accommodation in one of the restored ghorfas. A taxi from Medenine costs...

Drinks

Caf s deck every corner, crammed with men passing the time and shooting the breeze. Drinks of choice include coffee the best is thick and gritty ahwa arbi (Turkish coffee) fragrant with orange blossom or rosewater. Other versions, all benefiting from sugar to make them palatable, are express (espresso coffee), caf direct (coffee with milk) or capucin (espresso with a dash of milk). Th la menthe (mint tea) is the classic North African tipple, but here you'll also be offered th au pignon - with...

Makthar Mactaris

The ruins of ancient Mactaris are in the middle of nowhere on the road between Le Kef (69km northwest) and Kairouan (114km to the east). If you like classic Roman public spaces - Mactaris boasts a fine triumphal arch, a forum and a superb bath complex -it's worth the effort to get out here but don't plan to stay overnight as the modern town is bleak and the only accommodation option unbelievably unappealing. Ancient Mactaris was one of many native towns incorporated into the Carthaginian Empire...

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F4 106) Dating from various eras, the building's remarkably harmonious. The first mosque here was built in AD 734, but it was rebuilt in the 9th century by the Aghlabid ruler Ibrahim ibn Ahmed (AD 856-63), and resembles the Great Mosque in Kairouan in design. The builders recycled 184 columns from Roman Carthage for the central prayer hall. The adjoining prayer room is 9th century. The dome, with its patterned red-and-white brickwork, shows a European - even Byzantine - influence, while the...

Utique Uticati Ajl

Utica, the first Phoenician city in North Africa, was founded in about 1100 BC, 300 years before Carthage. Situated at the mouth of Oued Medjerda, it soon became a thriving port and remained important -and a rival of Carthage - for more than 1000 years. Having defected to the Roman camp before the Third Punic War, Utica became the capital of the Roman province of Africa after the destruction of Carthage in 146 BC. Caught up in the Roman civil war in the 1st century BC, Utica supported Pompey....

Islamic Holidays

The main Muslim religious holidays are tied to the lunar Hejira calendar, which is about 11 days shorter than the Gregorian (Western) calendar. This means that in Western terms the holidays fall at different times each year see p29I for the dates of Islamic holidays. Ras as-Sana New Year's day, celebrated on the first day of the Hejira calendaryear, 1 Moharram. Moulid an-Nabi A lesser feast celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed on 12 Rabi' al-Awal. In the Maghreb this is generally known...

Second Floor

BERBER - TROGLODYTE & TOP OF THE WORLD The bizarre, bewitching architecture of the southern Berber villages is one of Tunisia's highlights. Used as Star Wars locations, the buildings indeed look as if they were constructed by aliens. The Matmata region bakes in summer and freezes in winter, and, following Roman practice, the Berber solution to existing in this tricky climate was to burrow underground. Their houses are all similar the entrance is through a narrow tunnel, a central (usually...

Ecotourism In The Kroumirie Mountains

The hills, forests and plains around Ain Draham have huge ecotourism potential that, so far, is almost entirely untapped, in part because the absence of decent maps pretty much precludes heading out on your own. Fortunately, Ain Draham's Royal Rihana Hotel (see opposite 78 655 391 www.royalrihana-hotel.com generally May-Oct) organises a variety of guided outdoors expeditions. Groups usually have to have at least eight participants. The Rihana's experienced team offers hikes and treks through...

Dido Goes Travelling

The legend surrounding Carthage's foundation in 814 BC evolved from the efforts of Greek and Roman writers to come up with a suitably aristocratic background for one of the great cities of the ancient Mediterranean world. They based the story on the few facts known to them about Carthage's Phoenician origins, and emphasised the blue-blooded nature of the link. The best-known version features in Virgil's Aeneid. The story begins in the Phoenician capital of Tyre in the time of King Pygmalion....

The Price Of Victory

The painful progress of the Allies' WWII North African campaign (p31) is marked by a series of military cemeteries. War dead from Great Britain and the countries of the Commonwealth are buried near where they fell in eight cemeteries designed and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (www.cwgc.org), which has responsibility for about 2500 WWI and WWII cemeteries worldwide. Sombre and dignified, with neat lawns and uniform rows of white stone markers, each is an immaculately...

The Great Desert

The Sahara Desert stretches from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, covering, at last count, more than 9.065 million sq km, passing across 15 degrees of latitude in the process. This vast space is home to just over two million people and encompasses large parts of Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Niger, Chad, Egypt, Sudan and a small slice of Burkina Faso. The Sahara is home to haunting mountain ranges, particularly in southern Algeria, Libya, northern Niger and Chad where the...

Kasserine

Kasserine, famous for a WWII battle that raged just west of here (see pl78), would be a strong contender in any poll to determine the dullest town in Tunisia. However, it does make an excellent base for exploring the remote western reaches of the country - including Sbeitla, Haidra, Jugurtha's Table and Chambi National Park (see opposite) - either by car or by public transport. If you come in winter bring warm clothing. Kasserine's main industry is the production of high-quality paper from...

Tunisian Glossary Travel

This glossary includes terms and abbreviations you may come across during your travels in Tunisia. Where appropriate, the capital letter in brackets indicates whether the terms are French (F) or Arabic (A). Abbasids - Baghdad-based ruling dynasty (AD 749-1258) of the Arab Islamic Empire Africa Proconsularis - Roman province of Africa Aghlabids - Arab dynasty based in Kairouan who ruled alloucha (A) - thick-pile, woven, woollen Berber rug Almohads - Berber rulers of Spain and North Africa...

