10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sfax
Bustling Sfax is one of Tunisia's major commercial centres and the country's second largest city. Although it doesn't have the sandy attractions of other Tunisian towns, Sfax is ripe for sightseeing and is a great place to take in local Tunisian culture with a beautiful walled Medina area to explore. It's also a good base for day trips with the unique architecture of Matmata easily reached from here, as well as the tranquil Kerkennah Islands, and the Roman glory of El Djem.
First built in 1306, the mammoth main gateway (known as Bab Diwan) into the Medina is one of Sfax's most prominent landmarks. It has been much altered during its long history, nearly completely destroyed by bombing in 1943 and subsequently rebuilt in its original form. Sfax's Medina is relatively small measuring only 400 m by 500 m and is enclosed by a well-preserved circuit of walls. The original mud brick walls were made by the Aghlabids in the 9th century and were strongly fortified in the 12th century. The Kasbah at the southwest corner of the walls was added in the 17th century.
Unusually, compared to the Medinas in Tunis and Sousse, the streets here are laid out in a grid plan, presumably inherited from the Roman town. Rue Mongi Slim runs south to north and is one of the main Medina thoroughfares. While wandering here, don't miss Rue de la Driba where there are a number of houses sporting handsome, imposing doorways. In a side street opening off this street you'll find the interesting folk museum.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sfax
2 Folk Museum (Dar Jellouli)
Sfax's excellent folk museum (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires) is housed in Dar Jellouli, a two-storey 18th century mansion that once belonged to a wealthy Andalusian family. It has a beautiful inner courtyard surrounded by horseshoe arches, and a delicately carved door and window frames of Gabès stone. The exhibits inside include a wide range of everyday objects, furniture, traditional costumes, jewellery and Arab calligraphy.
3 Archaeological Museum
The ground floor of Sfax's Municipalité (Town Hall) building is home to the city's very interesting Archaeological Museum, which holds exhibits of Punic, Roman and Byzantine antiquities. It's well worth a visit for the mosaic collection alone with mosaics from the excavation sites of Thaenae (Thyna), Taparura and La Skhira, including the 5th or 6th century "Daniel in the lions' den" mosaic and the 3rd century "Ennius surrounded by the muses" mosaic.
The site of ancient Thaenae (Thyna) was the most south-easterly outpost of Carthaginian territory. The Fossa Regia, constructed by the Romans in 146 BC to mark the frontier between the Roman province and the kingdom of Numidia, began just south of the town. Excavations here have revealed the remains of various buildings from the 4th and 5th centuries including baths, dwelling houses and a Christian church. To the east of the site is a necropolis centred round an octagonal mausoleum.
Location: 11 km southwest from Sfax
5 Great Mosque
In the centre of the Sfax Medina stands the Great Mosque, founded in AD 849 and rebuilt during the 10th and 11th centuries. It was finally finished in 1759 under Ottoman rule. Non-Muslims may enter the inner courtyard. At the end of the courtyard is the nine-aisled prayer hall with its vaulting borne on antique columns. The graceful minaret is made up of three successively smaller sections, and richly decorated with Kufic inscriptions and ornamental bands.
Location: Rue de la Grande Mosquée, Medina
6 New Town
Sfax's New Town district lies between the harbour and the Medina. It was constructed during the French protectorate, though only a few buildings from the colonial period now survive. One of the most distinctive of these is the Town Hall (Place de la République), built in neo-Moorish style with a tall minaret-like tower.
7 Plage de Chaffer
For a local beach experience, Plage de Chaffer can't be beaten. This beautiful strip of sand is much frequented by the population of Sfax and on the weekends becomes a vibrant and buzzing hub of family fun.
Location: 25 km southwest of Sfax
Shoppers will enjoy poking about in Sfax's colourful market districts. In the Medina, between the Great Mosque and the northern gate (known as Bab el Djebli) is the old town's souk quarter. There are shops aplenty selling Tunisia's famous colourful ceramics here, as well as local embroidery, leather items, and metalwork. Outside the Medina walls is the New Market area, where locals come to do their shopping. There's everything here from fresh produce to plastic trinkets, and it is great fun for people watching as well as for picking up a bargain or two.
The most-visited troglodytic village in Tunisia, Matmata came to fame after scenes from Star Wars "A New Hope" were filmed in the village's unique underground homes and around the cratered landscape here. The inhabitants first went underground to seek shelter from the sun, excavating circular pits in the land some 12 m in diameter and between 6 and 12 m deep, and digging out living quarters hewed from the surrounding rock. Many of these old homes are now uninhabited, and most villagers live in the new town of Matmata Nouvelle, 15 km away. Some of the traditional houses now function as very simple hotels and museums, and can be visited by tourists and sightseeing day-trippers.
Location: 200 km south from Sfax
10 Kerkennah Islands
The Kerkennah Islands lie off the Tunisian coast, between 20 km and 40 km east of Sfax. The archipelago consists of seven islands with only the principal two (Gharbi and Chergui) inhabited. The island inhabitants make a living mainly by fishing, sponge diving and selling their craft products. The sandy beaches, most of them still mainly unfrequented, offer excellent conditions for diving. From Sfax there are, depending on the season, between two and five daily car ferries to the islands.