9 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Monastir
Snugly wrapping around the coast, the historic city of Monastir is prime beach territory and it is these blissful strips of sandy shore that attract most of its visitors here. But the city has much more to offer for those who want to do more than soak up the sun. The Ribat, perched right on the coast, is one of Tunisia's most impressive relics of the Islamic era. Next door to the Ribat is the opulent Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, founder of the modern Tunisian Republic, which magnificently blends traditional and modern Tunisian architecture. This is also one of the best bases from which to see the mighty El Djem amphitheatre, rightly considered one of Tunisia's top tourist attractions.
Right on the sea is Monastir's most famous landmark: the Ribat, built by Harthama ben Ayan in AD 796. Movie-buffs will instantly find the building familiar as it played a starring role in Monty Python's "Life of Brian" film. and also featured in Franco Zeffirelli's "Jesus of Nazareth". Like the Ribat of Sousse, it is one of the oldest Arab fortresses in North Africa.
On the southeast side is the three-storey Nador tower, from the top of which there are fine views of the yachting harbour, the cemetery and the Bourguiba Mausoleum, the Great Mosque, and the roofs of the Medina. An imposing gateway on the west side of the Ribat leads into the inner courtyard, surrounded on three sides by buildings several storeys high and containing the accommodation cells, store-rooms and case-mates. The main living quarters were separated by another gateway from other buildings (perhaps women's quarters), probably added in the ninth century. The Islamic Museum now occupies the former prayer hall on the upper floor.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Monastir
2 Habib Bourguiba Mausoleum
The mammoth Habib Bourguiba Mausoleum sits on the northern edge of Monastir cemetery. Its opulent splendour, topped with a golden dome, is a tribute to Tunisia's first president after independence from the French. Built in 1963, this burial mosque holds the bodies of ex-President Bourguiba as well as his family. Two 25 m slender minarets are made of Italian marble, while the facade is covered with beautifully delicate tiling work. The tomb of Bourguiba itself sits amid a dazzling interior of glass-inlay and underneath a spectacular chandelier.
3 Bourguiba Mosque
As the birthplace of Tunisia's favourite son - Habib Bourguiba, founder of the Tunisian Rupublic - Monastir is home to a grand mosque in tribute to the ex-president. Taieb Bouzguenda built The Habib Bourguiba Mosque in 1963. It was modelled on the Hammouda Pacha Mosque in Tunis, and boasts a 41 m high octagonal minaret and a prayer hall that can accommodate a congregation of a thousand worshippers.
Nearby on Rue Trabelsia is the Musée du Mouvement National (National Movement Museum), which is devoted to the history of Tunisia's struggle for independence from the French.
Location: Rue de'l Indépendance
Monastir's Medina (Old Town) has been painstakingly restored and has, unfortunately, lost much of its authentic charm in the process. It's still a lovely place to wander about and explore, especially if the heat on the beach becomes too much. The shopping opportunities within the souk streets are endless with handmade ceramics, woodwork, silverware and leather work all on display. As the Medina shops are geared towards tourism, be aware that prices are correspondingly high.
Immediately northwest of the Ribat lies Monastir's atmospheric cemetery, which holds a vast number of beautiful old tombs. Many are decorated with bands of Kufic inscriptions and faience tiles. Look out particularly for the 12th century tomb of Sidi el Mazeri.
The pretty seafront promenade (known as the Corniche) leads to the Port de Plaisance harbour where yachts bob jauntily on the Mediterranean. At sunset, this is a favoured place to go for an evening stroll. Just past the harbour area is the modern resort complex known as Village Touristique where some of Monastir's luxury hotels are located.
7 El Djem
For many visitors, a holiday in Monastir wouldn't be complete without a day trip to the mighty El Djem amphitheatre. This mammoth Roman relic can also be easily visited from Sousse, Sfax or Mahdia. One of the finest examples of surviving Roman amphitheatre architecture in the world, and the largest remaining in Africa, El Djem is one of Tunisia's not-to-be-missed star attractions. The wonderfully atmospheric monument transports you back to the glory days of the Roman Empire.
60 km from Monastir
- Read More:
- Exploring El Djem: A Visitor's Guide
The northern suburb of Skanès (just off Route de la Falaise) is packed full of gorgeous, dazzlingly white villas and luxury hotels that have incorporated traditional Tunisian architecture into their design. This is also where some of Monastir's best beaches are located. The road to Skanès' main tourist district passes the former Presidential Palace, enclosed by high walls and an ornate wrought-iron gate.
9 Monastir Beaches
For many visitors, Monastir's main attraction lays in its strips of perfect white sand. The town itself hugs the coastline, surrounded by beaches stretching along the coast in both directions. All the beaches in this area are kept clean, and have excellent facilities with restaurants and cafés plus sunshades and loungers to rent. Many also have water sports and boating opportunities, for those who don't just want to laze around soaking up the sun.
Other Notable Attractions
Inside Monastir's tourist office (ONTT), this small museum has exhibits of wedding costumes from all over Tunisia.
Address: ONTT Building, Rue de l'Indépendance
Just to the south of Monastir's Ribat is the Great Mosque, built in the 9th century. The structure was enlarged by the Zirid dynasty in the 11th century.
Sidi Dhouib Ribat
Rarely visited, the Sidi Dhouib Ribat sits between the Great Mosque and the Medina. This small fort has had its ground floor rebuilt and restored.
Sitting on the shores of a salt lake, the little town of Moknine is noted for the finely worked ceramics and jewellery produced there. In the town centre, the folk museum occupies the former Mosque of Sidi Babana, which is interesting for its original architecture (an example of the type of 'tube-vaulting' found at Bulla Regia) as well as for its exhibits.
Location: 15 km south of Monastir
The Phoenicians first settled Monastir, establishing a trading station named Rous Penna here. Under the Romans, the town was named Ruspina, and during the civil war with Pompey (49-46 BC) Caesar made this his North African headquarters. When the Arabs arrived in the region they recognised the strategic value of this site, right on the tip of the peninsula, and built the Ribat here. It was from here that the Arabs launched a series of campaigns against the Christian island of Sicily.
The Ribat retained its military importance into Tunisia's Ottoman era, when the local Ottoman Beys (rulers) made it a powerful stronghold. Monastir's importance only waned when Tunisia became a French protectorate, and the town lost its strategic significance.