The walls which once enclosed the Medina in Tunis long since disappeared, apart from a few town gates, and their place has been taken by a ring of streets around the old town, which is in the form of an oval measuring 1,500m/1,640yds from north to south by 800m/880yds from east to west. It is the largest Medina in Tunisia and the finest after the Medina of Kairouan. Originally going back to the ninth-11th centuries, it dates in its present form largely from the Hafsid (13th century) and Turkish (17th-18th century) periods. The French demolished its outer walls but left it otherwise unchanged.
The Olive-Tree Mosque or Great Mosque is noted for the impressive inner courtyard which can even be visited by non-Muslims. The prayer hall has 15 aisles, a timber ceiling, and antique columns.
Systematic restoration and improvement work has been carried out in the Medina in Tunis since 1974 under the direction of the Association for the Safeguard of the Medina (ASMA). At first sight the Medina may seem a confusing and impenetrable labyrinth of narrow streets and lanes; but the names of the main streets are signposted in French as well as Arabic, and with the help of a town plan visitors should be able to find their way about without too much difficulty. If they lose their way they can get their direction from the position of the sun. They should beware of the narrowest lanes (impasses), which often turn out to be blind alleys. On Fridays and increasingly on Sundays many shops in the souk quarter are closed. On other days the souk is a bustle of activity from the early morning. Many buildings - medersas (Koranic schools), zaouias, mosques, mausoleums, palaces, etc. - are not open to the public, either because they are closed to non-Muslims (since 1972 non-Muslims are admitted to the inner courtyard of a mosque only during the morning and are prohibited from entering the prayer hall at any time) or because they are private property. On the guides who will frequently offer their services.
Mausoleum of Aziza Othman
From Bab el Bahr in Tunis along Rue de la Kasbah it is worth while turning into Rue el Jelloud to see, at the end of Impasse Echemmahia (No. 9), the Mausoleum of Aziza Othman. Aziza ("Beloved One"), daughter of Bey Othman, who died about 1643, was much loved by the people of Tunis for her piety and her charitable works. The mausoleum, now in the forecourt of a private house, can be seen on payment of a small fee. From here we can return by way of the Souk el Blaghija, the souk of the slipper-makers, to Rue de la Kasbah, which leads back to the starting-point of the tour at Bab el Bahr (Porte de France).
Mosque of Sidi Mahrez
In Rue Sidi Mahrez in Tunis, which runs southeast from the square, is the Ottoman-style Mosque of Sidi Mahrez (c. 1675), with nine white domes. The 10th century marabout Mohammed Mahrez es Seddiki (the "Ascetic"), who is buried in the zaouia on the opposite side of the street, is the patron saint of Tunis. It is said that after the sacking of Tunis in 944 by the followers of the Kharijite leader Abou Yazid he encouraged his fellow-citizens to rebuild the town walls and develop trade and industry. In Rue el Monastiri, which opens off Rue Sidi Mahrez, is Dar el Monastiri, an 18th century palace with a handsome doorway.
Zaouia Sidi Brahim
In Rue Sidi Brahim (No. 11) in Tunis is the mid 19th century Zaouia Sidi Brahim, with a beautifully decorated interior, and in Rue du Tribunal, which goes off opposite it, stands Dar Lasram, an 18th century palace which now houses ASMA, the association for the preservation of the Medina. Rue Sidi Brahim joins Rue du Pacha. The Turkish Pasha once resided in this street, and it became the main street of a select residential quarter (fine doorways). At No. 40 is the Medersa Bachiya (1756). Rue du Pacha runs into Rue Sidi Ben Arous, which goes north to Rue Bab Souika and the starting-point of the tour and south to the Mausoleum of Hammouda Pacha.
Rue Djemaa ez Zitouna
From Place de la Victoire, formerly the hub of the French quarter of Tunis, the Medina is entered through the Bab el Bahr. Straight ahead are the two main streets of the souk quarter, Rue Djemaa ez Zitouna to the left and Rue de la Kasbah to the right. The tour described in this section begins by going along Rue Djemaa ez Zitouna and ends by way of Rue de la Kasbah. The shops in this quarter are exclusively targeted on tourists, and prices are correspondingly high. With a modicum of skill in haggling it should be possible to bring them down to a more reasonable level.
Sidi Youssef Mosque
Southeast of Dar el Bey in Tunis is the Sidi Youssef Mosque (1616), with a slender octagonal (Hanafite) minaret faced with green tiles. Many of the 48 columns in the prayer hall have antique capitals. Over the mihrab is an octagonal dome. Associated with the mosque are the pyramid-roofed mausoleum of its founder, the Hafsid Bey Sidi Youssef, and a medersa (Koranic school) built in 1622. At the end of Rue Sidi B. Ziad stands the Aziza Othman Hospital, the city's largest women's hospital, named after the daughter of Bey Othman, who is still revered.
