Sunday, 2 December 2012

Monastir-Tunisia | Splendid,Historic,Noble Queen of the Sahel.


Monastir is an emblematic historic symbol of Tunisia,splendid historic and noble queen of the Sahel,that coastal long line which corresponds to the Gulf of Hammamet extending until the Gulf of Gabes,a land which had a flourishing life during the periods of Carthage,Rome and the first Arab-Berber Dynasties.

 That Tunisian city with its 72,000 inhabitants was the first Arab settlement founded in the ancient Ifriquiya,that vast territory which included in medieval times lands of the current Tunisia,Algeria and Libya gaining a notable relevance second only to the powerful Caliphates and Kingdoms found in Morocco and Andalusia of which once was part.

Monastir has not the contemporary glamour of Hammamet,Sousse or the enchanting mysteries and legend of Djerba but more than those sisters a long noble and fascinating historic past.

Situated at approximately 160,0 kilometres south of the capital Tunis for its notable importance it is one one of those places you can not miss if you are planning a tailor made tour or holidays in Tunisia simply to know an important place which is part of an important stage of the history of the entire country.

Today the glamorous nearest Sousse is considered the pearl of the Tunisian Sahel but Monastir for its  history,past,tradition and culture could be considered maybe more as a Queen of that Tunisian coast.

 Located between the Gulf of the same name and the famous bay of Hammamet (I wrote a post about that resort in the case you are interested) on a rocky promontory facing the islands of Lostaniah and Sidi Al Gadamsi.

Walking in the streets of Monastir and around its Ribat,its fortress,along the Marina and until the old port,exchange chats with the locals and admiring the sunsets and the lights of the gulf are definitely wonderful experiences discovering the total reality of that centre of Tunisia.

There,you can breathe that atmosphere of Maghreb and Sahel in their total essence,flavours  aromas,architecture,traditions,folklore,history,culture kind people,that place offers all that and more.

Monastir is like an open door with an access which offers the opportunity to discover many things,that open gate invites you to come in and you will be there as a welcomed guest and Monastir will show you its charm and its beauty.

Nowadays Monastir is a very lively city with a distinguished university,a popular seaside resort and one of the most important olive oil market of the country an activity which started more than 50 years ago.

The name Monastir created some debates and controversial opinions,someone said it derives from the Latin Monasterium,for the presence of a monastery inhabited by Christian Monks.

There is another version is from the name Monastrí a Arab-Berber word derived from the ancient Greek Monastrion which means translated place in which lives lonely people that hypothesis for someone is linked to the presence of a monastery although referred to the ancient Greek times but it is not certain that existed a Religious building during the period related the Hellenic civilisation.

That hypotesis and supposition related to the origin of the Greek name with a monastery could be linked much more to the Roman Byzantine Empire period in which apart the Latin language was very common to use the Greek spoken by many people in Costantinople.


Monastir has a long history,the first archaeological discoveries testify a presence of life  dating back the stone age,and paleolithic era,the first local civilisations with a clear and certain documentation of a first human settlements found in caves and grottoes are those linked to the Haouanets and the Hawanet considered the fathers not only of Monastir but of a big part of the current country.

The Phoenicians during their explorations across the Mediterranean discovered that place located i that North African big bay,ideal place to dock their ships and they found a trading port called Rous Penna and a town which was called Ruspina which was the first official Phoenician town in the Tunisian Sahel and corresponding to the actual city.

When that ancient civilisation left the territory to concentrate their activities to the western Mediterranean with new routes of commerce and trade  the land was stronghold of the Tyrrhenian a population aminly sailing around the Mediterranean and mainly devoted to pirate operations and incursions before the advent of the first Hellenic colonists who landed in that corner og Maghreb.

The Greek colonisation gave the land the name of Monastrion but keeping in respect of the previous civilisation the name Ruspina which was also adopted later by Hannibal Barca first King of Carthage.

Despite a notable development during the Phoenician and Hellenic periods,the current city became one of the most powerful centres of that Mediterranean coast under Hannibal rule.

