11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Tozeur
This perfect desert oasis enchants all who visit. Tozeur is a world apart from coastal Tunisian resorts such as Sousse and Hammamet, with a Medina (old town) full of unique brick-pattern architecture and a rambling palm-grove that slices a sea of green through the desert sand.
Would-be adventurers will find plenty of attractions and things to do in the surrounding countryside, be it dune-bashing, hot-spring soaking, salt-pan admiring and even visiting the crumbling and surreal remnants of a "Star Wars" movie set, just out of town. But however you choose to spend your time, don't miss a sightseeing trip to the oases of Tamerza, Chibeka and Midès, where you can appreciate some of the most stunning scenery Tunisia has to offer.
1 The Oasis
Tozeur's beautiful date-palm oasis is a serene and tranquil world. Here, below the shade of outstretched palms, a series of red-dirt paths wind through a wonderland of lush agricultural land. Approximately 400,000 date-palm trees grow. You can ride through here to experience this peaceful desert garden on donkey, camel, by horse-drawn carriage or simply walk. The oasis is on the south side of Tozeur, accessed off Avenue Abou el Kacem ech Chabbi from where a number of small streets run south to the oasis. Inside the oasis itself there are six tiny hamlets that can be visited, the most important of which are Bled el Hadder, Abbès and Sahraoui.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tozeur
- Read More:
- Exploring Tozeur's Oasis: A Visitor's Guide
2 Medina (Ouled Hadef)
Tozeur's Medina (Old Town) is known as Ouled Hadef, and is the most atmospheric part of town. Jumbles of higgledy-piggledy lanes ramble through the district, lined with traditional desert houses that sport beautiful decorative brick facades of intricate patterns. The geometric brick designs of the houses are very similar to the age-old design motifs found on many Berber carpets. This Tozeur-style architecture is made from local kiln-fired clay or mud bricks, and can also be found in neighbouring desert towns. Frequently, the upper floors of the houses extend across the street to join with houses on the other side, forming covered-bridge passages between households and providing inhabitants with shelter from the harsh sun.
3 Chott el Djerid
With a surface are of over 7,000 sq km, the Chott el Djerid is the Sahara's largest salt pan. During winter when the rains have come, some of it has to be navigated by boat but in summer, it nearly completely dries up leaving the salt crust with its bizarre patterns exposed, stretching on for miles to the horizon. Fata Morgana (mirages) are commonly sighted here. It's a popular day trip from Tozeur, and one that shouldn't be missed by photographers - the surreal scenery offers the perfect opportunity for otherworldly shots.
4 Folk Museum
Housed in the Koubba of Sidi Bou Aissa, Tozeur's small Folk Museum (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires) has a series of exhibits that explain the day-to-day life of traditional Tozeur households. There are also Roman columns and fragments of statues from ancient Thusuros on display, local craft products, furnishings, coins, pottery, jewellery, wedding costumes and Qur'anic inscriptions.
Rue de Kairouan
5 Tozeur Town
Unlike many other Tunisian towns, the division between the old town and new town section of Tozeur isn't so marked. In the new town, the traditional geometric brick designs continue to be used on many of the buildings. The hub of the new town is Place Ibn Chabbat, named after the 13th century imam who laid down the water distribution system for the Tozeur oasis. Flanking the square is the market hall built during the French protectorate, dominated over by the minaret of the Great Mosque. The main streets running off the square are a heaven for shoppers with dozens of stores selling local textiles and craft-work.
6 Oases of Tamerza, Chibeka and Midès
One of the most popular day trips from Tozeur is a journey to the three upland oases of Chibika, Tamerza and Midès, which owe their fertile land to vast underground water deposits tapped through a series of wells. The oases are reached by driving through the stunning hill country of Djebel en Negueb (an offshoot of the Atlas Mountains). The scenery here is worthy of the trip alone.
Chebika was built on the site of a Roman military post called Ad Speculum and is a small village of stone and mud-brick houses sitting above the palm-grove. The highly picturesque and now abandoned old village is built into the hillside behind it. Tamerza sits on the site of the Roman station of Ad Turres and was the see of a bishop in the 6th century. Again, the old village is a rambling gem of a place that deserves exploration. Midès sits directly on the Algerian frontier, and on the edge of two 60 m deep canyons, where the Roman fort of Mades once was located.
