Medina upyernoz / gefotografeerd

10 top tourist attractions in Sfax

Bustling Sfax is one of Tunisia’s main commercial centers and the country’s second largest city. Although it doesn’t have the sandy beaches of other Tunisian cities, Sfax is ripe for sightseeing and is a great place to soak up the local Tunisian culture, with a beautiful walled medina area to explore. It is also a good base for day trips. If you are looking for things to do, the unique architecture of Matmata is easily accessible from here, as well as the quiet Kerkennah Islands and the Roman glory of El Djem.

1 Medina

Medina upyernoz / photographed
 

First built in 1306, the giant Main Gate (known as Bab Divan) in the Medina is one of Sfax’s most prominent points of interest. It has changed a lot during its long history, almost completely destroyed by bombing in 1943 and then rebuilt in its original form. The medina of Sfax is relatively small, measuring only 400 meters by 500 meters and is surrounded by a well-preserved circuit of walls. The original brick walls were made by the Aghlabids in the 9th century and were heavily reinforced in the 12th century. The casbah to the southwest corner of the walls was added in the 17th century.

Unusually, compared to the medinas in Tunis and Sousse, the streets here are laid out in a grid plan, believed to have been inherited from the Roman city. Rue Mongi Slim runs from south to north and is one of the main routes of the medina. If you’re wandering here, don’t miss out Rue de la Driba, where there are a number of houses with handsome, imposing doorways. In a side street that opens this street you find the interesting folk museum.

Location: Central Sfax

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sfax

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2 Folk Museum (Dar Jellouli)

Folk Museum (Dar Jellouli) D @ LY3D / photo modified
Folk Museum (Dar Jellouli) D @ LY3D / photo modified
 

Tourists interested in Tunisia’s culture and history should not miss the excellent Sfax Folk Museum (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires). It is located in Dar Jellouli, a two-storey 18th-century mansion that once belonged to a wealthy Andalusian family. It has a beautiful courtyard surrounded by horseshoe arches and a delicately carved door and window frames of Gabès stone. The pieces on display span the scope of Tunisian artistry, with a wide range of everyday objects, wooden furniture, traditional costumes, jewelery and Arabic calligraphy.

Location: Sfax medina

3 Archaeological Museum

Mosaic in the Museum Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
Mosaic in the Museum Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
 

On the ground floor of the Sfax Town Hall (Town Hall) is the very interesting Archaeological Museum of the city, with exhibits of Punic, Roman and Byzantine antiquities. It is well worth a visit for the mosaic collection alone, with mosaics from nearby excavations Thaenae (Thyna) Taparuraand La Skhira. Among the collection, don’t miss the beautiful and incredibly intricate 5th or 6th century “Daniel in the lions’ den” mosaic and the 3rd century “Ennius surrounded by the muses” mosaic.

Address: Avenue Habib Bourguiba

4 Thanna

The site of ancient Thaenae (Thyna) was the most southeastern outpost of Carthaginian territory. Built by the Romans in 146 BC to mark the boundary between the Roman province and the kingdom of Numidia, the Fossa Regia began just south of the city. Excavations here have revealed the remains of several buildings from the 4th and 5th centuries, including baths, residential houses and a Christian church. To the east of the site is a necropolis centered on an octagonal mausoleum.

Location: 11 kilometers southwest of Sfax

5 Grand Mosque

Grand Mosque Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
Grand Mosque Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
 

In the center of the Sfax medina stands the Great Mosque, founded in AD 849 and rebuilt in the 10th and 11th centuries. It was finally completed in 1759 under Ottoman rule. Non-Muslims are allowed to enter the courtyard as long as they are modestly dressed. At the end of the courtyard is the nine-aisled prayer hall with its vaults supported on antique pillars. The ornate minaret consists of three successively smaller parts and is richly decorated with Kufic inscriptions and ornamental bands.

Address: Rue de la Grande Mosquée, Medina

6 New city

New Town Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
New Town Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
 

Sfax’s new town (ville nouvelle in French) lies between the harbor and the medina. It was built during the French protectorate, although only a few buildings from the colonial period now survive. One of the most distinctive of these is the City Hall (Place de la République), built in neo-Moorish style with a tall, minaret-like tower. This is a great place to get a taste of Sfax’s café culture, especially in the early evening when it sometimes seems like everyone in town is here strolling along the main street.

Location: Central Sfax

7 Plage de Chaffer

Plage de Chaffer
Plage de Chaffer
 

For a local beach experience, Plage de Chaffer can’t be beaten. Frequented by the people of Sfax, this beautiful strip of sand becomes a vibrant and bustling hub of family fun on weekends. Many roaming vendors sell snacks and soft drinks, and you’ll also find sun loungers and sunshades. If you’re looking for a low-key beach scene, this probably isn’t the stretch of sand for you, but if you want to know how the locals have a day at the beach – complete with football games and picnics – you’ve come to the right place.

Location: 25 kilometers southwest of Sfax

8 Markets

Markets Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
Markets Dennis Jarvis / photo modified
 

Shoppers will love browsing Sfax’s colorful market districts. In the medinabetween the Grand Mosque and the North Gate (known as Bab El Djebli) is the old town souk quarter. Plenty of shops here sell Tunisia’s famous hand-painted ceramics, as well as local embroidery, leather items and metalwork. It is outside the medina walls New market area, where the locals come to do their shopping. There’s everything from fresh produce to plastic trinkets, and it’s fun for people watching and picking up a bargain or two.

9 Matmata

Image
Image
 

Matmata

The most visited troglodytic village in Tunisia, Matmata became known after scenes from Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope were filmed in the village’s unique underground houses and around the crater landscape here. The inhabitants first went underground to seek shelter from the sun, excavating circular pits in the land about 12 meters in diameter and between 6 and 12 meters deep, and excavating living quarters carved out of the surrounding rock. Many of these old houses are now uninhabited and most of the villagers live in the new town Matmata Nouvelle, 15 kilometers away. Some of the traditional houses now function as very basic hotels and museums and can be visited by tourists and sightseeing day-trippers.

Location: 200 kilometers south of Sfax

10 Kerkennah Islands

Kerkennah Islands abir arous / photo modified
Kerkennah Islands abir arous / photo modified
 

The Kerkennah Islands are located off the Tunisian coast, between 20 kilometers and 40 kilometers east of Sfax. The archipelago consists of seven islands with only the main two (Gharbi and Chergui) inhabited. The islanders live mainly from fishing, sponge diving and selling their craft products. The sandy beaches, most of which are still virtually undeveloped, provide excellent conditions for diving. From Sfax, depending on the season, there are between two and five daily car ferries to the islands.

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