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February 2012

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The blue train from Tunis to Sidi Bou Said Bookmark and Share

Sidi Bou Said is the perfect Mediterranean postcard!

This small town s located just outside Tunis and access is very easy: about 20 minutes with the TGM train from Tunis Marine station (also called Tunis Nord).
Sidi Bou Said is on the same train line that the archaeological site of Carthage, but we left that visit for the next time.

Mosque El Ghofrane in Sidi Bou Said

The blue train is charming, maybe a bit old but still comfortable. People spontaneously started conversations, telling us where to go and what to do in Carthage or Sidi Bou Said.

The train station is very close to the old town: Up the street there’s a large and recent mosque called El Ghofrane. Then on the left side, there’s a street and a park lead to the souk.

The Hamsa, hand of Fatima, decorates the house's door

I was expecting being assaulted by touts and souvenir vendors when approaching the souk. If you’ve been to Egypt or Morocco, you’ll understand what I mean.
But we only came across one guy like this.

Instead, we encountered very respectful people. They were proposing their goods, but they were not insistent. We even spent about half an hour with a vendor talking about politics, football, winter snow and other different subjects.
Once again, I found that Tunisian people are welcoming, interesting and polite.

Mosque in Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

The town of Sidi Bou Said has a long and interesting history. Its previous name was Djebel Menara, or Jabal el-Menar, depending on how you spell the arabic name...
It means something like “Mountain tower”, probably referring to the old lighthouse.

A revered Muslim scholar named Abou Said el Beji (let’s keep it short, his real name was actually much longer) retired here after a pious life spent between Mecca and Tunis.
He died here in 1231 and is buried in town. Since the end of the 19th Century is named after him.

guest room of Dar El Annabi in Sidi Bou Said

In the 18th century many wealthy citizens, as well as the Turkish governors of Tunis, built houses and residences in Sidi Bou Said.
Dar el Annabi is one of those houses.

This 18 th century home is huge and beautiful, luxurious yet sober and temperate. It belonged to the Mufti El Annabi, a Sunni Islamic scholar, and it’s still in the hands of the El Annabi family today.
The house has more than 50 rooms and of course they’re not all open to the public, but the part that can be visited is quite impressive.

Henna ceremony at El-Annabi House in Sidi Bou Said

Inside, there are wax figures with traditional and festive clothes in some of the rooms.
The last room before the courtyard portrays 3 women during the “henna ceremony”, which takes place a few days before the wedding in Arabic and Eastern Jewish communities.

By the way, the house has its own prayer room, and it’s worth to note that it can be visited even by non-muslims.

Cactus at dar El Annabi House

We spent some time at the very pleasant Andalusian-style courtyard. In the middle of it, you won’t find a fountain but a water well.
There are also fragments of some Roman statues and I wondered if they’re authentic. After all, Carthage is just a stone throw away and heritage conservation is a relatively new invention.

The entrance fee includes a glass of tee. It was served under a large orange tent, with enough seats to accommodate a tourist bus. But when we visited, there were only the two of us.

Inside the house Dar El-Anabi

What I liked the most at Dar El-Annabi was the magnificent library. There were several old books, newspapers and publications. Most of them were in Arabic, but some of them were in French.
The library also contained posters, old pictures and gifts.

The large desk was very inviting, but books were only on display, not to be read. Anyway, it reminded me the house where I grew up, where we also had a quite large room filled with books.

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Walking the streets of Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said owes part of its reputation, as well as its present look, to the Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger. He was the son of a German banker, but he chose an artistic path instead: he became a painter and a musicologist specialized in Arab and Middle Eastern music.

He fell in love with this village in the early 20 th century and built a palace here, called Ennejma Ezzahra (“The Star of Venus”). His residence is now home to the Centre des Musiques Arabes et Méditerranéennes (Center of Arab and Mediterranean music).

White houses and blue gates in Sidi Bou Said

The Baron d’Erlanger fought for the protection of this town, and he ensured that its heritage was preserved.

As soon as we got to the Sidi Bou Said we were enchanted by the white houses with blue windows that can be seen everywhere.
Well, if the houses are white and their doors and windows are blue, it’s thanks to Rodolphe d'Erlanger.

Café des Nattes, or Café el Alia, in Sidi Bou Said

But d’Erlanger is not the only artist that has been inspired by Sidi Bou Said.
Paul Klee visited Tunisia in 1914 during the early stages of his career, and he was inspired by the light and colours of this place.
He was brought there by his friend Auguste Macke from the German Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.

Blick auf eine Moschee by Auguste Macke

This painting from Auguste Macke is called Blick Auf Eine Moschee, and it the central square of Sidi Bou Said, with the mosque and the Café des Nattes.

Café des Délices, facing the sea in Sidi Bou Said

Today, Sidi Bou Said still inspires artists and remains a holy place, but tourism has become the main industry.

Sidi Bou Said sees a lot of tourists and day-trippers from Tunis and Hammamet, so there are many shops where you can buy pretty every gift or souvenir you’d like to take home.

And of course, there are some overpriced restaurants. The most famous of them is the Café des Délices: French singer Patrick Bruel wrote a song about this place and since then it has become an institution. Well, the view is certainly fantastic, and you'll pay for it: it’s the typical tourist trap that can be found in touristy places.

The sea from Sidi Bou Said

We continued walking the street until the end of it, and there we found a very nice place surrounded by cactuses, from where we could enjoy the view on the sea and the port.

The view is breathtaking so we spent some time enjoying it. Unfortunately, some parts are spoiled by litter, left behind by both locals and tourists.

A local grocery store

We finished our visit by eating a delicious bombalouni in the street, before drinking some tea with almonds at a local café.

There’s no wonder why Sidi Bou Said has inspired so many people.
Such a pleasant town surrounded by a beautiful landscape, and being located so near to a capital city... well that’s something hard to find around the world.

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A cat sleeping in Sidi Bou Said
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