7 El Hamma du Djerid
About 9 km north of Tozeur is the oasis of El Hamma du Djerid where there are four small villages (El Erg, Mhareb, Msaaba and Nemlut) and six hot springs. The oasis has an area of approximately 700 ha and contains 110,000 date palms. The hot springs here have been used for medicinal purposes since the Roman period and have waters rich in mineral deposits, said to help sufferers of skin conditions such as eczema. They are a wonderfully relaxing place to spend an afternoon soaking, whether you're there for medicinal reasons or not. For history-fiends, the oasis is also home to the remains of a small Roman settlement (1 km from Nemlet).
8 Onk Jemel (Mos Espa)
Star Wars fans: take a deep breath now. Out in the desert in the area known as Onk Jemel, near Tozeur, is the abandoned film set of Mos Espa surrounded by mammoth dunes. This is where Anakin Skywalker did his first pod racing in Episode One "The Phantom Menace". It's a bizarre place with the dome shaped houses left to slowly whither with age and other atmospheric pieces from the film set left in place. You have to travel here by four-wheel drive, which is an adventure in itself. Most Tozeur tour companies combine a visit here with a bit of dune driving to please those tourists who aren't so enamoured with the site's film-buff status.
9 Zoo du Désert
Just outside the village of Abbès is the small desert zoo known as the Zoo du Désert and a small but interesting botanic garden called "Paradis". Here you can see endemic desert animals and oasis plants including acacias, aloes, cacti, henna, hibiscus and pomegranate trees. There is a small cafe where you can sample "teas" made from various kinds of flowers local to the area. From here it is possible either to continue to the shores of the Chott el Djerid, or to return to Tozeur by way of the hamlet of Sahraoui.
10 Abbès Marabout Sidi Ali Bou Lifa
In the hamlet of Abbès is the marabout of local holy man Sidi Ali Bou Lifa, topped by a mighty dome. In front of the marabout, which attracts a large number of pilgrims who come to pay their respects, is a large and much revered jujube tree said to have been planted by the holy man himself.
11 Tidjani Zoo
On the northern outskirts of Tozeur, beyond the railroad, is the Desert zoo of Si Tidjani, a Tozeur local who was famed throughout Tunisia as a snake-catcher. Various animals that are now rarely seen in the wild are kept here. Unfortunately, although the cages are well kept, they are sometimes very small. The animals here include desert monitors, sand and horned vipers, scorpions, fennec foxes, jackals, birds of prey and dromedaries.
Other Notable Attractions
Bled el Hader
The hamlet of Bled el Hader, just outside Tozeur is believed to occupy the site of ancient Thusuros. In the centre of the village is the 11th century mosque of Sidi Bou Ali, the original minaret and mihrab still standing (the prayer hall is a modern addition). In the cemetery to the right of the mosque is the marabout of Ibn Chabbat who created Tozeur's water distribution system. There are a number of old houses in the village with handsome brick facades in the traditional style.
The best views of Tozeur's oasis are at the Belvédère viewpoint at Ras el Aioun (a boulder pile 3 km west of town on the edge of the oasis). From here there are panoramas across the town, oasis and surrounding desert. There are also various hot water springs in this area.
Situated between the desert and the steppe country, Tozeur must have been from time immemorial an important staging-point on the caravan route from the Sahara to the northeastern Mediterranean coast. The town is first mentioned in Roman times, under the name of Thusuros, as an important bastion in the defence of the southern frontier of the province of Africa. During the Christian period Thusuros continued to flourish. In the middle of the 7th century, the Arabs took the town after a long, hard struggle. Under Arab rule Tozeur enjoyed a long period of peace during which, as the "gateway to the desert", it developed into a key staging-point on the caravan routes. The town prospered and became an important point on the North African slave trade with a large slave market here. Many of the town's present-day inhabitants are the descendants of these black slaves (the Haratin).
The heyday of the town was in the 14th century, when it is believed to have had three times its present population. Its wealth, however, made it the target of increasingly frequent raids by the nomads and of oppressive taxation by the Ottoman authorities who then controlled Tunisia. As a result, economic decline began in the 15th century, and in the following century it was visited by a devastating epidemic of cholera during which half the population died. Thus, when the French took Tozeur in 1881 without a fight, it was an insignificant little oasis town. Thereafter it was developed on modern, European lines, though retaining its traditional style of brick architecture.