Faouzia Ben Khoud, author of our Architectural Guide Tunis, has been exploring the Tunisian capital for many years. Below are her tips on finding the best food, concerts, and views of the historic cityscape.
Text: Faouzia Ben Khoud
Photo: Disegni Building, © Philipp Meuser
Tunis is a patchwork of many different civilisations. The old Muslim quarter, the Medina, forms the heart of the city and is very well preserved compared to other historic centres in the Maghreb. The French district of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is situated immediately to the north, and the ruins of Carthage and Ancient Rome are located just a short distance away. I moved to a suburb of Tunis when I was 14, having grown up in a different part of Tunisia. But it was during my architectural studies, when I also did an internship in the Medina, that I truly came to know the city. To this day, Tunis is where I feel most at home.
Taste. The Medina of Tunis has several main arteries, which are always thronging with people. The Muslim quarter is filled with shops and places where you can meet your friends. I would suggest simply getting lost in the crowd and wandering freely. Even I get lost sometimes to this day. Turn into any of the side streets, where people live, and it quickly becomes very calm. The homes are always arranged around an inner courtyard, which is hidden from the outside, since in Medina, what is private must remain private. But visitors who wish to look inside one of the wonderful old buildings with their tiled walls can make their way to the El-Ali Restaurant (Rue Jamaa Ez Zitouna). From the terrace, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the historic centre with all the minarets of the mosques. Their couscous is rather delightful, especially with fish.
See. A day trip to the village of Sidi Bou Said, near the coast of Carthage, is very rewarding. It is fascinating to walk by so many archaeological excavations. The village itself stands on a hill, and people often compare it to the Greek island of Santorini: the buildings are all white, the doors blue, and one of the alleys leads to a view of the Mediterranean Sea. My architecture faculty was near the village, and I would go there whenever I felt down, which would immediately make me feel better.
Listen. My favourite building in the city is the Municipal Theatre (Théâtre Municipal de Tunis, 2 Rue de Grèce). I discovered it through a friend, who took me along one day to an afternoon concert. We listened to some pieces by Liszt, which was wonderful, especially in the magnificent auditorium. I admire the building’s Art Nouveau design, though I particularly appreciate the subtlety and restraint with which the architect rendered some of the decorative elements – the handrails with plant and floral motifs and the ceiling paintings, depicting birds, for example. The building has such a cosy atmosphere. It is a venue not only for theatre productions but also concerts by the Tunisian Symphony and performances showcasing Arab-Andalusian music.
FAOUZIA BEN KHOUD is the author of our recently published Architectural Guide Tunis, available in English and French. She studied architecture in the Tunisian capital before completing her master’s degree in monument conservation at the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Dessau in 2017. She came to know the historic centre especially well during her internship with the Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis.
This text is taken from DOM magazine, no. 2, from May 2020. Our magazine is published four times a year – twice in German and twice in English – and each edition includes the Stopover feature, where one of our authors or staff presents a place close to their heart. Get a free copy with every order in our webshop.