Rue du Château in Tunis leads to Boulevard Bab Menara, one of the ring of streets round the Medina. Along this street to the north (right) can be seen the square minaret (1235), with typical Andalusian/Moorish interlace decoration, of the Kasbah or Almohad Mosque. The minaret dates back to the 13th century Hafsid Kasbah, which was demolished soon after Tunisia became independent. The mosque is usually closed.
Souk des Chechias
On the east side of Dar el Bey in Tunis is the Souk el Bey, off which opens the Souk des Chechias (Souk ech Chaouachiya), occupied since time immemorial by the makers of the woolen caps known as chechias. The craft was brought to Tunisia by Muslim refugees from Andalusia in the early 17th century. The Souk des Chechias leads to Rue Sidi Ben Arous, named after the founder of a puritanical brotherhood who after his death in 1463 was buried in the zaouia at No. 23.
Rue Ben Mahmoud in Tunis joins Rue Sidi Bou Khrissan, which leads to the little Place du Château. In this square is Dar Hussein, an 18th century Arab palace, much altered in the 19th century, with a beautiful inner courtyard, which now houses the National Institute of Archeology and Art. Only the courtyard is open to the public.
Rue des Teinturiers in Tunis leads north to the Dyers' Mosque (Mosquée des Teinturiers; known locally as the Djemaa el Djedid, the New Mosque), which with the associated medersa was built in 1715 by the founder of the Husseinite dynasty. It was modeled on the Sidi Youssef Mosque and, like it, has a slender octagonal minaret. The interior has beautiful carved woodwork.
Dar Ben Abdallah (Musée du Patrimoine Traditionnel)
In Rue Sidi Kassem in Tunis, which runs southwest off Rue des Teinturiers, is Dar Ben Abdallah, an 18th century palace which is now occupied by a folk museum, the Musée du Patrimoine Traditionnel de la Ville de Tunis. The exhibits include faience, stucco ornament, costumes and furniture.
Holy Cross Church
A few yards along Rue Djemaa ez Zitouna in Tunis, on the left (No. 14), is the former Eglise de Ste-Croix (Holy Cross Church), founded in 1662 by a French chaplain named Jean Le Vacher, in the first fondouk (a warehouse and inn for European merchants) established in Tunis.
Mausoleum of Sidi Kassem el Zilliji
In Boulevard du 9 Avril in Tunis, is the Mausoleum of Sidi Kassem el Zilliji (15th century, considerably enlarged in 18th century), with a dome faced with green tiles, which now houses a small Ceramic Museum, together with an exhibition on the development of the Kufic script and a collection of funerary stelae.
Tourbet el Bey
At the intersection of Rue Sidi Kassem and Rue Tourbet in Tunis rises the massive Tourbet el Bey (1758), crowned by a huge dome. This is the burial-place of almost all the rulers of the Husseinite dynasty (1705-1957).The house at No. 33 Rue Tourbet is said to have been the birthplace in 1332 of Ibn Khaldun.
Dar el Bey
Dar el Bey in Tunis is a palace built about 1800 and altered in 1876, when it became the residence of the Bey of Tunis. It is now occupied by the Prime Minister's Office and the Foreign Ministry.
Mausoleum and Mosque of Hammouda Pacha
The Mausoleum of Hammouda Pacha in Tunis is a square building with a green-tiled pyramidal roof (1665). Adjoining is the Mosque of Hammouda Pacha (c. 1665), which has an octagonal minaret in Syrian style, one of the finest minarets in Tunis.
Place du Gouvernement
Opposite the Kasbah Mosque in Tunis is the Tourbet Laz, a small building with a tiled dome. Beyond it lies the Place du Gouvernement, in which are numerous government offices.
Tour of the Northern Medina
The starting-point of this tour of the northern Medina in Tunis is Place Bab Souika, once the capital's place of execution and now the center of a large new district of the town.
Rue du Persan and Rue des Juges in Tunis lead into Rue des Forgerons (Street of the Smiths), which runs southwest to Bab Djedid, Tunis's oldest town gate (1276).
Opposite the Dyers' Mosque in Tunis, in Rue el M'Bazaa, stands Dar Othman, a palace built about 1600 by Bey Othman, with a beautiful inner courtyard.
El Ksar Mosque
In Place du Château in Tunis is the El Ksar Mosque, which dates from 1106. It has a striking minaret in Hispano-Mauresque style (1647; restored 1978-79).
At the corner of Rue Achour and Rue Sidi Brahim in Tunis can be seen the Medersa Achouria, with a square minaret and a handsome doorway.
In Place de la Kasbah in Tunis are the massive headquarters of the Neo-Destour party and the Musée du 9 Avril (history of the Tunisian independence movement).
St George's Anglican Church
Tour of the Southern Medina
The starting-point for a tour of the southern Medina in Tunis is Place Bab el Jazira.
Map - Medina
Map of Tunis Attractions