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Melissa's trip to the Tunisian South - final part


From: Melissa Enderle (melissaenderle_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Apr 17 2004 - 09:46:35 PDT

Kairouan (part two)
         The Moslem holy city of Kairouan became our stopping point on the
way back to Hammamet. Here, we stopped for the obligatory carpet
demonstration. The carpet seller explained that the women who weaved the
carpets worked by memory on a design. The woman working at the loom was
creating a rug containing 60,000 knots per square meter. One square meter
would take about a monthıs time. The kilim is a woven and embroidered rug
done by Berber women using vegetable dyes. The mergoum style rug features
very bright, geometric designs, with bold use of reds, purples, blues, and
other vivid colors. Berber women also weave these rugs. The carpet seller
explained that the mergoum rug is worked from the back side. One woman
usually weaves and the other embroiders. As we sipped our complimentary mint
tea, the carpet seller and his assistants unrolled and placed various rugs
in front of us. Designs, colors, and styles varied. The carpet seller
explained the meanings of some of the designs and repeated that blue often
signified the sky and green was a symbol of Paradise. The silk rugs were
especially pretty, containing about 250,000 knots per square meter in these
shimmering carpets. Seeing that the carpets were out of our desired spending
range, we decided to head on and wander the medina. I did take my parents
through a part of the medina including the Mosque of the Three Doors,
founded in 866 AD by a holy man from the Spanish city of Cordoba. The
mosqueıs three arched doorways are topped by the three friezes of kufic
(early Arabic) script, as well as floral reliefs, all carved in stone. I
wish we had more time, so we could meander the maze-like narrow streets, but
a schedule dictated we had to once again board the bus.
Day trip to Sousse, Mahdia, and Monastir
         After saying goodbye to our Italian group and American
mother/daughter team, my parents and I departed by 4WD and headed early the
next morning south along the coast to Mahdia. The town of Mahdia now claims
sardine fishing and tourism as its main industries. Much of the medinaıs
original walls were gone, blown up by the Spanish troops in 1550 when they
abandoned the city to the Turks. The original Fatimid mosque was also
destroyed in the process. Located on the tip of the peninsula of Mahdia, the
large fortress Borj-el-Kebir stood on the highest point. Aside from the
panoramic views of the city and the clear water, there wasnıt much left to
see in the fort. We then entered the main part of the medina and wandered
around for a bit.
            Heading north again, our next stop was Monastir. Hungry, we had
lunch next to the port. We then toured Monastirıs star attraction ­ an
immaculately preserved ribat complex, regarded as Tunisiaıs finest example
of Islamic military architecture. Our tour guide took us through the small
museum of Islamic art. We then explored the assorted ramps and stairs on our
own. After climbing up the narrow, winding stairs of the nador (watch tower)
built in 796 AD, we were treated to some great views of the coastline in one
direction and the Bourgiba mausoleum in the other. The sun tried to peak
through the clouds, highlighting my favorite part of the complex ­ the wall
with the large ramp. It wasnıt difficult to imagine this building as one in
Palestine. The movie directors of Life of Christ and Monty Pythonıs Life of
Brian both used it to shoot scenes, seeing the ribat as an excellent example
of authentic Islamic architecture. After the tour of the ribat, we then
headed to the nearby mausoleum of the countryıs first president, Bourguiba.
No expense was spared on the building. A large walkway of decorative paving
blocks led up to the domed building. Inside, a three-ton chandelier hung
above the tomb. Marble from Italy and granite from Scotland adorned the
building. Along the sides were niches decorated with gold leaf mosaic. In an
adjoining room were some photos and memorabilia of Bourguibaıs including a
pen from Ronald Reagan.
            Our final stop was Sousse. Here, we toured the excellent
archaeological museum. In addition to having some great Punic stones, the
star attractions are the mosaics including the Triumph of Bacchus. Still
needing some gifts, my parents were interested in doing more shopping. After
hearing some ridiculous prices by some vendors, they decided instead to
purchase things at a fixed price shop. Gifts in hand, they were ready to
call it a successful trip. Indeed, it had been a great week.
Side Notes:
Berber Weddings
         While on the bus, our guide Driss provided an overview of the
traditional weddings. A marriage begins with an agreement signed and
arranged by the parents, often at a young age. About 3,000TD is given to the
mausoleum by the husbandıs family, at which time the contract is signed. The
husband also provides a dowry of jewelry (sometimes over a kilogram in
weight) and around 6 dresses, embroidered with silk and often between
150-200 TD apiece. Prior to the ceremony, the woman, who must be a virgin,
rests for 20 days in a dark room or cave. Here she is to eat a lot of food
and should become as fat as possible.
            The mother-in-law, after determining if the bride-to-be is fat
enough, then takes her to a hammam. Here, the potential bride is purified.
After this, a henna ceremony, lasting three days, is perform. Henna, applied
to the hands and feet, purportedly brings good luck and wards off the evil
            On the wedding day, the bride wears a dress she has embroidered
herself (or by another person) and all the jewelry she has. The bride
arrives at the wedding ceremony in a tent-like structure on the back of a
camel. In town, the ceremony goes on late in the night ­ around 3 am. Large
numbers of guests attend the wedding festival, which lasts up to 7 days.
Imagine all the food the family must have to cook!
Nomads of Tunisia
            Tunisia still has about 2,000 nomads, all registered with the
government. These nomads are important to the countryıs economy. Many raise
sheep, which are used for their wool and meat. Others raise cows (for beef)
or camels (skins). Camels are worth quite a bit ­ about 1,500-2,000 TD per
camel. As we traveled in the South, low tents in a dark brown color could be
seen in the distance. Along the roads in the South, we could see stacks of
gasoline in plastic jugs. Given permission by the government to haul the
gasoline from cities and then sell it in the rural areas, this service is
likely appreciated by both the nomadic seller as well as their customers.