2014年2月14日 星期五

Tunisian Tour. 3 - The Medina of Tunis (突尼西亞之旅.3--突尼斯之麥地那市集)

Our next stop is the the old town of Tunis, called in Arabic "Medina" or more correctly the Medina Souk ( or Suuq). According to some historians, this part of Tunis was first built in the 723 by Obeid Allah ibn-al-Habhab to celebrate Tunis as the capital of Tunisia but other historians argued that its building was ordered by Hassan Ibnu-Nouauman who led the conquest of Tunis and Carthage. Whatever the truth may be, it has become a world heritage site since 1979 probably because it contains more than 700  monuments of different historical architectural styles eg. Roman or Byzantium, Andalucian and Arab, including palaces like La Marsa, Bardo and Ksar Said and the Dar-el-Bey (Bey's Palace) which combines a variety of architectural and decorative styles from many such  periods and is believed to stand on the remains of a Roman theatre as well the 10th century palace of Ziadib-Allah II al Aghlab, mosques, mausoleums like the Tourbet El Fellari, Tourbet Aziza Othman and Tourbet El Be,  about 200 madrassas or zouias (religious schools) like the El Bachia, Slimania, El Achouria, Bir El Ahjar, El Nakhla including in the case of the Zitourna Mosque, a university, oratories, fountains and historic shops (souk/ suuq) which showcase not only Islamic architecture, sculpture but also its urban planning and the arts under the two great Muslim dynasties which affected life in Tunisia, the Almohads (1127-1247 ) the second caliphate after the death of Mohammad (originally from Mecca but later based mainly in Damascus in what is now Syria and after being ousted in Damascus by the Abbisads moved to Cordoba, southern Spain and the Hafsids (first as governors on behalf of the Almohads but from 1229 to 1574 as kings in their own right). It is supposed to the the most completely preserved Islamic heritage site in North Africa. It was the commercial, economic, political and cultural centre of not only of Tunisia but also of the Middle East, North Africa and southern Europe from the 12th century to the 16th century. About 100,000 or about a tenth of the population of Tunis still live in it. The buildings here can be divided into domestic houses, official and civilian buildings like government offices and libraries and commercial quarters eg. the neighborhood of El Bey Tourbet and the Kasbah district is where all the judges and politicians live whilst the streets of Pacha are mainly military and bourgeois.

This is Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul of Tunis, the only active Catholic Cathedral there, right outside the entrance to the Medina Souk. There are now an estimated 20,000 Catholics in Tunisia but not more than 500 of them regularly attend service, mostly in Tunis. This beautiful church was completed in 1897 when Tunisia was still a "protectorate" of France, something which first started in 1881. The other cathedral is St. Louis Cathedral in Carthage, a little north of Tunis, also built in the 19th century but after Tunisia got independent in 1956, the cathedrals were taken over by the Government but in exchange, the Catholic church was permitted to continue to operate because freedom to practice one's own religion is guaranteed by the Tunisian constitution, now being redrafted. The Anglicans and the Jews are also allowed to practice their own form of religion here.  Theoretically the archdiocese of Tunis operates 12 churches, 9 schools, several libraries, 2 clinics and a monastery and it does cultural and charitable work throughout the country.The history of the Jews in Tunisia goes back to Roman times. But there are now much less Jews in Tunisia than before. Prior to 1948, there were more than 105,000 Jews in Tunisia 70,000 of whom were subjects of the bey of Tunis, 30,000 of them French citizens, and 5,000 were Italian citizens but in the 1950s, around 55,000 of them immigrated to Israel and 40,000 to France and the rest to other countries. By 2011, only 700 Jews were left living in Tunis, with another 1,000 on the island of Dherba. Despite such small numbers, the Jewish community in Tunis still runs 3 primary schools, 2 secondary school and a yeshiva ( a religious school specializing in the study of Talmud and the Torah). On 12th January 2014, the Ennahda-led government led by Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, nominated René Trabelsi, a kippah-wearing Tunisian Jew from Djerba and the owner of a large tourist agency to be the new Minister of Tourism.