The Chartaginians built fortifications along almost 7,0 kilometres of coast in part sandy and in part rocky with walls which historically reached the current current Cap Simass Ras which was used as check point to protect Ruspina by the several Roman incursions during the famous Punic wars between Rome and Chartage..

The Roman legions and fleet led by the Consul of Sicily at that time the famous Publius Cornelius Scipius well known as Scipius the African during its operations of wars in African land devastated Ruspina in a long battle.d

During the reconstruction of the settlement after the conquest,the Romans gave Ruspina a strong autonomy linked to the development of new trades.To thank Rome for such honour Ruspina was the first African town fighting as allied of the Empire against the Roman rebel Sextus Pompeus a General rival of the second Roman Triumvirate.

For the loyalty and the support to the Empire Ruspina was honoured by the Emperor Julius Caesar Augustus  with the title of Civitas an official Roman town.

After the fall of the second Roman Empire linked to the Byzantines related to the Arab occupation of the Sahel and Maghreb,Monastir became the first Arab colony in Ifriqiya,the name which the first noble Arab dynasties gave that area which included part of Algeria,the western Lybia Tripolitania and the current Tunisia. Tunisia.

Monastir was built before than Sousse and of the ancient Ifriqiya capital Kairouan and to defend the former town was built a Ribat a fortress to defend that place in the second half of the 8th century and at the end of the 8th century the the Governor Al Herthoum Ibn.

Al Aoun built another bigger fortress the Grand Ribat in honour of the Caliph Haroun Al Rashid.That fortress of Monastir is probably the biggest fortified building erected in Tunisia in that period and it was one of the most poweful Moorish stronghold against the attacks from sea by the Byzantines who tried to reconquer in more than an occasion that site.

 The history of Monastir continued for long time to be a land of disputes and fights after the fall of the Arab-Berber dynasties in particular that one linked to the highest noble Aghlabids dynasties which was the most active in the construction of the defencive systems between two new powers in the Mediterranean consisting in Spain and Turkey.

From the year 1534 to 1550 the town lived 16 years under Spanish rule and later was conquered by the Ottoman Empire which integrated all the Sahel as one of its domains and protectorates.

Under Turkish rule Monastir had a slow reconstructions due the long war with the Spaniards,all that was due to severe damages and the total devastation of the centre,the Kasbah and Medina were restored and  expanded and there was a construction of new gates consisting in Bab Kram,Bab El Gharbi,Bab Tunis and Bab Brikcha.

After the the revolution of Sahel in the year 1864 Monastir conquered its autonomy by Turkey as the rest of the land and in the year 1881 became a French Protectorate.

During French rule the current lost its economic and social importance due an intense development of the nearest Sousse which had with Kairouan major importance for France and that was a sort of decline due the increase of those two mentioned nearest centres.


Monastir as the rest of Tunisia after the Independence of the country dating back the year 1956 with the establishment of the new Tunisian Republic led by the President Habib Bouguiba had some relevant changes

The new government demolished part of the old Medina to give a new urban aspect preserving anyway the most important architectonic buildings,there was with that operation more space for the construction of new infrastructures such as offices,institutions and institutes and in particular the University.

That Tunisian centre came back to have importance for that due also because the President was born in that city and replaced its town as capital of the district of Sahel.Bourguiba with many efforts wanted to re give the citizensa prosper and wealthy life  making it regains the prestige and importance of the past.

Monastir had a considerable development also in terms of urbanisation with the construction of new roads a new urban asset and the restoration of boulevards and squares furthermore the President also built a great mausoleum in which was buried.

The city to thank the intense support which received by the President gave his name to Monastir International Airport which is today one of the most important of the country and North Africa.

The fortress of Monastir,the Ribat Herthoum is of course one of the most important attractions of the city not only for its historic past but because it is considered an iconic cultural  symbol and also considered local and  national pride.

In Moorish culture a Ribat,a castle is also considered in many cases as a sacred place because it defend or defended the city and the citizens have the obligation to defend the land.

In addition a Ribat was also in the past something of emblematic because some of them apart the military operations were also erected as many majestic palaces as symbol of victory,in the case of some already existent they were improved,reinforced and embellished including in the aesthetic aspect.

