Home > North Africa, Tunisia > MONASTIR: Monuments, Mosques & Markets

MONASTIR: Monuments, Mosques & Markets

Unlike Hammamet which is the largest tourist resort area in Tunisia, Monastir is the birth place of its first President, Habib Bourguiba, and is a small town with a rich history.

From the sea the Ribat dominates the shore.

The Ribat of Monastir, an impressive fortification, that dominates the seaside was begun in 796 A.D. and enlarged between then and the 11th Century. It is the most complete fortification that we have seen anywhere in the Med which we attribute to its location in North Africa and the absence of earthquakes which ravaged other ancient venues further north.

Approaching the entrance, you get a sense of how massive the structure is. . .

which includes a museum.

There is a tall round tower surrounded by massive walls. From the tower you have sweeping views of the town, a palm lined square between the Ribat and Mosque with its green tile minaret roof.

The tower is imposing, but worth the dizzying climb. . .

for the stunning views of the shore. . .

and the Mosque.

The Ribat is the site of an International Summer Festival and has been the location of numerous movies, including Monte Python’s Life of Brian.

The Ribat will accommodate many festival visitors inside its walls. . .

but people also gather outside the walls in the evening to gaze at the sea.

In the distance across a Muslim cemetary from the Ribat you see the second most important monument in Monastir–the Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba.

The Bourguiba Mausoleum is a tourist attraction. . .

and where there are tourists. . .there are vendors.

Bourguiba was president of the independent Republic of Tunisia from 1957 until 1987 when he was ousted from power allegedly because he had become incompetent. He lived out his final days in Monastir, and while still President had built the “Taj Mahal” like mausoleum that houses his remains.

Bourguiba had two wives (not at the same time) so each wife gets a dome, but he gets the BIG dome. . .

and a ceremonial entrance to his crypt.

While photographing the mausoleum, I was approached by an elderly Tunisian man in a well worn black suit, who spoke excellent English. He gave me the “local view” and history of the monument to Bourguiba.

Some 25 years before his death in 2000 at age 96, Bourguiba “desecrated” a Muslim cemetary, according to my guide, in order to construct this opulent tribute to himself. Money that many thought would be put to better use on the country’s behalf.

Muslim graves were moved. . .

to make room for minarets and porticos.

Indeed, the swath of land upon which the Mausoleum is situated cuts through an ancient cemetary with modest tombs on both sides

It was explained that Muslim graves all face toward Mecca, and have simple Arabic lettering (no French). By tradition, flowers are not used to decorate graves, but on Fridays after prayers, families visit the graves of relatives and leave money and bread which is collected by the poor.

Muslims bury their dead in simple white crypts with Arabic lettering, facing Mecca.

I didn’t notice any bread crumbs on Bourguiba’s elaborately carved marble tomb, which my guide says is not the “Muslim” way.

President Bourguiba has a palatial resting place. . .

under a massive crystal chandelier. . .

in a carved marble crypt.

The Mosque is centrally located near the Medina, but is not open to the public.

98% of the Tunisian population is Muslim and the Mosque is in the center of the Medina. . .

but only Muslims can enter.

Within the Medina (old town) walls, Monastir has a souk or daily market where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables.

There are numerous gates into the Medina.

The Medina has narrow, maze-like streets lined with stalls. . .

with "in season" crops like watermelons.

Farmers bring truckloads of produce, including far more garlic than I have ever seen in one place.

It's very hard to buy one or two garlic heads--they want to sell by the kilo.

Most Tunisians shop at the souk on a daily basis.  There are fish vendors and butchers, and depending on how “fresh” you want your food, you can carry home a live bunny or chicken to slaughter yourself.

The souk is crowded with local shoppers. . .

some of whom will take home a live hen. . .

cock rooster. . .

or bunny (oh,no!) for DINNER.

I don’t like to look my dinner in the eye, and  even the butchers are a little too up close and personal.  I prefer to buy my meat or chicken wrapped in cellophane from the Mono-Prix supermarket.

I don't know what this is and from the smell certainly don't want it for dinner.

Monastir is a “real” Tunisian town, as opposed to the Port Yasmine.  We enjoyed meeting Tunisian people who live and work there.  One experience that stands out is our conversation with a young Tunisian man who was selling jasmine bouquets on the quay in the marina.  We commented on his excellent English, and he grinned broadly as he told us he was 18, had just graduated from high school.  He speaks Arabic as his native language, fluent French and English and is now learning Polish through Facebook.  And we struggle with a few words of French or Spanish.  Au revoir for now.

Categories: North Africa, Tunisia Tags:
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.