Just before we entered the Medina Souk , we found this shop selling French crêpes and pancakes, a legacy of 75 years of French rule.

We were told that we would meet at the restaurant of this 4-star hotel for lunch after our visit of the Medina. According to Wikipedia, 50% of Tunisian's 3.74 Million (est. 2009) labor forces are engaged in the tourist industry, some 32% in industries and 18% in agriculture. Its main trading partners are in descending orders are Germany, France and Italy: 26%, 16% and 9.5% of its export of textiles, agricultural products, phosphates and chemicals and hydrocarbons going to France, Germany and Italy respectively and 20%, 17%7.5%, 6%, 5.4, 4.4% respectively of its import in textiles, machinery and equipment, chemicals and foodstuffs coming from France, Italy, Germany, China and Spain and Algeria. With a GDP per capita of USD9100 )PPP), it ranks highest amongst the African countries. But with the downturn in the European economy, unemployment has topped 13% last year. It has a Gini coefficient of 40 (2005 est.).

Right at the entrance to the 270-hectare Medina, there's is a very stylish 19th century French style building with Arabic mosaics. It's colored yellow presumably because yellow is the color beloved by the prophet Mohammed.

Right next to it is another similar building  presumably because the area immediately outside the Medina used to be the French quarters.But you already find here the typical Sidi Bou Said blue. The Berber people of Tunisia believe that the color blue will help to repel evil spirits.

And you find the same in the next two buildings

The so-called "L'arc de Triomphe" of Tunis. It is also colored yellow and is now the only part of the original city wall of Medina which remains. 

Through the Arch, you can see the biggest department store in Tunis, built in what's been called the "Tunisian rococo" style.

We were given an hour to stroll through the two main streets there and to see the monuments there, a time slot which was grossly inadequate.  This is the first street I saw. It was full of old shops selling the traditional Tunisian heel-less shoes with curled up pointed tips. They are called balga, belgha, or belga and can be worn by both men and women of all social classes in the Magreb, whether rural or urban and forms an essential part of the the traditional costume in the area.The men's shoes are usually made of leather whilst women's shoes can be made of leather, cotton or silk. It 's curious to find that the locals never display the sole of a shoe to others even in a shoes shop to show the customer the kind of quality of its leather because in Arab culture, the sole of a shoe is regarded as religiously "dirty". That's why before entering a mosque, all must first wash their feet and there are special taps or fountains in front of every mosque for the faithful to do so. Socially it's considered a sign of the greatest disrespect or insult if somebody shows the sole of his shoes to you. That's why you seldom find Arab men or women crossing their legs whilst sitting in public.

Close by is another shop selling more or less the same type of balga but in addition, it sells other leather goods like men's and ladies' hand bags, shoulder bags and even brief cases. The Phoenicians were skilled leather workers and when they migrated from the Levant to Carthage, they brought with them their leather making skills and the tradition has never since been interrupted. They taught it to some local  Berbers and when the Berbers moved to southern Spain in with the Ummaryads in the 8th century , they took such skills with them there and Spain has since become a very important shoe producer in Europe for quite some time but now, the Spaniards have taken their leather making skills to the PRC and  China has become the biggest shoe producer in the world.

All the leather shops sell more or less the same type of leather goods.

The more modern slippers for ladies are now made in pink, purple, blue,orange, gray brown and white and in line with the modern trend towards comfort or simply fashion, some of them no longer have curled up pointed tips.

All kinds of small leather handbags, wallets of all kinds of colors, shapes and sizes etc.

All kinds of leather trays

and leather cushions. It is a characteristic of the Medina souks that the shops occur in clusters depending on the specialty of the relevant artisans and the shops like leather shoes, bags, traditional garments, modern garments, wool merchants, woolen knits, potters, lamps, jewellery, copper and tin metal works, musical instruments, perfumes, book sellers, souvenir shops which do not cause smells are placed in the south gate but fruit sellers,fishmongers, blacksmiths and all smelly or noisy trades tend to be relegated to the periphery of the markets.