For all that Monastir Ribat is currently respected and venerated and it is also used in current times as a place of meditation,a meeting point during and after the Ramadan but also someone in other occasions as the day of Ashura.

In the Muslim world there are today many concepts about that word Ashura,the Sunnits practise the Ashura in a way totally different than other Muslims.

The Ashura for some is also the birth of the Profhet Ibrahim or Abraham considered one on the most ancient fathers of the Arabs,another detail is that day was established by thee Prophet Mohamed before the introduction Ramadan and it consisted in 48 hours of absolute fasting and including that day is also related to the establishment of La Mecca the holy site of Islam.

So that day celebrated in the 10th day of the Muharram in the Islamic calendar is reason to celebrate in the best way with extreme happiness in particular in Maghreb.

The Ribat was very useful as place of pray in the past,today in a wing you can also visit a historic Museum opened in the year 1958 containing artifacts of the old Ruspina,other coming from the capital of Sahel Kairouan and further found in the boundaries of Monastir consisting in ceramic,ancient objects in bronze, utensils,jewelry,ancient Koranic inscriptions and there was also a Mosque the Jemma Ribat.

The Ribat was built as fortress -house consisting inn a vast irregular square plan surrounded by impressive towers arranged around a polygonal perimeter in the most strategical position to have a total view on the gulf of Hammament,the port of Monastir and the Grand Mosque and the most impressive you will notice is Nador Tower.

Developed on a surface of 4,200 square metres the Ribat of Monastir is very similar to other Moorish Alcazares you can find in Andalusia or in Morocco thanks to those achitectonic canons taken by those structures and brought by the Dinasty Hafsdid who governed Monastir who taken inspiration by those other Moorish domains.

Under Turkish rule there was a change in the structure,the walls and the gates were restored and reinforced in the period of the Reign of Pacha Hussein II El Bey.Some of the several rooms you can see inside were occupied by soldiers but also by Imams and Muezzins which also participated to military operations.

The construction of the Ribat in Monastir is also relevant for another important historic detail,because it was inhabited before than the Kasbah.

After its establishment apart the locals that fortress also had the functions of a sort of old hostel hosting  the merchants who travelled along the coast of Sahel or from the interior and stopped there before to continue their trips with different destinations.

The use of the Ribat permitted a stay of some days of the merchants,food,water also for the animals (camels,horses etc) place for the caravan as a sort of parking access to the Mosque to pray in change of some goods transported during the trip and furthermore it was a safe place avoiding the risks to be assaulted by bandits.

The Ribat of Monastir was set of famous movies as the British Life of Brian filmed in the year 1979 by Terry Jones and Jesus of Nazareth by the Italian Franco Zeffirelli a movie dated the year 1976.

Today the Ribat also hosts events and festivals,as the annual Festival of Music organised by the municipality of Monastir.Considered one of the best examples of Ribat in all Maghreb area from that fort
the visitor can enjoy a spectacular view of the Medina,the Gulf of Monastir,the Gulf of Hammamet and the splendid Monastir Corniche.     

Next to the Ribat another highlight there is another highlight of the city the main Mosque of Monastir which is  old Mosque of the city.

That Sacred building was erected  in the 9th century on a square plan and in major part rebuilt two centuries later.The construction is characterised by a colonnade with seven arcades forming a captivating portico with entrances.

On the sides you will notice a presence of rectangular secondary doorways and on the roof was placed a sort of turret,a small minaret with arched windows and a crenellated summit of Moorish-Andalusian inspiration.

On one side of the Mausoleum next to the Sidi El Mazeri the public cemetery built looking toward La Mecca you can see that all the tombs are in white colour and in the cemetery some white Zaouia with Koubba that scenic dome used to cover Sacred constructions,but also Hammam and small mausoleums as a Zaouia which are generally places in which are buried important people or holy men.

 Pretty close you can reach one of the most impressive building of Monastir Bourguiba Mausoleum,a majestic building which seems more than a Royal Palace than a Mausolerum.Built in the year 1963 for desire of the President Habib Bourguiba and developed on a large rectangular plan.

