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The Dar Bach Hamba is a 17th-century palace whose most outstanding feature is its grand courtyard. The palace belonged to the Tunis bourgeoisie before it was acquired by a sect of the Catholic Church in 1923. It was then renovated into a museum by the Orestiadi Foundation of Sicily, and today its galleries display historical and artistic items from many Mediterranean countries. The palace/museum also plays host to numerous cultural events throughout the year. Entrance fee is TND2. N.L.
Dar Ben Abdallah is a magnificent palace built in 1796. It used to be the house of one Tunis Bey's son-in-laws, then it was bought by the wealthy silk weaver Ben Abdallah, and later sold to a French orientalist painter in the beginning of the 20th century. A sumptuous vestibule (driba in Arabic) leads to a patio paved with marble and surrounded by columns on the first and second floor. The walls are covered with ceramic tiles and finely worked stucco. The rooms have wonderful painted ceilings. The four rooms around the patio are home to an exhibit about the 19th century Tunis bourgeois families. The domestic life is depicted through items of that time, such as dresses, embroidery, weaving, wedding accessories, and fineries. Ancient children's toys and clothes are on display in one room. The wonderful kitchen of the palace has been well preserved and a lot of kitchenware is exhibited. The entrance fee is 2 TND. -N.L.
Tourbet El Bey is the Ottoman mausoleum of the Husseinite dynasty that ruled Tunisia for more than two centuries. The marble graves of almost all the Husseinite Beys lay there, along with those of their families and their favorite ministers and court people. The mausoleum was erected during the reign of Ali Bey II (1759-1782). The graves occupy the patio and a set of rooms crested with domes that are sometimes covered with green tiles. The walls are adorned with polychrome faience tiles in the outdoor space and with ceramic tiles and finely worked stucco on the ceiling domes inside the rooms. The most richly decorated room, partly covered with wrought marble, is the one that houses the graves of the beys who ruled the country. The male graves are topped with some epitaphs that are characterized by a marble tarbouch (an ottoman hat) or a marble turban, whereas the female graves enjoy simple marble plates. The entrance fee is 2 TND. -N.L.
Those three neighboring Madrasas built in the 18th century don't fill their original function, namely housing and teaching the students in theology. The Medersa Slimania is the only one that can be visited (free entrance, but you can tip the custodian). It was built in 1754 by Ali Pacha in memory of his son who had been poisoned. As in any Madrasa, three of the four sides of the courtyard were devoted to student housing, while the fourth opened to the mosque. It now houses medical associations. Note the green tile cornice, the white-and-black archway and the tiles portraying flowers bouquets (an Ottoman pattern) at the entrance. The Medersa Bachia (1752) was also built by Ali Pacha and enjoys a sebil (ancient public fountain) near the entrance. The Medersa du Palmier (a palm-tree grew in the courtyard) is the oldest in Tunis. It now houses a Koranic school for children. N.L.
According to one tradition, the princess Aziza Othmana (who died in 1669) was the granddaughter of Othman Dey and the wife of Hamouda Pacha. She is an intrinsic part of the history of the city for her legendary generosity towards the destitute people. She devoted herself to charity and bequeathed to the people her fortune through Muslim “Habous” (namely goods and lands allocated to pious charity), resulting notably in the founding of a hospital. This princess, who requested to have her grave adorned with flowers daily, lies to rest along with her family members and her servants in this richly decorated ottoman mausoleum covered with colored ceramic tiles and finely-cut stucco. N.L.
The Zaytouna Mosque (mosque of the olive tree) - also named the great mosque - is located at the center of the Medina. Arab chief Ibn el-Nouman chose its location, following the conquest of Carthage. Aside from its religious functions, the site was first used as a trade center and played a strategic role in defending the city from attacks by sea. The mosque was erected under the Umayyad dynasty's reign in 732, and was remodeled several times over the centuries by the dynasties reigning in the city. For example, the great dome on the entrance of the prayer hall was built in the 10th century under the Zirid dynasty. The cisterns were brought by the Hafsids in the 13th century. The three-column gallery in the courtyard dates from the 17th century (the Ottoman period). During the 19th century, the Minarest (the nosque's main tower) was raised to reach 144 feet (44 meters) and remained the highest point in this growing city. The prayer hall, ornamented with 185 marble and granite columns, can accommodate up to 2000 people. Once an Islamic university, the mosque was renowned across North Africa. The Arab sociologist and historian Ibn Khaldoun notably taught there in the 14th century. Admission: 2 DT. Non-Muslims are only allowed in the courtyard. -N.L.
This splendid palace is now occupied by the offices of the Institut National du Patrimoine (the National Heritage Institute) so it is not possible to visit it, but you can take a look to its beautiful patio: the marble courtyard is surrounded by marble columns supporting finely worked stucco arcades and the gallery is covered with colored ceramic tiles and stucco. Its history is as rich as its architecture. In the 11th century, the site was occupied by the castle of the rulers of Tunis, the Beni Khorasan. During the reign of the Husseinite dynasty in the 18th century it was rebuilt by the son-in-law of the Ottoman Bey of Tunis and became the house of an influent Ottoman minister. In 1858, it became the building of the first municipal council of the city (the president of the council, the General Hussein, gave the name to the palace). From 1881 to 1956, the French made it their military headquarters. N.L.
This covered Souk now hosts the shops of the jewelers. But it was devoted to the auctioing off of slaves when it was created in the 17th century during the reign of Youssef Dey. This trade stopped when slavery was abolished in Tunis in 1846. N.L.