This is a typical shop selling women's clothing. The Tunisian woman's traditional dress is "bouta" which is a long dress which cover her from shoulder to ankle because according to Islam (Tunisia being a country in which 98% of the population are Muslims), a woman should never show any part of her body to the gaze of male stranger. As a double protection of her not displaying her breasts, she would wear on top of the "bouta" a "blouza" or sahel which is like a sleeve-less man's waist coast. Here the bouta and blouza are very colorful because Tunisian has been subjected to very long French influence since 1881 but the more conservative older Muslim women still wear the "abaya", or "cloak" (colloquially and more commonly, Arabic: عباية‎ ʿabāyah , especially in Literary Arabic: عباءة ʿabāʾah ; plural عبايات ʿabāyāt , عباءات ʿabāʾāt ), sometimes also called for short an aba, a simple, loose over-garment, essentially a robe-like dress. Traditional abayat are black and may be either a large square of fabric draped from the shoulders or head or a long Kaftan. The abaya covers the whole body except the face, feet, and hands. It can be worn with the niqāb, a face veil covering all but the eyes. Some women choose to wear long black gloves, so their hands are covered as well. The Indonesian and Malaysian women's traditional dress kebaya gets its name from the abaya.


These are "abaya" (from the internet)

 elaborately embroidered  "blouza" both with gold threads 

In this shop,we find many modernised traditional women's dresses.

More modern ladies dresses which retains some elements of the traditional style

Clothes for dancers

Tunisian belly dancers. (photo from internet)


Another belly dancer (photo from internet)

 A traditional Tunisian folk dance with costume

A traditional sword belly dance with sword

Muslim ladies must wear a scarf over their head whenever they enter a mosque but wearing a scarf doesn't mean that they have to forsake their love of "beauty".

This shows a typical male jebba, made with silk (for summer)  or wool (for winter). The jebba is usually worn over a shirt.  Sometimes, they also wear a "farmla" which is a braided waistcoat over the shirt and sometimes, over both they wear a cloak called “barnous”, a long hooded woolen poncho-like coat with no sleeves, as a symbol of pride and prestige. And sometimes they wear a "montane". Traditional clothes are always worn during important formal occasions like religious circumcision ceremony and weddings.

 barnous tunisia traditional clothes

 various forms of the the "barnous" (from the internet)

 Men, Ladies and children clothes

One of the narrow alleys of the Medina, lined with shops on both sides.

A another blue door I found. The door is full of studs. This is a custom brought back from the Al-Andalus when the Arabs conquered Spain.

Another simple blue door

Even the police station has got blue doors

This is the district municipal office relating to the old city of Medina. One can see that the little notice above the arched door is written first in Arabic and then in French: "Municipalité de Tunis Arrondissement La Medina" meaning "Town of Tunis: the Medina District", "arrondissement" is a French administrative district of a big city. Tunisia became a French "protectorate" in 1881 and got back its independence only in 1956.Thus after independence, although the official language is Tunisian Arabic, which is really a dialect in the Arabic language as 98% of the population of Tunisia are Arabised-Berber speaking Tunisian Arabic and there is only 1% of pure native Berbers (located mainly in the Jabal Dahar mountains in South-East Tunisia and on the island of Djerba )who speak the the Berber languages called Shihla or Tashlihit,  higher education is still conducted in French which also remains practically an administrative language  Tunisian children start learning French at primary 3.

The Medina is full of archways like this

Another such archway

The sides of some of the archways are in fact the front of shops or restaurants, tea houses selling mint tea, jasmine tea or just ordinary shops.

This is what I found when I crossed the covered corridor: the upper floors are built with stone and have got Mediterranean style shutters whilst the ground floor is built with slabs of white marble, Most of the residential houses of the ordinary folks here are built between the 17th to 19th centuries.

