Mahdia, the Mediterranean

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Mahdia is a small town frequented in summer for the beauty of its beaches and the limpidity of the sea, but the historic city is especially pleasant to discover off season, especially in the spring. Founded in prehistory and becoming capital of the Fatimids almost 11 centuries ago, Mahdia is the second Muslim foundation of Tunisia after Kairouan. Named after its founder from Syria, Obeid Allah El Mehdi, whose name is found in some streets, the city was at the time a great military and commercial port, it is nowadays the second fishing port of the country. The fish is king, the sardine and the tuna in particular! And it is the historical district of Borj Erras, peninsula surrounded by waves, which testifies to the brilliant historical past of the city. “Thousand and one Tunisia” takes you to discover it. No need for a car, everything is within reach … feet!

9h: here we have to wait 9-10h to see the streets come alive. This leaves time for the lazy to have breakfast at the cafe “el Medina” on the small square in front of the historic mosque. The sun is always there and, in the summer, this place in the heart of the city comes alive until late at night. The adjoining “Dar el Medina” also offers grills, sandwiches and dishes for lunch or dinner. Climb on the roof of the café-restaurant to enjoy the view. The sea is within easy reach and the fish market is not far away. Besides, that’s where we take you.

10h: The Mahdia fish market has its followers. Local families throughout the year, mahdois on holiday and onlookers in the summer. The fish is fresh, very fresh, the prices defy all competition and nothing but the show, the place is worth the detour. At the vegetable market, next door, in the spring, we sell the “boudlaqa”, the purslane, with which one prepares one of the specialties of the city.

11h: Know that Mahdia comes alive every Friday, weekly market day. It is an unmissable rendezvous that frequent the whole region. Under the imposing porch of the Skifa el Kahla, a fortified door dating from the 16th century, right next to the local museum (to be visited absolutely also), on this day there are secret negotiations: sell and buy accessories for the Mahdoise bride. And not any adornment since it is only gold, silver and silk.

A little further, beyond the monumental gate and continuing on Borj Erras, that is to say, penetrating the historical heart of Mahdia, you will discover the stalls of craftsmen working the silk, in the purest tradition local. We recommend the shop of the famous Karim Arous, located in the street Obeid Allah el Mehdi. The stoles and silk scarves are high in color and for a budget of 30 to 45 dinars you can make yourself a nice gift. It is so nice to be transported to the heart of the historical Mahdia by its narrow streets and labyrinthine impasses, by discovering its numerous “maqamr wali” and its fishermen’s houses restored since resort. At the turning of an alley, you could be surprised by the bluish immensity of the sea so close.

1 pm: To regale seafood, Mahdia does not lack addresses. For those who want to stay on Borj Erras, the small cafe-restaurant “Sidi Salem”, very close to the fort of Borj el Kebir and suspended to the rock above the sea is a nice address. If the food is not exceptional, the merit of this restaurant is to offer dishes for all the scholarships and especially to have a magnificent view. For the most demanding, at the beginning of the tourist area, the restaurant “Dar El Shat”, located on the beach, is known to be frequented by the local bourgeoisie.

3 pm: It’s the right time from May to September to poke a head. Side tourist area, the beaches are not lacking, although they are to be avoided because overcrowded in July-August. On the Borj Erras towards the old Fatimid port which could accommodate at the time up to 300 galleys and where wait patiently these days the boats of the local fishermen, you can bathe. Here more fine sand but rocks. The coastal path that marries the peninsula offers you another face of the city. Between the sea, the vestiges of the past fortifications and the imposing marine cemetery dating from the XVIIth century, one is immersed in the heart of the past of the city, at the tip of Cape Africa. For sports enthusiasts, the diving club located next to the small restaurant “Sidi Salem” and opposite the Borj el Kebir offers day trips.

5:30 pm: Before heading back to the hotel, stop for tea or coffee in Cairo’s small square, directly opposite the beautiful Haj Mustapha Hamza Mosque. Cairo Square? And yes, do not forget that the Fatimid dynasty which made of Mahdia its capital reigned during 2 centuries on … Cairo.

6:30 pm: for those who want to prolong their stay in Mahdia, there is no shortage of hotels. The tourist area north of the city is full of establishments. If you are looking for something less impersonal, 6 kms south of Mahdia, on a paradisiacal beach, the guesthouse “Dar Sidi” welcomes its guests in a charming setting. Attention: book in advance, the address is known and it is often full in summer.

Aurélie Machghoul

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One of the most Tunisian Journalist and communications expert, Founder of 1001Tunisie travel magazine. and 1001Tunisie Directory, worked as Adviser to the minister of tourism in Tunisia and won the Google Innovation Award (Tunisia - 2013). Mrs Djait is so passionate about the beauty of her country, knows every corner and collaborated on several books, TV programs and development projects.

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