The entrance is beautiful just like the door of of Royal Palace with a wide iron gate flanked by two high white minaret towers with domed terminal summit and small balconies and highlighted by the presence of three domes,the most scenic is the central golden one but also extremely captivating are also the other two in green colour.

The mausoleum is in large scale an exact reproduction of a bigger Zaouia,light walls,a splendid arched doorway with decorated frame,the main body of the structure is not very high,the inspiration is more Ottoman and from Middle East than the Western Maghreb due the presence of those large domes ad also of relevant value are the stylish wooden doors made by the best artisans of the city of Kairouan.

Notable in the interior the scenic and magnificent colonnade made by pink marble,very charming are the symmetric development of the arcades with columns with capitals and use of tiles in the upper section and the ample courtyard surrounded by that impressive architectonic complex.

In its interior you can admire apart the marvellous tombs containing the rests of the family and of the old President,stupendous decorated wooden ceiling,a marvellous hallway consisting in marble brown columns highlighted by white capitals.

The most attractive spaces are those in which are situated the tombs,with a stylish perimeter of arcades with balconies,a scenic crystal chandelier and the Mausoleum also contains a sort of exhibition with memorabilia of some presents among them one by the former American President Ronald Reagan consisting in a pen.

In that mausoleum apart the former president are buried other members of the family Bourguiba and it is one of the most venerated sites of the city due in honour of the former President who was a notable figure born in Monastir and who worked hard to re give a new image to his birthplace.
 
Walking towards the Medina you can see the Bourguiba Mosque.It was erected in the 60s for desire of the President Bourguiba.

The architect Taieb Bouzguenda developed that Sacred construction on a wide rectangular space taking inspiration in part from the traditional Moorish-Andalusian architecture and also by the typical Ottoman architectonic canons in terms of spaces,walls and minaret.

That light brown Mosque reflects in many details the style used in Morocco and Andalusia for the presence of three three arcades and columns with capitals forming a portico with three wooden doorway,

The facade has some vague Sebka and Zelij details according the most ancient Arab Berber architectonic school developed in major part in the periods of the Almohads and Almoravibs dynasties.

The nearest minaret is of clear Turkish inspiration,a stoned tower with on its top a balcony with decorated balustrades surmounted by a poligonal turret topped by a green conical roof higlighted by a pinnacle as terminal.

On one side of the Mosque you can visit the Ethnographic Museum,it is interesting the visit for all who wants to discover more about the tradition,folklore,clothes and textile objects of Tunisian and Arab culture.The museum is a little gem for the beautiful representation of culture and folklore all around the country and of course worth a visit.

The Medina of Monastir had in the 60s a very intense architectonic and urban revolution.Today is pretty modern with some boulevards in French and European styles,modern buildings with arcades,passages shops and offices.

The new works of urbanisation in the last years have anyway saved the ancient walls which today surround the centre of the city.Walking in the Medina you can find many souvenir shops,interesting articles of leather,glass,ceramic and carpets made according the most ancient handicraft traditions and others selling food,spices and local handicraft articles.

In the lively square Place 7 Novembre,you can admire the Ribat Sidi Dhouib one of the three Ribat of Monastir.

That fortification is smaller than the Ribat Herthoum,it was built on a rectangular plan with strong stoned walls and surrounded by a series of circular towers.That fort served as fortification of support to the Grand Ribat and was restored under Ottoman rule who used it for military purposes but as a secondary fortress.

That square is particularly important for the citizens apart to be an usual meeting point for locals it also has a historic value,the 7th November 1956 was the day of the creation of the first Republic of Tunisia and in the centre you can see a monument depicting a big number seven remembering that important date.

The square today is a vital point of Monastir life,with shops,offices,the Monastir Tourism Office and it is also the place departure point of the Touristic train to enjoy in the case you need to have an idea of Monastir in an orientated panoramic tour.

Close to the Ribat Sidi Dhouib there is another Mosque Jamaa Saida which was built in the 9th century.It has not the magnificent decorations of the Great and Bouguiba Mosques.