Some archways are wider and less cluttered with shops than others


Another very long archway

This is a fast food shop inside one of the archways

People would just sit on the side of the archway

This is another such type of archway restaurant

One sees that its inside is decorated with the very common type of simple mosaic tiles and that most of the customers are middle-aged men or older people but there are no women. It's Muslim custom for women to stay mostly at home. They are not supposed to show their faces to strangers. Hence the latticed shutters in many windows of Islamic residences.

This old fashioned shop has got a door painted in yellow, the favorite color of Mohammed but the style of the door is Andalucian whilst the horse shoes arc is very Turkish.

Another such local archway fast food shop

Some of the local fast food they sell, a kind of doughnut.

Some of the narrower alleys have a canopy on top of them

The door is very Andalucian

Another shop selling all kinds of lamps, lanterns  and picture frames and whatever else the shop owner thinks may sell. 

A middle aged lady in typical traditional woman's clothing passing in front of another shop selling lanterns, lamps etc. Her whole body is covered with a "Sefsari”  (a closely hugging tunic usually made of silk or cotton) with a scarf over her head. But the light blue is matched with deep blue with intricate pattern between two broad bands. But unlike in other Arab countries, here they don't usually cover their entire face with a veil.

Another shop selling beautiful table lamps

Another lamp or lantern shop

Another shop selling all kinds of all decorations from tile frame, camels, vases plus garments.The Carthaginians brought many Greek craftsman to Tunis help them make simple pottery and the skill has stayed. When they sold wine to the Egyptians, they made use of Greek-type amphora to hold such wine.

a more modern leather overcoat for woman, with hand bag and a popular plucked instrument in used in traditional Tunisian music, the "oud arbi" or "oud tunsi", a kind of lute, The ouds usually come in two or three forms with 4, 5 or 6 strings (if 5-6 strings, they're called "oud sharqui" or lute of the East.) This one has only got 4 strings and is called "kouitra"  in Algeria . It is now used only in Tunisia and east Algeria. In Morroco, it's called the "ud" or ud remal"  but is no longer used. You can see that unlike the neck of the ordinary oud which is straight, it is bent, a little like that of the neck of the violin. The oud arbi looks like a normal oud, but it has a smaller body and the neck looks a bit longer. Its back is made of 15 to 20 ribs, glued together. The top half of the unvarnished soundboard sticks out a few millimeters over the edge of the body; the bottom half has dark purfling along a decorative top rib around the edge. The joint between neck and body is covered with extra star-shaped ribs. It usually has three two or three decorated round rosettes (usually carved in the soundboard, unlike the separate ones of the oud), and a (diamond shaped) scratchplate between rosettes and bridge. The bridge usually is decorated and has "moustaches". The fingerboard is flushed with the soundboard, and it has no frets.It uses double nylon strings the lowest of the two like that of the guitar are wound: the GG EE AA DD, unlike the guitar's G D A E. The instrument is played with a long, flat thin plectrum, and used in Arab-Andalusian music, in orchestras that often also include (besides many violins) several oud sharqi and mandolas. The strings are often used as drones lute.

In this photo, you find a typical "oud arbi" complete with 3 rosette patterned sound holes   holes, fretless neck, double strings,scratchplate etc.

This shop sells all kinds of bowls, pots and drums and "frame drum"  which may come with or without bells as well as children's toys. The peculiar Tunisian "frame drum" is called a "bendir": what is unusual is that underneath the goatskin mounted on its body, there are two or three strings so that when they got hit, they produce a higher pitch sound. When such a drum is fitted with bells at the side, it is called a "daff", a kind of tambourine. At the back of the "daff" here you find a kind of Tunisian or Moroccan bongo drum whose body is made of ceramics but has a goat skin on top. It' called a "tbilat" and is used in producing the rhythmic Tunisian folk music which shares a lot in common with Persian and Indian music and whose singling style ( e.g the kind called the "malouf" ) resembles the "hondo" ( the deep song") of Andalucian Flamenco style of singing the pains, the suffering, the anger, the desperation and perhaps the hopes of the oppressed gypsies for freedom and for release. 

