Sousse Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of SousseSituation and characteristicsSousse (Arabic Souza), the third largest city in Tunisia (after Tunis and Sfax) and capital of the Tunisian Sahel, lies at the south end of the Gulf of Hammamet, fringed by a beach of fine sand and surrounded by extensive olive plantations.
The old town, situated on a gently sloping hill and enclosed by walls, has many fine examples of Arab architecture and an interesting Archeological Museum. The Medina, the beautiful sandy beaches and the many other places of interest within easy reach, including Kairouan, Monastir, Mahdia and El Djem, make Sousse a popular and attractive tourist and holiday center.Every Sunday there is a camel market near the Catacombs.EconomyUntil the late sixties the economy of Sousse was almost exclusively centered on its Harbor, which exported the agricultural produce (mainly olive oil and esparto grass) grown in the surrounding area and processed in the town as well as phosphates from the Metlaoui area. Fishing and fish- processing also made a contribution to the town's economy. Since then Sousse has developed into a considerable industrial town with a number of large factories, mostly to the south of the town. They include an assembly plant for goods vehicles, a large tannery, factories producing clothing for the European market, hardware, plastics and hothouses, and a large cement works opened in 1982.The holiday and tourist trade has also flourished, and the Sousse area, including Monastir and Port El Kantaoui, is now one of Tunisia's leading tourist regions. The beaches are lined with new hotels in all categories, from expensive luxury establishments to modest guesthouses. To the north of the town is Port El Kantaoui, an ultra-modern tourist complex opened in 1979. This development has been promoted by the construction of the new Skanès-Monastir airport and the establishment of a hotel school.HistoryIn the ninth century B.C. the site of Sousse was occupied by an important Phoenician trading post, which in the sixth century came under the influence of Carthage. (A Punic tophet dating from that period has been discovered here.) During the Second Punic War this was Hannibal's base in his campaign against Scipio's Roman forces - a campaign which ended in his defeat at Zama in 202 B.C. 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 A.D. 238.In the reign of Diocletian (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. Towards the end of the seventh century it was conquered by Oqba ibn Nafi's Arab forces, after putting up a fierce resistance, and totally destroyed. As a result Sousse has few remains of Roman buildings apart from the catacombs of the second/third century A.D.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.In the 12th century the Normans who then ruled Sicily captured Sousse, but were able to hold on to it for only eleven years. The town was in Turkish hands from the 16th century to 1881, when French troops entered it without a fight. During the Second World War, in 1942-43, Sousse suffered severe damage, which was rapidly made good after the war.AccessSousse lies on GP 1 (Tunis-Sfax), 140km/87mi south of Tunis and 127km/79mi north of Sfax.The airport of Skanès-Monastir (15km/9mi southeast of the town on the Monastir road) is most conveniently reached on the Métro du Sahel or by bus (No. 52). From the airport there are flights to all the larger towns in Tunisia; and during the holiday season it is used by many charter flights from Europe.Rail connections with Tunis, Sfax, Gabès, Gafsa/Metlaoui/Tozeur and Hammamet/Nabeul.The Métro du Sahel, a new local express service, runs between Sousse and Monastir roughly every hour, with a halt at the airport.Bus services from the Gare Routière in Avenue Léopold Senghor to Tunis, Kairouan, Sfax, Gabès, Gafsa, Le Kef and Kasserine.
The Medina, situated on rising ground above the harbor in Sousse, is surrounded by a 2km/1.25mi circuit of walls built in 859 and renovated and strengthened in 874 and 1205. The massive blocks of dressed stone in the walls came from ancient Roman buildings. There were originally six gates, of which two survive: Bab el Khabli on the south side and Bab el Gharbi on the west. The gate on the east side, Bab el Djedid, dates only from 1864. Measuring 700m/765yds by 500m/545yds, the Medina of Sousse is one of the finest examples of Arab architecture in Tunisia, preserved almost unchanged over the centuries.
The tower of Ribat is a prominent landmark near the Great Mosque in Sousse. It is one of the best preserved towers in Tunisia and is believed to have been completed in 787.
Just inside the Medina in Sousse stands the fortress-like Great Mosque, built in 851, a few years after the re-foundation of the town by the Aghlabids, on the model of the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan. Following recent restoration work the exterior has recovered its original appearance.The mosque originally had two defensive towers which in earlier centuries guarded the harbor. The domes of the minarets were later additions. An unusual feature is the external staircase leading up from the courtyard to the minaret. The battlemented 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 thirteen-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.
Opening hours: 8am-2pm; Fri: 8am-1pm
Useful tips: Admission tickets are issued by the ONTT office in Place Farhat Hached. As in other mosques in Tunisia, non-Muslims are allowed only into the inner courtyard, which is open daily, except Fridays, 8am-1pm.
