I have talked about the beauty of Essaouira, Morocco countless of times. Its Islamic architecture, mixed with white-washed buildings and popping blue windows, made me fall in love with it during my time in North Africa. However, there’s plenty of gems I missed: namely, Sidi Bou Said.
Step foot into this magical village and you might think you’re somewhere in the Greek Cyclades. That is, until you get lost among its narrow market alleys, have some mint hookah, and hear some Arabic-spiced French.
Brief history of Sidi Bou Said
Sidi Bou Said (Arabic: سيدي بو سعيد) is a seaside town approximately 20 km from Tunisia’s capital, Tunis. Back in the 12th-13th century though, the village was known as Jabal el-Menar. It wasn’t until a prominent Sufi saint, Abou Said ibn Khalef ibn Yahia Ettamini el Beji, established his sanctuary and was buried there upon his death in 1231 that the town took his nickname.
However, Sidi’s humble beginnings and pilgrimage site quickly became a retreat for the rich in the 18th century. Then, Turkish governors and other wealthy citizens started to settle in, building lavish residences over the steep cliffs, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from there. Interestingly enough? The town was still out of bounds to Christians well into the 19th century (1820, to be exact) — even though, by then, the village was clearly more than just a sacred Sufi site.
Sidi’s White and Blue Transformation
Sidi Bou Said wasn’t always white and blue, though. Ironically, its transformation in the early days of the 20th century was the work of French Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger. A renowned Arab music erudite and painter, Rodolphe took it upon himself to conserve the traditional Arab-Andalus style and aura of the village. Together with the Bey of Tunis, they forbid any construction that was not true to the local architecture.
Sidi Bou Said attractions: things to do around the Tunisian gem
Surprisingly to many, Sidi Bou Said is the perfect base to visit all significant attractions not only in Tunis, but the entire country. Below are some easy day trips or interesting Sidi Bou Said attractions that you should definitely add to your itinerary while in town:
The Roman Ruins and Souk of Carthage
In the outskirts of the capital lies the 4th most important city of the late Roman Empire, Carthage. Visit the ancient Roman baths, get lost in the souk, and even pay a visit to the Tunisian presidential palace while at it.
Rent a bicycle (or moped) to visit Palace Dar Nejma Ezzahra and Centro Storico
Of course, you can’t visit Sidi Bou Said and miss the palace of the artist who transformed the city into the architectural gem it is today. Allow some time to get lost within the Centro Storico. Their location offers expansive views of the Mediterranean: a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. Feeling active, though? Then go around the city on a bicycle (or moped) instead!
Uncover the Berber, Numidian, Roman, and Islamic background of Tunis
Founded by the Berbers in the 2nd millennium BCE, the historical capital can be easily visited from Sidi Bou Said, as it is barely 20 km away. Better yet? It can be reached by the light rail line (TGM train), so no need to rent a car. Marvel at the mosaics and impressive architecture of the Bardo Museum; the solemnity of the Zitouna Mosque or Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul; or a relaxing day by the Fortress of Kelibia, arguably one of the best beaches in the country.
Have you been to Sidi Bou Said or Tunisia? Share your tips below!
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