All kinds of drums

Here you find a lot of colored glasses, which shows a very strong Turkish influence. The Turkish Ottoman Empire took over Tunisia for about near 4 centuries from the 16th century on.

A metal wall decoration. The Phoenicians were also skilled metal workers and the Carthaginians bought copper from Cyprus, silver from southern Spain, gold from Egypt and tin from Britain, worked on them and then sold them to the surrounding countries around the coast of the Mediterranean including Greece, Italy, France and the countries on the Levant.

Jewellery on the shelf of one of the shops

More jewellery: bangles, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, beads, pendants etc.

Another shop selling trinkets

All kinds of necklaces. Berber women are very fond of wearing jewellery. They would literally cover their heads, necks and breast with hundreds of items of jewellery on their weddings.

 A woman dressed in traditional ceremonial dress with jewellery around her head, a sahel on her shoulders and matching shawl upon her arms. (photo from internet)

 another woman in a traditional Berber outer dress with all sorts of coins, medallions, chains around her head, neck and bosom (photo from internet)


 Another Tunisian lady with traditional jewellery on her  (photo from internet)

here you find a Tunisian craftsman working on the bangles

another metal worker hard at work

This sitting young man has been working on this trade for three years by now and he showed me some of the bangles he made. He said he enjoyed doing what he was doing. The standing young man is the shop assistant.