Roman Amphitheatre La Marsa Cisterns Roman Circus

These minor sights are on the hill's western side. The Roman amphitheatre is about a 15-minute walk down from the museum. Once one of the largest in the Roman Empire, with a capacity for 36,000, today only the neat overgrown oval of the stage remains. It's an evocative place, with a sinister exposed subterranean passage where once the theatre's victims cowered. Contrary to legend, St Perpetua and St Felicity were not martyred here, but probably at a military camp outside Carthage. Across the...

Steam Sociability

Three things, the older they are, the better they are the well, the hammam and the friend. You haven't fully experienced Tunisia until you've been scrubbed down with an oven scourer by an enthusiastic elderly masseur. The oldest and most atmospheric hammams public bathhouses are in the medina, keeping residents steamed and cleaned. Often recognisable by their candy-striped red-and-green doorways and undecorated domes, they feel as if they haven't changed or been cleaned for hundreds of years....

Jugurthas TablesjJiU

This spectacular flat-topped mountain 1271m , or mesa, rises almost vertically from the surrounding plains 98km northwest of Kasserine. Its sheer, impregnable walls make it a superb natural fortress and, indeed, the mountain bears the name of the ruthless Numidian king Jugurtha p27 , who used it as a base during his seven-year campaign against the Romans 112-105 BC . Known as the Plateau de Jugurtha on some road signs, Jugurtha's Table can be seen from the Le Kef-Kasserine highway, between...

Sights

The best place to begin a visit is at Uthi-na's highest point, the capitol, known locally as Al-Kalaa the fortress . Partly restored stone steps lead up to five newly built, oversized fluted columns. At the top, surprisingly, is an elegant - if run-down - French colonial farmhouse. Constructed atop the capitol with supreme colonial arrogance, it unintentionally juxtaposes two disappeared empires - both speaking Latin or a Latin derivative - that once ruled vast swathes of North Africa. There...

Kelibia

Kelibia, 58km north of Nabeul, appeals partly because it's a resolutely ordinary town with few tourists. But it's also blessed with nearby El-Mansourah beach a silver-sanded strand edged by translucent sea, overseen by a towering fort. The town centre, a mix of functional shops and men-packed cafes, is 2km inland. It survives on fishing and agriculture, with tourism as a sideline - foreign voices you hear in the restaurants are as likely to be here on business as on holiday. The attractions are...

Roman Caves

This remarkable complex of Roman caves admission TD3, camera TD1 9am-5pm mid-Sep-Mar, 8am-7pm Apr-mid-Sep is on the dramatic stretch of rocky coast to the west of El-Haouaria. The cliffs here are formed of an easily worked, highly prized yellow sandstone, and the Carthaginians began exploiting this in the 6th century BC, later followed by the Romans, who prised stone out here to build the Colosseum in Rome and the stadium at El-Jem see p208 . Small pyra-mid-shaped shafts remain, lit by...

Architecture

With waves of invaders and immigrants stamping their styles and erecting monuments over the last 2500 years, Tunisia has an incredible array of architectural heritage. Here are the world's most complete vestiges of the great ancient Punic civilisation. That said, not much is left, but the few remains are remarkable for their neat town planning and fastidious private bathrooms. There are also a few remnants of the Numidians, contemporary to the Carthaginians, most in Chemtou pl47 , with a...

Chambi National Park

About 15km west of Kasserine - that is, about halfway to the Algerian border - is Tunisia's highest mountain, Jebel Chambi 1544m , which is often snow-capped between December and March. The extreme weather doesn't seem to bother the Phoenician juniper, Aleppo pines or Holm oaks that flourish above 1000m, or the park's rich wildlife, which includes plentiful wild boars, endangered mountain gazelles Cuvier's gazelles , striped hyenas, foxes, Barbary partridges and the recently reintroduced...

Desert Expeditions

Camels are the Toyota Corollas of the desert neither stylish nor luxurious, strictly functional vehicles to get you from one dune to the next. But to the average visitor who doesn't live in desert climes, there's something inherently romantic and exotic about these clumsy looking animals. The one humped Arabian camel or dromedary could be the illegitimate offspring of a crazy night between a giraffe, a horse and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but this animal with a bad case of scoliosis is a cash...

Ksar Ouled Debbab

This huge ksar sits on a low hill just east of the modern village of Debbab, 9km south of Tataouine on the Remada road. It was occupied until several years ago and most of the buildings are still in good condition. There's a sealed road leading up to the entrance gate from Debbab the walk takes about 20 minutes. Ksar Ouled Soltane, 22km southeast of Tataouine, has the best set of ghorfas long barrel-vaulted rooms built to store grain in the south, rising a dizzying four storeys around two...

Inside A Tunisian Wedding

'It's ludicrous how much it costs to hire a room for a wedding said Khaled dolefully, 'thousands of dinars for just a few hours. People invite everyone they know and everyone they don't. Families are broken by the expense. And then the marriage breaks up a few months later ' He laughed cynically. Not everyone has Khaled's pessimistic attitude to marriage, but everyone agrees it is expensive, convoluted and all inclusive. Marriages are the biggest excuse Tunisians have to party. If you visit in...

Sufism

Famed for whirling dervishes and extreme selfmutilation pushing skewers into their cheeks, eating glass or walking on coals , Sufis have unusual ways of getting closer to God. Ascetics wishing to achieve a mystical communion with God through spiritual development rather than through study of the Quran formed the Islamic order of Sufism. This offshoot fulfilled a need many people felt for a more mystical side to the Islamic religion. The name comes from suf, meaning 'wool', referring to the...