Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia

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Sidi Bou Saïd is an enchanting village northeast of Tunis and is often called Tunisia’s most beautiful village. Its picturesque ambience of blue and white and the fantastic view of the Mediterranean Sea have inspired many an artist’s soul.

The picturesque artists’ village of Sidi Bou Saïd is located in Tunisia, about 20km from the capital Tunis and is the most visited village in the country due to its dreamlike beauty. It is located northeast on the Gulf of Tunis and just near the historic ruins of Carthage.

Sidi Bou Saïd is easily reached by the “TGM” train from Tunis to La Marsa, which takes about half an hour. Cars must be parked in the paid parking lot and are not allowed to pass through the village.

History of Sidi Bou Saïd

Sidi Bou Saïd takes its resonant name from a saint and mystic named Abou Said bin Khalef ibn Yahia Ettamini el Beji, who settled here in the early 13th century to develop Sufism and made Sidi Bou Saïd his holy place after his death.

So-called marabouts, spiritual hermits, used to make up the population of Sidi Bou Saïd. In the 16th century, the Moors arrived in the village, and their architectural legacies still characterize the townscape of Sidi Bou Saïd today.

Sidi Bou Saïd first acquired its image as an artists’ village in the early 20th century, when the French-British banker’s son Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger established his residence in what was then a fishing village. He loved painting and music and organized gatherings and artists’ meetings in his palace, now Ennejma Ezzahra (“twinkling star”).

It is also thanks to him that Sidi Bou Saïd was listed as a historical monument in 1915 – the strict building regulations still apply today and thus Sidi Bou Saïd was able to preserve its unmistakable charm. After his death in 1932, he bequeathed his estate to the Tunisian state.

Places of interest in Sidi Bou Saïd

This wonderfully pretty village is now a gorgeous composition of colorful architecture and beautiful arts. The dominant colors in Sidi Bou Saïd are unmistakably a vibrant blue and pure white. Colorful vases, ornate door and window decorations, fragrant flower arrangements and other accessories on almost every house wall create subtle splashes of color – perfect photo motifs wherever the eye looks.

Did you know? Not only in Sidi Bou Saïd, but in many southern countries, especially in Greece, houses are whitewashed snow white and have blue doors and shutters. Why? The white reflects the sun’s rays and keeps the heat out of the houses, and the strong blue is supposed to drive away pesky insects.

Sidi Bou Saïd is located on a cliff directly on the Mediterranean Sea, so the picture-perfect architecture is further enhanced by the gorgeous view of the deep blue Gulf of Tunis. Already the German painter and graphic artist Paul Klee and the French writer and Nobel Prize winner André Gide were inspired by this stunning panorama to their works.

Tip: Again and again the locals “give away” flowers to the tourists and ask for money afterwards. Sometimes they get uncomfortable if the given sum does not meet their expectations. It is best to buy a flower once right at the beginning, then you will have your peace for the rest of the day.

Ennejma Ezzahra, the former palace of the “founder” of Sidi Bou Said, is now open to the public as a museum of musical instruments and still functions as a center of Mediterranean music. The surrounding gardens and also the building itself are a real feast for the eyes.

After strolling through the enchanting ambience, it is recommended to stop at the famous Café des Nattes, immortalized by German expressionist August Macke in his watercolor “View of a Mosque” in front of the minaret of an Islamic place of worship. In the typical Moorish café, tea with mint and the traditional shisha, the water pipe, can be sampled. The terrace offers panoramic views to kneel down.

If you stroll back along the main street, you will pass many a souq and will certainly find one or the other colorful souvenir to take home. By the way, there are no fixed prices for the countless clothes, pieces of jewelry, water pipes, handicrafts, figurines and the especially beautiful ornate bird cages – everything is negotiable.

Tip: If possible, schedule your visit to Sidi Bou Saïd on a weekday. On weekends, there is a lot going on here and the winding alleys are full of visitors who are just as enchanted by the flair of Sidi Bou Saïd.


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Vanessa Forni

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