Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Medina’

The Medina of Tunis

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 21st January, 2010

Tunis is one of the lowest-key capitals of North Africa and all the more pleasant for it. Like many other cities of the Maghreb, it has an old Arab quarter or medina, as well as a New Town, built during the French colonial period. The two could not be more unlike. The winding alleyways of the Medina, lined with merchants selling their wares, all seem to lead eventually to the great Zaitouna or Olive Tree Mosque, a serene and tranquil haven in the middle of all the bustle. The New Town has a reassuringly easy-to-navigate grid pattern of streets and boulevards, and both railway stations and suburban bus stations are centrally located.

I’ve always enjoyed coming to Tunis on lecturing and journalistic assignments. Things work, in general, and the people are welcoming. It’s odd that not all that many tourists seem to pass through here — especially not in winter — as they prefer Tunisia’s beach resorts instead. But they are missing a lot. The Tunis Medina has rightly been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site: It even has one glorious mansion-turned-hotel, the Dar El Médina, reminiscent of some of the riads of Marrakech. I’m sure there will be more before too long.



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Mdina, The Silent City

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 9th November, 2009

MdinaI suppose technically any town that boasts a cathedral qualifies as a city, but few can be as small or as exquisite as the hilltop former capital of Malta, Mdina. The city houses only a few hundred inhabitants, but a whole series of beautiful baroque palaces and churches (including the Cathedral of St Paul) are gathered within its Norman walls. A notice at Mdina’s entrance boasts that its origins date back to 4000 BC, which is maybe pushing ita bit, but certainly underneath what we see today are Punic remains and other classical vestiges. The Romans called the place Melita, and the Arabs Medina, whereas the Knights of St John lauded it as the Citta Notabile. Tradition has it that the Apostle Paul lodged in the city after his shipwreck off the Maltese islands.

Mdina is spotlessly clean and only a very restricted number of vehicles (including bridal cars) are allowed in. The drivers of horse-drawn vehicles are also sternly warned at the gate that ‘Horses’ hooves and wheels are to be rubber lined.’ I travelled up this afternoon from Valletta on the No 84 bus, a splendid 1950s curved contraption that could have come out of an Ealing comedy, only painted yellow and white rather than the green livery of many of post-War Brtitain’s rural transport. A day ticket that gets one round the island is a snip at 3 euros 49 cents. Malta is so small that one can see a great deal in a day, but one of the pleasures of lecturing on cruise ships is calling in at repeat ports like this and going off in one’s spare hours from lecturing and researching to discover places or buildings one has never been to before.

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