This young man is part of the product of the new education system which the country instituted after its independence in 1956, modeled after the French system.
Certificate of Basic Education
All Tunisians now have 9 years of free education, 6 in the primary and 3 in the lower secondary after which the students sits of the the "examen national de fin d’études de l’enseignement de base" (national exam of termination of basic education) and if successful, they would get a " Diplôme de Fin d’Études de l’Enseignement." ( diploma of end of education) ("DFE") Students must score above 50 percent at the end of sixth grade to progress to the lower secondary level. Although a high percentage of students fail the important grade 6 examinations, the number of such students is dropping and in 2000, the number of students who had to repeat has dropped to 18% (26% back in 1991). Also at the beginning of the 2007/2008 school year, 9 pilot middle schools were launched to offer gifted students early care that will allow them to pursue their studies in pilot schools in scientific, literary and art fields, with competent and experienced teachers.
Two Streams
After the DFE, students can opt for another 4 years of secondary education where the students focus on entering university level education or join the workforce. Such high school education "enseignement secondaire) is divided into two stages: general academic and specialized. In the academic stream, all students follow a common curriculum for one year after which they choose one of the five specializations from: language arts, sciences, and economics and management. If a student wishes to specialize in science at the end of the second year he must make a second choice: between math,experimental sciences, computer sciences or technical sciences. Because of the lack of Arabian texts, the language of instruction in technical, scientific and mathematics fields is French. At the end of the fourth year of secondary studies students, the students will then take the Examen National du Baccaluaréat (Matriculation Exam). On average, students are tested on average six subjects. Those students who complete the secondary cycle, but fail the baccalaureate are awarded a certificate of completion that can later be used for entry into the workforce or for entry to further studies in a private school. In 1995, only  42.5% of baccalaureate takers were successful. However, Tunisia has been appearing in TIMSS (Trend in Mathematics and Science Studies) since 1999 and in In 2007, Tunisia ranked second in mathematics and third in science in all of Arab countries appearing in TIMSS ,with scores 420 and 445 respectively.The gender parity index of gross enrollment ratio at the secondary level was 1.1 percent in 2006, implying higher female enrollment than male enrollment at the secondary level.If students opt for vocational training eg. agriculture, tourism, specific trades etc they can follow a 2 year vocational program, they would get a "Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle" (Certificate of Professional Aptitude). Those who have completed the first two years of the lower secondary limb of the 9 years of basic education may enrol for a two-year vocational program leading to the award of the Brevet de Technicien Professionnel (Certificate of Professional Technical) which in turn gives access to two-year Brevet de Technicien Supérieur programs. (Higher Certificate of  Technicians). Since 2004, the number of students taking this route has been steadily rising, with one in ten students doing so in 2007 with more male than female. This young man is such a "technician".
Higher Education
Access to post-secondary education is guaranteed to all students holding the Diploma zdu Baccalauréat . The passing rate of the Baccalauréat in Tunisia is not high. Each year about 60% of the students fail to get it. But the number of university students has more than tripled over the past 10 years from approximately 102,000 in 1995 to 365,000 in 2005.The gross enrollment rate at the tertiary level in 2007 was 31 percent, with gender parity index of GER of 1.5. The private university system in Tunisia, accounts for about only one percent of students because regulatory environment does not encourage foreign investment or the use of part-time teachers in private universities. In 2005–2006, there were 178 public institutions of higher education of which 13 were universities, 24 Instituts supérieurs des études technologiques) (ZSETS) (Higher institutes of technological studies) and 5 teachers' training colleges. For a country with a population of less than 11 million, this is not bad at all. The Higher Education Ministry (HEM) supervises 155 institutions, 23 of them jointly with other ministries. In addition HEM recognizes 20 university-level private institutions.The public university system is virtually free but student loans are not available for student in a private university. Therefore it's very difficult for private universities to attract students who can't afford it. Since 2005–06, the government has been trying to implement reform based on the European three-tier model of bachelor’s, master's and doctoral degrees.This reform is known as LCD:licence (three years) master’s (two-years), doctorate(five years). The new academic credit hour system is meant to give students greater flexibility in designing their study tracks, while allowing them to earn and transfer credits between institutions both domestically and internationally. At the university level the first cycle of studies in the academic stream is of two years, which leads to the award of Diploma d’Etudes Universitaires du Premier Cycle.( a first degree cycle).This is the equivalent of junior college in America. This first degree is regarded as a preparatory one. Then in most other fields, the second cycle leads to the award of Maitrise,(Master's Degree) which is considered the first degree in Tunisian university system. Later the Diplome d’Etudes Approfondies ("DEA") ( diploma of depth)  is awarded to Maitrise holders after a further two-year study and the preparation and defense of a thesis. DEA is also a prerequisite for entry into a doctoral program. Despite this progress, however, numerous challenges remain, as student enrollments in public universities increases by about 6.6 percent annually, reaching approximately 470,000 (all categories) in 2010. At 2 percent of GDP, public spending on higher education is already higher than in most countries in the world. Unemployment among university graduates is increasing and the employability of graduates in modern, export-oriented sectors is weak. Mechanisms and incentives to promote quality at the university level are for the most part inadequate and universities cannot fully exercise the autonomy that will help them to better respond to the changes in the labor markets and requirements of a global economy. In sum, due to the projected increase in enrollment, the GOT is faced with a challenge of meeting public demand for higher education in an equitable way, and improving quality in a cost-efficient manner, while responding to existing and new labor market needs. 
Tunisia was one of the first countries in North Africa and Arab countries to pioneer in the field of distance education and e-learning through the launch of TVS in January 2002. It provides fee interactive courses, revision modules, assistance and ICT training. At present it offers 8 educational programs, 4 of which are professional eg. in Applied Perspective and Neuro-Radiology), training in view of licences and cross-cutting training (C2i, English, Entrepreneurial Culture, Human Rights). All of the types of training provided by UVT are accredited by the Tunisian Ministry of Higher Learning, Scientific Research and Technology. It now provides 20 percent of the courses through e-learning. It does not cover all specialties but it does award diplomas and certificates. There are 207 modules, representing more than 8,000 hours, that are ready for use. The university has 200 functional access centers in 2009.

Some of the items made by the young craftsman made in his shop

More metal handicrafts

This shop sells old motor car models.

Another model of an old fashioned fire engine

A wooden motor cycle!

Fine silver workmanship on display, a skill they brought back from southern Spain.

A shop specializing in the sale of decorative plates

Some very Tunisian looking crockery

Tunisian were also expert makers of colorful decorative tiles.

