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If you’re planning a trip to Tunisia but you’re looking for something a little more engaging than a six-day snooze on the beach that many exotic sun holidays become, never fear! We’re here with a run-down of great cultural experiences to be had in this dazzling and exotic North African country.
Firstly, decide where you’re going to stay. In terms of getting to see everything, somewhere central is best. Kairouan is almost slap-bang in the middle of the country, and it’s a great starting point for your travels. Considered by many as Islam’s fourth holiest city, it is said that seven visits here are equal to one visit to Mecca. It was first founded as an Arab base in AD 670 and the name finds its origins in the Persian word kârvân, meaning military or civilian camp.
An architecturally magnificent city, Kairouan plays host to the Great Mosque, a stunning structure of marble and porphyry columns, as well as the Mosque of the Three Gates. Built in 866 by Mohammed bin Kairouan el-Maafri, the façade is a sight to behold. Covered with intricate Kufic script and floral decoration, it’s a fitting tribute to the age and grandeur of the place. The charming exterior is also enough to take the sting out of the fact that the interior is closed to non-Muslims.
A short trip out towards the east coast will bring you to Sousse, where you can explore the big, bustling medina. Crowded with locals and tourists, there’s certainly enough opportunity to shop ‘til you drop here! The historic medina is walled in by a large, sandy fortification that once held a strategic position in terms of coastal defence. It bears witness to the history of civilization in the area. After a day of looking around, you’re a mere stone’s throw from some of Tunisia’s most appealing beaches, where you can stroll along the soft white sand dip your feet off in the clear, warm water.
Travelling south you’ll reach El Jem, where you’ll find the extensive ruins of the El Jem Amphitheatre, the largest colosseum in North Africa. This well-preserved monument stands as a tribute to the expansive hold of the Roman Empire, which stretched as far as Tunisia from around 146 BC until the Arab occupation in around AD 670. Thought to have held 35,000 spectators, the colosseum definitely has the wow factor. It’s probably a good idea to have something else planned on the day you see the Amphitheatre as the town of El Jem itself has little else to offer.
For those interested in more recent history, namely that of Hollywood, a few hours driving from El Jem will find you at Matmata, the home of Luke Skywalker’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As the location scouts no doubt recognised, the dwellings here have something of an other-worldly feel to them. The site is now a popular hotel location. While you’re in the area, you may also wish to go camel trekking and experience Fata Morgana, a mirage, across the sand.
Matmata isn’t the only Star Wars location in Tunisia. Fans might be interested to seek out Obi Wan Kenobi’s house on the island of Djerba. Slightly north you’ll find Toshi Station. Actually a temple, in the movie it was where Luke meets Han Solo for the first time.
In the west you’ll come to Tozeur, where you’ll find Sidi Bouhlel, the canyon in which the famous pod race took place. This site was also used during the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark and The English Patient. There are other film locations across the country, so anyone really interested should certainly find enough to do while they’re here.
On a holiday to Tunisia, don’t feel tied down to beach trips and sunbathing. Rent a car and get out on the road to discover what this fascinating country is all about.