9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Mahdia

Laid back little Mahdia is an old fashioned and charming town with an unhurried air. With its lanes full of whitewashed houses and cafes teetering along the rocky cliff edge, this is a place to relax and kickback for a few days, enjoy the fresh sea air, and wind down while watching local life unfold.

For those who are itching for things to do, Mahdia is Tunisia's top diving site with a host of diving opportunities for underwater aficionados. Most though will be happy to just wander the Medina (old town), take in the views from the top of the battlements of the Bordj el Kebir and simply enjoy a few days of tranquil Tunisian seaside life.

1 Black Gate

Black Gate
Black Gate Ray_from_LA / photo modified

The entrance to Mahdia's Medina (old town) is through the mighty Skifa el Kahla (Black Gate), sometimes also called Bab Zouila. The gatehouse, with its 44 m long entrance passage, was formerly incorporated in the 175 m long town walls that crossed the peninsula. The present gate is not the original Fatimid structure, having been rebuilt in 1554 using stone from the Fatimid fortress after the Spanish destroyed Mahdia. Of the original round towers on polygonal bases, which stood at the north and south ends of the wall, there remain only stumps at the north end.

From the roof of the gatehouse there are fine sightseeing views of the Medina, extending to the tip of the peninsula. The steps leading up to the roof are on the inner side of the gate. The gate leads into Rue Obaid Allah el Mahdi, where there is a small covered souk. On the opposite side of the street is the entrance to Dar el Himma, a former Mosque that houses a small Silk Museum.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Mahdia

2 Great Mosque

Great Mosque
Great Mosque

Built in AD 921 by the founder of Mahdia, Obaid Allah el Mahdi, this was the first Fatimid mosque modelled on Kairouan's Sidi Oqba Mosque. Originally the Great Mosque was connected on two sides with the town walls, but when the Spaniards destroyed the fortifications the mosque suffered severe damage as well. Only its north front face survived the attack. The building that replaced the original mosque was found to be near collapse during the early 20th century, and was pulled down in the 1960s.

A careful rebuilding plan was carried out afterwards, raising the Great Mosque again on its old site in accordance with the original architectural plans. The mosque is entered through a monumental doorway, which was originally used only by the Caliph. Over the doorway is a large horseshoe arch, and on either side are tall niches, shallow at ground level and deeper on the upper level. The 42 m inner courtyard is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade with horseshoe arches, and leads onto a nine-aisled prayer hall with the same ground plan as its prototype in Kairouan.

3 Bordj el Kebir

Bordj el Kebir
Bordj el Kebir

The mammoth square hulk of the Bordj el Kebir sits just a short distance along the seafront from the Great Mosque. Built in 1595, this grand fortress is commandingly situated on the peninsula's highest point. This was also the site of an earlier 10th century palace built by Obaid Allah el Mahdi when he founded the town, though nothing is left of this building except a few fragments of masonry from the original entrance way.

The courtyard of the fortress holds a small mosque. The tower in the fort's southwest corner has two reliefs built into the masonry, which are believed to have come from an earlier building. The main attraction of a visit to the fort is the magnificent views you have from the battlements. From the top you have uninterrupted panoramas over Mahdia, the old harbour area and Cap Afrique.

4 Old Harbour Area

Old Harbour Area
Old Harbour Area

Wandering between the Bordj el Kebir and the lighthouse (Phare) at the tip of the peninsula brings you to the old harbour area with the gorgeously situated cemetery and some interesting scattered ruins. Near the lighthouse are a number of 10th century Shiite tombs as well as the remains of some cisterns. The peninsula's south side was the site of the old harbour (Port Fatimide), which was probably used as far back as the Punic era and has a kothon (inner harbour) very similar to that of Carthage. During Mahdia's hey-day in the Fatimid period, two watchtowers (incorporated into the town walls and later linked by an arch) protected the narrow entrance channel.

5 Wreck Diving

Wreck Diving
Wreck Diving

Mahdia is Tunisia's best spot for underwater exploration and fans of wreck diving won't be disappointed. In 1907, sponge-divers off Cap Afrique discovered the wreck of a Roman sailing ship sunk in 86 BC - thereby proving the harbour had been used from the classical age. Its cargo, which included dedicatory reliefs from Piraeus and large numbers of marble columns, showed that that the ship came from Piraeus (now part of modern Athens in Greece). The items recovered from the underwater excavations are now in at the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Although this wreck itself can't be dived, there are several other more modern (mostly from WWII) wreck dives that can be explored with diving companies in Mahdia.

6 Medina

Medina Ray_from_LA / photo modified

Mahdia's Medina (old town) is a dinky little place of whitewashed traditional houses, narrow lanes and colorful washing flapping between windows. A wander here is the perfect way to soak up the seaside character of this quaint town. The Medina hasn't been trussed up for tourists and so there aren't the many souvenir stores here as in Djerba or Hammamet, but its backwater atmosphere is part of Mahdia Medina's charm. Instead this is a traditional district, the heart and soul of a town where locals still live.

7 La Chebba

On the headland of Ras Kaboudia, La Chebba holds the remains of the Ribat of Bordj Kjadidja, built on earlier Byzantine foundations. This was just one of a chain of similar fortifications from the Abbasid dynasty, constructed along the coasts of the Sahel in the 8th century. The ancient settlement on this site was known as Caput Vada and is famous for being the landing spot of the Byzantine general Belisarius in AD 533, just before he went on to inflict a devastating defeat on the Vandals.

Location: 37 km south of Mahdia

8 Ras Bou Tria

The promontory of Ras Bou Tria is reached using a side road 8 km past the town of Mellouleche. This rather windswept and atmospheric coastal strip is home to the remains of ancient Acholla, and excavations here have uncovered the foundations of Roman houses and the remnants of an amphitheatre and bathhouse.

Location: 52 km south of Mahdia

9 Salakta

Just beyond the little town of Ksour Essaf are the ruins of Salakta (ancient Sullectum). This was probably the port where lions destined to fight in the grand and brutal gladiatorial contests of El Djem were shipped. The remaining ruins are quite sparse and probably only of interest to the most enthusiastic of history lovers.

Location: 14 km from Mahdia

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