If you’re looking for beautiful sandy beaches and exotic culture, look no further than Tunisia’s most popular holiday resort, Sousse. Complete with luxury hotels lining the beachside suburb of Port el Kantaoui what else could you possibly want to charm your wanderlust? Well, this ancient seaside town has lots to offer, but let’s dive into the 5 best things to see in Sousse.
Sousse Great Mosque
Sousse’s fortress-like Great Mosque was built in AD 851, a few years after the re-foundation of the town by the Aghlabids. Its construction design was based on the model of the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan. The mosque originally had two defensive towers, which guarded the harbor in earlier centuries. The domes of the minarets were later additions. An unusual feature is the external staircase leading up from the courtyard to the minaret. The battlement walls of the courtyard, which is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade of tall horseshoe arches borne on massive piers, are decorated with an elaborate Kufic frieze. The arcade in front of the 13-aisled prayer hall was added in 1675. The prayer hall originally consisted only of three barrel-vaulted bays, but by the 10th century, it was found to be too small and was extended by the addition of three higher groin-vaulted bays on the side with the qibla wall. The beautifully decorated Aghlabid dome, now over the fourth bay, was originally over the bay in front of the mihrab.
Northwest of Sousse’s Great Mosque, the tower of the Ribat is the city’s major landmark. This was one of a chain of around 800 fortifications built by the Aghlabid dynasty along the Tunisian coast. Today, only a few of these buildings survive. Religious warriors (who in times of peace devoted themselves to religious duties) occupied the ribat, but in times of danger these religious forces were the first line of defense against enemy attack.
The solid walls of the ribat offered the population protection from invasion and served as bases for offensive and defensive action. Several scholars have suggested that these Muslim warrior holy men provided a model for the later Christian knightly orders. Sousse Ribat now ranks with the Ribat of Monastir as one of the best preserved in Tunisia.
One of the best things to see has got to be the medina (old town) of Sousse which is one of the finest examples of Arab architecture in Tunisia, preserved almost completely unchanged throughout the centuries. This is Sousse’s main point of interest, and a visit here is a sightseeing must on any Sousse trip. The warren of alleyways is surrounded by a two-kilometer circuit of walls, built in AD 859 with mammoth stone blocks recycled from ancient Roman sites. There were originally six gates, of which two survive: Bab el Khabli on the south side and Bab el Ghabi on the west.
Wandering around here is like slipping back a few centuries in history. Narrow lanes are lined with closely packed houses, rising up and leaving just a sliver in between. Although there are monuments aplenty, and the souk section is full of shopping opportunities, it’s just as much fun to spend an afternoon strolling aimlessly and soaking up the old-world atmosphere. While here, definitely don’t miss the La Sofra Cisterns. Entered through an iron gate, these huge underground cisterns probably date from the Roman period. They once had a capacity to store 3,000 cubic meters of water.
Built in AD 859 on the site of an earlier Byzantine fortress, the Kasbah is one of Sousse’s grandest monuments and certainly one of the best things to see in Sousse. Its 30-meter Khalaf al Fata tower (named after its builder) is one of the oldest towers still standing in North Africa. The Kasbah’s topmost platform is 50 meters above that of the Ribat, making it the best place to get medina views. After its construction, the Kasbah took over the military role of the Ribat and the Khalaf al Fata tower is still used as a lighthouse.
Discovered in 1888, this large complex of Early Christian catacombs is a maze of underground passages and chambers hewed from soft local rock between the 2nd and 4th centuries. It probably sits on the site of an earlier pagan necropolis. A total of some 15,000 people were wrapped in shrouds and buried here in wall niches of the catacombs, often placed in tiers one above the other and closed by tiles or marble plaques.
Of the four main shafts, three have been excavated. Finds from the site are in Sousse Archaeological Museum. Only small sections of the catacombs – the roofs of which have to be supported because of the danger of collapse – are open to the public: the Catacombs of the Good Shepherd (Catacombes du Bon Pasteur, 1.6 kilometers long, 6,000 tombs, late 3rd century), of Hermes (2,500 tombs, 3rd century) and Severus (5,000 tombs, early 4th century).
So while you plan your favourite destinations to visit in 2020, make sure to add this beautiful town to your list!