Despite that it has an important historic value because was erected over  an important area of the first city Ruspina and furthermore as architectonic detail the Aglabits dynasty who built that religious temple used the ancient Roman columns of an ancient temple to embellish that Sacred Temple.

The Marina of Monastir is today one of the most exclusive areas of the city,called Cap Monastir for its position on the local promontory which occupies the city,it is one of the most lively areas with several bars,cafes, restaurants,and shops and in addition hosting the large harbour hosting several yachts of different size,

Cap Monastir and the Marina are linked to a long maritime promenade leading to the beach and to the old port of Monastir.There you can enjoy a very relaxing walk is excellent to see he city from a different perspective and taking several pictures of the beautiful bay.

The old port lost its importance when the Marina was developed and today is mainly a fish harbour in which the fishmongers repair their nets and organising their activities.Less frequented than the Marina is anyway a very good place to have relax and enjoy a coffee or a drink in the bars and cafes facing that corner of the bay.

The main avenue of the city is Boulevard President Habib Bourguiba,a long road in part flanked by the ancient walls and characterised by the presence of hotels,restaurants,bar,shops and local Institutions.That long boulevard crosses a large part of the city and it directly leads to the city of Mahdia.

Monastir is today a very important University Centre of Tunisia,the local University was founded not long time ago in the year 2004,and from there it became one of the most important ateneums of the country mainly linked to the  faculties of engineer,science and technology.

An intense development of this University gave that Institute the opportunity to host other faculties such as IT,Medicine,Pharmacy and Biotechnology and due the presence of those Institutions that Tunisian city is today a very young centre and also appreciated for its lively atmosphere.

The local beaches are of course one of the main highlight of that Sahel city.Long sandy beaches,tiny bays and also the presence of some picturesque rocky corners gives that place a spectacular charm for the scenic aspect of its coastal environment.

A special feature of Monastir is also its sunsets which are simply beautiful facing that magnificent bay,there is also the opportunity to enjoy water sports and very recommended and suggested is to visit along the Corniche the small peninsula of El Kebira which is as an islet attached to the coast.

It is a pleasant walks along the long maritime coastal stretch, very charming,and in that place the waters are blue,clean and crystalline,during the midweek is generally very peaceful and relaxing and in the early evening at sunset that place simply magic.

Monastir offers a delicious local cuisine.The Tunisian Couscous is one of the most distinguished and delicious gastronomic speciality and every year since 2004,Monastir hosts a Couscous Festival in summer.

Due the ancient colonisations such as Roman,Arab,Spanish,Turkish and French,the proximity to Italy and the other countries of Maghreb the culinary offer is a fantastic mosaic of delicious specialities.

Naturally fish and seafood are fantastic,typical are also the Mechouia,the Brik and there is an use of the national sauce Harissa is in many recipes,that spicy sauce has an aspect similar to the Italian Pesto and it used to give more flavour to fish,meat but also used in starters and appetisers.

Excellent is also the fresh tuna of the Mediterranean used on toasted bread and in salads,the olive oil of the area is very digestive and aromatic and there is a notable use of grilled vegetables in particular peppers and tomatoes adding olive oil and salt.

Monastir provides an International Airport,the Habib Bourguiba Airport situated at 8,0 kilometres from the city centre and it is in the Top Ten ranking of the African Continent for incoming flows and considered one of most important and active of the entire Maghreb.

Monastir is a great destination,for its beautiful beaches,the proximity to Sousse,Hammamet,,Kairouan but also for its glorious past and history.If you are planning holidays in Tunisia is to discover the most ancient Arab settlement,that splendid historic noble Queen of the Sahel will conquer you with its blue waters,warm Mediterranean sun and a relevant cultural patrimony. 

Francesco Mari



Recommended Hotels in Monastir

Hotel Royal Thalassa Monastir
Hotel Framissima Regency
Hotel Monastir One Resort Monastir
Hotel Sahara Beach
Hotel Ramada Liberty Resort
Hotel Golden Beach Monastir

Recommended Restaurants in Monastir

Restaurant La Plage
Restaurant L´Ostania
Restaurant Le Pirate
Restaurant La Grotte

www.tunisia.com
 www.tourisme.gov.tn