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1. Beach holidays

2. Desert and oases

3. The empty mountains

4. Carthage and Romans

5. Islamic times

6. Berber sensations

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Berber sensations


Ksar Hadada

Ksar Ouled Soltane

Sidi Meta


The population of Tunisia may speak Arabic, but ethnically they are Berbers. The Berbers of Algeria and Morocco have largely upheld language and identity, in Tunisia a brutal process of making one people has almost wiped out this culture. Only few still speak Berber now, and the young with Berber grandparents do their very best to blend in with the Arab Tunisian identity.
You don't have to travel extensively to see that the world will be a poorer place should all of Berber culture disappear. In the southern mountains, there are regions where villages with three different and unique Berber architecture zones. The organic mountain village, the troglodyte village and the ghurfas. So beautiful are they that no backdrop has been more extensively used for the Star Wars movie than these. And the world loves Star Wars, so why has it taken so long for local Berbers to realize what treasure they possess? It is finally happening, some restoration is undertaken, and roofs saved before they fall in.
The remaining locations of Berber villages have survived from the simple mechanism of poverty and isolation. While Berbers have built and lived all over the nation for all times, only the marginal regions permitted protection against government bulldozers and prefab houses.
One should begin with finding a base in Tatouine, a place worth visiting only for its good selection of hotels and restaurants. And of course, it has given name to the Star Wars planet Tatooine. Easy day trips, you should allow yourself two days here, will bring you to stunning villages like Chenini (organic mountain village) and Ksar Ouled Soltane (ghurfas). In between them, you will see other villages of the same patterns, in particular Douiret and Ksar Ezzahra. While mountain villages and ghurfas are built quite differently, they serve the same purpose: Protection and habitation merged into one greater structure. When locals could built in the mountains, they needed not create the same fortress-like outer walls that were needed in the flatlands where ghurfas dominate. In barren regions like this, where rain is an unreliable mistress, small communities needed good protection against bandits or starving neighbours.
After exploring the region of Tataouine, continue across moutain in direction of Matmata. Along the road you pass through the fabulous village of Toujane, built beneath two unrealistically shaped mountain tops, with a spring in the middle. Arriving at Matmata, you will enter Star Wars locations again, here with the underground dwellings, or troglodytes. Two of the "houses" used in the movies are now hotels. Matmata's inhabitants are systematically destroying their heritage, building ugly overground houses from money earned from tourists coming to see underground houses. Fortunately, there are more villages, in particular Sidi Meta and Chaabet Chemlali. The finest single troglodyte is the overvisited Tijma while Haddej is run-down but the real thing.
Far from the southern gems, there is one more stunning Berber village. Slightly more than an hour away from Hammamet, the rock top village of Zriba is stunning enough to have been used as location for scenes in the hit TV-series Rome.

By Tore Kjeilen