11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Sousse
One of Tunisia's most popular holiday resorts, Sousse effortlessly blends resort comforts with historic highlights - combining the best of both worlds. There are many cultural sightseeing draws, making it the country's number one spot for a holiday. While the luxury hotels lining the beach-side suburb of Port el Kantaoui provide all the sun and sand bliss, the Medina district in Sousse's centre has more than enough tourist attractions to keep culture-vultures happy. It's no wonder this ancient seaside town continues to charm all those who visit.
The Medina (Old Town) of Sousse is one of the finest examples of Arab architecture in Tunisia, preserved almost completely unchanged throughout the centuries. A visit here is a must on any Sousse trip. The warren of alleyways is surrounded by a 2 km circuit of walls, built in AD 859 with mammoth stone blocks recycled from ancient Roman sites. There were originally six gates, of which two survive: Bab el Khabli on the south side and Bab el Ghabi on the west.
Wandering around here is like slipping back a few centuries in history. Narrow lanes are lined with closely packed houses, rising up and leaving just a sliver in between. Although there are monuments aplenty and the souk section is full of shopping opportunities, it's just as much fun to spend an afternoon strolling aimlessly and soaking up the old world atmosphere.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sousse
Northwest of Sousse's Great Mosque, the tower of the Ribat is the city's major landmark. This was one of a chain of around 800 fortifications built by the Aghlabid dynasty along the Tunisian coast. Today only a few of these buildings survive. Religious warriors (who in times of peace devoted themselves to religious duties) occupied the ribats. But in times of danger these religious forces were the first line of defence against enemy attack.
The solid walls of the ribats offered the population protection from invasion and served as bases for offensive and defensive action. Several scholars have suggested that these Muslim warrior holy men provided a model for the later Christian knightly orders. Sousse Ribat now ranks with the Ribat of Monastir as one of the best preserved in Tunisia.
Built in AD 859 on the site of an earlier Byzantine fortress, the Kasbah is one of Sousse's grandest monuments. Its 30 m Khalef el Fata tower (named after its builder) is one of the oldest towers still standing in North Africa. The Kasbah's topmost platform is 50 m above that of the Ribat, making it the best place to get Medina views. After its construction, the Kasbah took over the military role of the Ribat and the Khalef el Fata tower is still used as a lighthouse.
Location: Boulevard Maréchal Tito
4 Sousse Archaeology Museum
This excellent museum contains the largest collection of antiquities in the country after Tunis' Bardo Museum. Its main exhibits herald from the Punic, Roman and early Christian periods. Give yourself a good couple of hours for a visit, as there are some exceptional pieces here. Room 3 with its sublime mosaics including the "Triumph of Bacchus" and "Apollo and the Muses" is an obvious highlight, but also don't miss Room 2's "Medusa" mosaic (regarded as one of the collection's finest pieces) and the "Seasons and Months" mosaic in Room 9 that was unearthed in El Djem.
Location: Ground floor, Kasbah
5 Sousse Great Mosque
Sousse's fortress-like Great Mosque was built in AD 851, a few years after the re-foundation of the town by the Aghlabids. Its construction design was based on the model of the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan. The mosque originally had two defensive towers, which guarded the harbour in earlier centuries. The domes of the minarets were later additions. An unusual feature is the external staircase leading up from the courtyard to the minaret. The battlement walls of the courtyard, which is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade of tall horseshoe arches borne on massive piers, are decorated with an elaborate Kufic frieze. The arcade in front of the 13-aisled prayer hall was added in 1675. The prayer hall originally consisted only of three barrel-vaulted bays, but by the 10th century it was found to be too small and was extended by the addition of three rather higher groin-vaulted bays on the side with the qibla wall. The beautifully decorated Aghlabid dome, now over the fourth bay, was originally over the bay in front of the mihrab.
6 Souk District
If you're in the mood for a spot of shopping and don't mind some fun-filled haggling, then the Medina's souk district is the place to go. Cute and colourful Rue el Aghalba runs past the Great Mosque to the Medina's west side. Off this street, on the left, is Rue d'Angleterre leading south to the beginning of the souk quarter. Partially covered, this quarter has all the bustling atmosphere of the Orient with metal workers and woodworkers down narrow side alleyways. Typical tourist souvenirs take up the more main souk streets. It's the perfect place to poke around for an afternoon, trying to find some special treasure to take home.
7 Zaouia Zakkak
The Ottoman era Zaouia Zakkak's striking octagonal minaret has a style almost reminiscent of Renaissance architecture. The complex includes a mosque, madrassa (Islamic school of learning) and a mausoleum. As well as the complex's beautiful minaret, another notable feature is the arcading of the inner courtyard - the antique columns recycled from older sites.
