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The North African cities are almost always centered around abundant and labrynthine marketplaces. These hallowed alleyways are the stalls for shops of produce, clothing, jewelry, hot meals and all of life’s necessities.
In the modern bustle of spread out cosmopolitan cities, most of the world has forgotten how pedestrian shopping, chatter and browsing used to be an essential part of social life. In the Medina of Tunis it is possible to live an ongoing and historic experience all year round.
Tunis is a city with ancient and modern sections, but the most central area is the concentration of the 12th century old town. Known locally as a medina it is the site of trade and commerce located along the Rue Jemma Zitouna. The area is an UNESCO world heritage site. Compared to other countries in this part of the world, vendors are not too pushy at first, but be prepared to haggle if you really find something you like. A good landmark for the entrance to the Medina is the Port de France, (Bab El Bahr) a large archway gate that sits just near the cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul. The heavy French influence will be apparent on the streets and in signs, it is more widely understood than English, even when English is readily easy to use to get around.
It is generally agreed upon that the market food is fresher and in some cases more affordable than supermarket food in Tunis. This is especially true during the main summer season when the covered central market is in full swing. A pocket full of Dinars can get you some good deals. Buying and selling is done pretty haphazardly, so just pick out the amounts and specific fruits and veggies you want. Of course in addition for stuff to take home, one will find a coffee, tea shop or breakfast and hot lunch place on every corner. There isn’t much difference between a tourist and a local place. Simply order and seat yourself and enjoy the crowd watching that gets underway.
All kinds of colorful cloths, silks, scarves and cultural specific gear is for sale. For tourists perhaps the everyday socks and underwear won’t be too much of a draw, but there are certainly some excellent local fabrics for making one’s own clothes or any in a series of attractive robes and headgear.
There are essential oils, spices, jewels and gems, gold and precious metals as well as tons of handcrafted goods, leather and glasswork. Tourists should certainly check out the colorful lamps, cups and silverware which make for excellent souvenirs. All kinds of tea, especially mint, are found in their finest form here.
Buildings and attractions:
In addition to buying things, one certainly can enjoy the sights and sounds of the medina without spending a Dinar. The Zitouna Mosque sits right at the heart of the medina and its powerful walls and minarets are a testament to the enduring history of Islam here. Non Muslims are only allowed inside a certain portion of the mosque. Barber shops and salons are major social establishments for men and women to enjoy socialization and can be a safe place to meet some locals for basic conversations about where you are from.