More tiles showing the Andalucian type of studded doors

Another shop selling slightly different doors

Some ceramic statues on sale

This stall sells marionettes dolls. In the villages, many travelling story tellers use them to tell traditional folk tales with nothing but a bendir to emphasize the climaxes. Such stories are often caricatures of the folly of men and women and some of them are moral tales from the Koran/Qu'ran.

A character whose face is often found in the shops selling marionettes


More marionettes

This store sells pictures and miscellaneous items. Amongst the Berbers, the wearing of a mask is believed to be of great assistance in helping to repel evil.  

This shop specializes on wood carving

A carving of Che Guevara, the famous Latin American revolutionary and hero of many fighting for liberation

The shop fronts are usually quite narrow, not more than 6-8 feet but usually quite deep.

The walls of the shops are usually filled with all kinds of goods and their floors usually covered with different mosaic tiles. The Tunisians are great producers of mosaic tiles. This tradition stems from partly from the Byzantium Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Church which was influenced by the practice of the Muslims around them. To the Muslims, the face of God is too sacred to be rendered into material form and since the human souls is supposed to be reflection of God, neither can human figures be portrayed. Hence architectural decoration can only be done through geometric or floral patterns.

A shop selling miscellaneous household decoration

Another similar type of shop

and another. Shops of selling the same types of goods are usually grouped together. This is an old tradition at the Medina souk. In the  Middle Ages, they have their own gilds and they decide on the trade standards, trade practices and the manage their own part of the old town. 

The goods are usually piled in rows, with different similar style goods in the same row.

All the shops are manned only by one or two people and they would usually go outside of the shops to solicit customers passing through their shop front. But they are not very aggressive in their sales promotion.

As so many young men nowadays, whenever they got nothing else interesting to do, they look at the screen on their mobile phone and "text" or "app" their friends and social groups or play electronic games. The internet is very powerful in Tunisia. It helped spark the bloodless revolution in 2011 which started what's called the "Arab Spring", the effects of which are still being worked out: the Tunisian Parliament of the provisional government are still debating on the details of the general election which will be held hopefully at the end of this year. 

Many of the shops have this kind of decorative bird cages for sale. I wonder why they are all shaped more or less the same everywhere you see them

In the poorer neighborhood, people would just hang out their rugs or mats or carpets for sale on the wall, 

Occasionally, you would find an upstairs restaurant

But generally, the restaurants, cafes and tea houses are on the ground floor.

The cafés are usually simply decorated with carpets on the wall, a very Arabian custom.

But this one is different: it makes use of different kinds of decorative tiles.

and a mirror

This is a very neighborhood type of local tea house, a bit like our "Tai Pai Tong" type fast food shop in Hong Kong.