Location: 100 m west of the Ribat
Discovered in 1888, this large complex of Early Christian catacombs is a maze of underground passages and chambers hewed from soft local rock between the 2nd and 4th centuries. It probably sits on the site of an earlier pagan necropolis. A total of some 15,000 people were wrapped in shrouds and buried here in wall niches of the catacombs, often placed in tiers one above the other and closed by tiles or marble plaques.
Of the four main shafts, three have been excavated. Finds from the site are in Sousse Archaeology Museum. Only small sections of the catacombs - the roofs of which have to be supported because of the danger of collapse - are open to the public: the Catacombs of the Good Shepherd (Catacombes du Bon Pasteur; 1.6 km long, with 6,000 tombs; late 3rd century), of Hermes (2,500 tombs; 3rd century) and Severus (5,000 tombs; early 4th century).
Location: Rue Abou Hamed el Ghazali, on the western outskirts of Sousse
9 Port el Kantaoui
This purpose-built resort complex is where many visitors stay on sun-and-sea holidays. Opened in 1979, the Moorish-style development was modelled on the cute blue-and-white village of Sidi Bou Said near Tunis. The resort is centred round a large marina with over 300 moorings. It contains several luxury hotels and blocks of holiday apartments along the beachfront, as well as restaurants, cafés, a shopping centre and a wide range of sports facilities.
Location: 6 km north of Sousse
10 Sousse Market
For those who want to shop with the locals rather than in the tourist stores of the Medina's souk, the Sunday Market is held near the entrance to the Catacombs of the Good Shepherd. Stalls offer livestock, souvenirs and handcrafts in a jumble of organised chaos that allows you to dive into a proper Tunisian shopping experience.
With its lovely setting on a fossilised rock hill amid the flat countryside, the old Berber village of Takrouna holds on to a disappearing way of life. Only six Berber families still occupy the village and visitors can enter some of the dwellings here to get a close-up look at traditional Berber architecture and interiors. In the centre of the village there is also a small mosque and the tomb of local holy man Sidi Abd el Kader.
Location: 6 km west of Enfida
Other Notable Attractions
La Sofra Cisterns
Entered through an iron gate, these huge underground cisterns probably date from the Roman period. They once had a capacity to store 3,000 cu m of water.
Location: Off Souk el Reba, Medina
This market centre is surrounded by farming land and has an excellent local Sunday Market that is worthwhile seeing if you're in the area. The town's former church now houses a small museum, dedicated to finds from local excavations and containing early Christian mosaics from the Uppenna (5 km north) and Sidi Abich (3 km north) archaeological sites. There is also a collection of Roman and Byzantine pottery.
Location: 43 km north of Sousse
The little town of Hergla lies on a rocky stretch of coast speckled by sandy coves. It occupies the site of ancient Roman Horraca Caelia, which during the 2nd century AD lay directly on the boundary between the provinces of Byzacena and Zeugitania. Since this original settlement was completely destroyed during Arab invasions, there is nothing of interest from this period left to see. Hergla has a fine 18th century mosque with a dome constructed in the tube-vaulting technique found at Bulla Regia, and if you have your own transport you'll find the surrounding beaches wonderfully unspoilt.
Location: 35 km north of Sousse
Sousse has been settled since at least the 9th century BC, when it was the site of an important Phoenician trading post. It came under the influence of Carthage during the 6th century BC, and during the Second Punic War this was Hannibal's base in his campaign against Scipio's Roman forces. In the Third Punic War the town, now known as Hadrumetum, went over to the Roman side and was rewarded with the grant of important privileges. These were lost, however, when Hadrumetum took Pompey's side in his conflict with Caesar. Thanks to its strategic situation and its extensive olive groves it soon recovered, but it suffered a further setback after taking part in the Gordian rising in AD 238.
In the reign of Diocletian (AD 284-305) the town rose to some importance, and in Byzantine times became capital of the province of Byzacena. Later it was taken by the Vandals and renamed Hunericopolis, then recovered by the Byzantines and given the new name of Justinianopolis.
Oqba ibn Nafi's Arab forces conquered the town towards the end of the 7th century, but the settlement had put up a fierce resistance and was totally destroyed. As a result, Sousse has few remains of Roman buildings apart from the catacombs. Two hundred years later, under the Aghlabids, a new town was founded with the name of Susa to serve as the port for their inland capital of Kairouan. This was the period when the Ribat, the Great Mosque, the Kasbah and the town walls were built.