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Sahara

Day 91: Sidi Bou Said

Michael Palin - SaharaSidi Bou Said is next door to Carthage and both are salubrious suburbs of the capital, Tunis. The town is up on a hill, and our hotel looks out over the green and swaying trees of the coastal plain, towards the Gulf of Tunis and the 2000-foot mountains of the Cap Bon peninsula. It's a grand and comfortable view, full of colour and pleasant rambling houses dotted about. The only similarity with the bald slopes of the south are the small white-domed marabouts, tombs of holy men, which are scattered through the country. Sidi Bou Said was himself a holy man ('sidi' in Arabic is equivalent to 'saint' or 'master'), who, after a trip to Mecca at the end of the twelfth century, settled on this hill and lived a much respected ascetic life.

Several centuries later, Sidi Bou Said's fine location seduced a quite un-ascetic set of Europeans, led by a rich Frenchman, Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger, who built an anglo-oriental mansion which is still here today. He created an international appetite for these picturesque cobbled streets on the hill and, rather like Tangier, Sidi Bou Said was near enough to Europe for writers and artists to pick up the scent, Paul Klee, August Macke and André Gide amongst them.

It's still a highly fashionable, moderately bohemian enclave and its centre is the celebrated Café des Nattes.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 91
  • Country/sea: Tunisia
  • Place: Sidi Bou Said
  • Book page no: 237

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