Facilities: Gift shop, Restaurant or food service
Place Farhat Hached
The hub of Sousse's traffic is Place Farhat Hached, immediately northeast of the Medina, from which the principal streets radiate. To the north is the new town, with Avenue Habib Bourguiba, lined with shops, banks and offices, and its continuation along the seafront, Boulevard Hedi Chaker. Southeast of Place Farhat Hached lies the harbor. At the southwest corner of Place Farhat Hached there formerly stood Bab el Bahr, the Sea Gate. This was originally the entrance to an inner Harbor which silted up in the 16th century, or perhaps earlier. A fort was built on the site in the 18th century, but since the destruction caused during the Second World War there is a great gap in the walls of the Medina, through which it is now entered.
From Souk el Reba a side street runs southwest to the cisterns of La Sofra, entered through an iron gate. These huge underground cisterns, with a capacity of 3,000cu.m/660,000gallons, are presumably of Roman origin. In Rue el Mar, the continuation of Rue d'Angleterre, are the mosques of Sidi Ali Ammar and Bou Ftata. The latter, which has an area of only 8sq.m/86sq.ft, is believed to have been built between 838 and 841 by the architect of the Great Mosque; its minaret, with tile decoration, is much later.
To the south of the Ribat in Sousse is the picturesque Rue el Aghalba, which runs past the Great Mosque to the west side of the Medina. Off this street, on the left, opens Rue d'Angleterre, which leads south for some 250m/275yds to Souk el Reba (to the right). This is the beginning of the large souk quarter, partly roofed over, a scene of busy and colorful activity with all the atmosphere of the Orient. The most interesting parts are the side alleys, where the goods on display are not so evidently designed to appeal to tourists.
100m/110yds west of the Ribat in Sousse is the striking octagonal minaret, in a style almost reminiscent of Renaissance architecture, of the Zaouia Zakkak, which dates from the Turkish period. The complex includes a mosque, a medersa (Koranic school) and a mausoleum. A notable feature is the arcading, borne on antique columns, round the square inner courtyard.
Kalaout el Koubba
The Kalaout el Koubba in Sousse is a domed building of the 11th century with zigzag ribbing on the facade, the original function of which is not known.
Along Souk el Reba in Sousse and its continuation Souk el Caid is Bab el Gharbi, the west gate of the Medina. From here Boulevard Maréchal Tito (to the left) follows the outside of the Medina walls to the Kasbah, at its southwest corner.The Kasbah was built in 859 on the site of an earlier Byzantine fortress. Its 30m/100ft high Khalef el Fata tower, named after its builder, is one of the oldest towers in the whole of North Africa. Its topmost platform is 50m/165ft above that of the Ribat and affords correspondingly more extensive views. Accordingly the Kasbah took over the military role of the Ribat, and the Khalef el Fata tower is still used as a lighthouse. Part of the Kasbah is occupied by the municipal prison.It is well worth climbing the Khalef el Fata tower for the sake of the view. The entrance lies to the south of the entrance to the Museum.
Sousse's Archeological Museum contains an extensive collection, with a focus on Punic, Roman, and Early Christian periods. The museum is located in the Kasbah.
On the western outskirts of Sousse is a large complex of Early Christian catacombs discovered in 1888.This maze of underground passages and chambers was hewn from the soft local rock between the second and fourth centuries, probably on the site of an earlier pagan necropolis. (The word catacomb comes from the name of an old Roman burial-place on the Via Appia outside Rome.) Of the four main shafts three have been excavated. Finds from the site are in the Museum. A total of some 15,000 people were buried, wrapped in shrouds, in niches in the walls of the catacombs, often hewn in tiers one above the other and closed by tiles or marble plaques. Only small sections of the catacombs - the roofs of which have to be supported on props because of the danger of collapse - are open to the public: the Catacombs of the Good Shepherd (Catacombes du Bon Pasteur; 1.6km/1mile long, with 6,000 tombs; late third century), of Hermes (2,500 tombs; third century) and Severus (5,000 tombs; early fourth century).AccessLeave on Rue du 15 Octobre, opposite Bab el Gharbi, which runs west in the direction of Sfax and Kairouan; turn right off this street into Rue du 25 Juillet 1957; in 300m/330yds turn left into Rue Abou Hamed el Ghazali and in another 300m, at a mosque, left again. The entrance to the Catacombs is immediately before a tall radio aerial.
Port El Kantaoui
10km/6mi north of Sousse is the modern holiday complex of Port El Kantaoui (the "Garden"), opened in 1979, a Moorish-style development modeled on the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said, near Tunis. Around a large marina with over 300 moorings are several luxury hotels, blocks of holiday apartments, restaurants, cafes, night clubs, a shopping center and a wide range of sports facilities (tennis, golf, riding, sailing, etc.).
House of the Tragic Poet
700m/770yds south of the Kasbah in Sousse are the foundations of the "House of the Tragic Poet" (opening times as for Museum), named after the mosaic which is now to be seen in the Archeological Museum.
The Sunday market in Sousse is held near the entrance to the Catacombs of the Good Shepherd.It offers souvenirs, handicrafts and livestock.
Map of Sousse Attractions