Are you enjoying your holiday in Tunis and do you need a break from the busy city? Within half an hour with the train, you’ll be in Sidi Bou Said, a picturesque small town on the coast of Tunisia. A visit to Sidi Bou Said could also be easily combined with a visit to Tunis and/or Carthage, if you’re staying somewhere else in Tunisia. Especially if you like romantic small towns, this lovely place is a must-see.
Sidi Bou Said is named after the Muslim saint Abu Said Ibn Khalef Ibn Yahia El-Beji (it must have been a lot of work for him to introduce himself). He devoted his life to teaching science and religion in Tunis and also made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He then decided to settle in this place and was also buried here when he passed away in the 13th century. The town of Sidi Bou Said was then built around it.
The town particularly grew when muslims had to flee Spain after the reconquista, the reconquest of Spain by the christians in the 15th century. In the 18th century, more and more wealthy people from Tunis decided to build their house in Sidi Bou Said. Until today, this is one of the most expensive places to buy a house in Tunisia. For a town of the wealthy, I saw a lot of unfinished houses, which seemed like unhabitable ruins to me. However, our guide explained that these unfinished houses are a treasure to their inhabitants. He said that they find it unethical to have to loan money to buy a house, so at first, when they have saved enough money, they buy one floor and a few years later, when they have saved more money, they will be able to expand their house.
It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the houses were painted white and blue. This was because of the influence of the French painter and musicologist Rodolphe d’Erlanger, who had a white and blue palace built in Sidi Bou Said. This palace is called Ennejma Ezzahra and it’s a museum at this moment. The houses kind of reminded me of the small streets on a Greek island, where houses are sometimes painted white and blue as well. The beauty of the town attracted and inspired many artists, like Paul Klee. There’s still an art gallery in the city today
From Sidi Bou Said, you’ll have an amazing view over the bay of Tunis and Carthage. On a clear day, you can even see the port of Carthage, which had a special shape, so that it was easy to defend in earlier times. The bay is light blue and looks really beautiful, so take your time to grab something to drink and take some nice pictures!