This is the exterior of the most famous 5,000 square-meter Al-Zaytuna ( Zitouna) Mosque ( "zitouna" meanning "olive" because its founder used to teach the faithfuls under an olive tree) whose foundations were laid in the 8th century shortly after the Arab Muslim Almohads conquered Tunis, the mosque itself was founded in 698 CE and was substantially extended in the  9th century by the Aghlabid rulers ( an Arab dynasty of emirs, who ruled Ifriqiya ie. Algeria, Tunisia and Tripolitania, nominally on behalf of the Abbasid Caliph, for about a century from 800 until they were overthrown by the new power of the Fatimids in 903 who reigned from 909 to 1171 based mainly in Cairo, Egypt)  with 160 columns taken from the Roman Carthage which I saw the previous day, with further additions in 13th century but the famous madrasa,and the associated buildings attached to the mosque were built in the 16th and 17th centuries .The mosque houses one of the oldest Muslim universities in the world with a huge collection of books in its libraries and including one called the  al-Abdaliyah, which is a large collection of unique and very rare manuscripts covering all kinds of subjects like grammar, logic, etiquette of research, cosmology, arithmetic, geometry, minerals, vocational training, etc. The mosque is modeled after the Mosque of Uqba in Kairouan (built in 670 CE ) and itself formed the inspiration of the Great Mosque of Cordoba in southern Spain, built by the exiled Umayyads after they conquered the Al-Andalus ( Muslim Iberia including most of present day Spain, Portugal and a small part of southern France)  in the late 8th century. It's dome was by the Zirids around 991( The Zirids were a Sanhadja Berber dynasty that governed Ifriqiya from 973 to 1148, initially governing on behalf of the Fatimids, later became effectively independent in 1048 but their rule was in turn weakened by the invasion of the Banu Hilal tribes in the second half of the 11th century and they were finally destroyed by Sicilian Normans in 1148. The Hammadids of Central Maghreb and the Zawids of Granada were offshoots of this dynasty.) Its courtyard, accessible via nine lateral doorways, forms a rectangle surrounded by galleries supported by columns made variously of marble, granite or porphyry and which were taken from other ancient monuments, primarily from Carthage, as were those in the prayer hall. In the 1960s and the 1990's, further restoration works were carried out. Abu Said , after whose name the famous tourist town of Sidi Bou Said was named, studied and taught here before he went to the Middle East. Many other Muslim scholars graduated visited or taught here eg. Ibn 'Arafa, the great jurist Imam Maziri and the famous Tunisian poet About-Qacem Echebbi etc.
A closer view of some of the columns at one of the corners of its rectangular courtyard with its horseshoe arches supported by marble columns. 

We were led on to the rooftop of a shop of a carpet seller by a friendly Tunisian sitting at the exit of the alley leading to the great mosque to have good view of the square shaped minaret of the Zitouna Mosque for reminding the faithfuls not to forget to pray 5 times a day which was added to the mosque in only 1894.

A closer view of the minaret of the mosque: the rectangular courtyard can be seen below it. The face of the minaret is decorated with mosaic and there are windows on top which can serve as a watch tower. The minaret is built in a square form in Kairouan, probably because the Islam was new to that which before its conquest was Christian under the Holy Roman Empire and they wanted the mosque to be built like a fortress so that in case of attack by its enemies, it would be much easier to defend.  The minaret is modeled after the Mosque in Kairouan. It tower measures some 147 meters which made it easily the tallest building at that time.

"A bed fit for a king", I was told. This is what I found on the floor just below the roof of the proprietor.

I was very surprised to find that roof was very elaborately decorated with mosaic tiles.North of the Zitouna Mosque is the Souk El Attarine, built in the early 18th century. It is known for its essences and perfumes. From this souk, there is a street leading to the Souk Ech-Chaouachya (Chechya). The main company that operates it is one of the oldest in the country and they are generally descendants of Andalusian immigrants expelled from Spain. Attached to El Attarine are two other souks: the first, which runs along the western coast of Zitouna Mosque, is the Souk El Kmach which is noted for its fabrics, and the second, the Souk El Birka, which was built in the 17th century and houses embroiderers and jewelers. Given the valuable items it sells, it is the only souk whose doors are closed and guarded during the night. In the middle there is a square where the former slave market stood until the middle of the 19th century. Souk El Birka leads to Souk El Leffa, a souk that sells all kinds of carpets, blankets and other weavings, and extends with the Souk Es Sarragine, built in the early 18th century and specializing in leather. At the periphery are the souks Es Trouk, El Blat, El Blaghgia, El Kébabgia, En Nhas (copper), Es Sabbaghine (dyeing) and El Grana that sell clothing and blankets and was occupied by Jewish merchants.


The other street I visited was more or less like the "ladies" street in Mongkok in Kowloon, Hong Kong and selling more or less the same kind of stuffs. 

All sorts of ladies clothing in the modern style 

Many of the shops are minimally furnished 

Mostly cheap stuffs for the working class people: sports shoes, jeans, T-shirts mostly made in China

All kinds of embroidered shawls

Woolen knits

All kinds of shawls

The next shop was selling more or less the same kind of things

The style of the old buildings look more interesting to me.

Fast food on sale where we were waiting for our coach

And back to where we were to meet for lunch