The white walled mosque and zawiya of Sidi Bou Said, stands, of all places, in Tunisia’s trendiest tourist spot. The whitewashed walls and blue doorways stand on a cliff-top against the glistening blue Mediterranean sea. With its French-chic reputation, attracting artists, intellectuals and politicians, it is easy to forget that the town first gained prominence for being the adopted home of Abu Said Ibn Khalaf Yahya al-Tamimi al-Beji, the 13th century Sufi saint after whom the village was renamed. Here, he established a sanctuary, and a mausoleum was constructed for him after his death in 1231. Sidi Bou Said, the village, grew around it.
Almost 500 years later, in the 18th century, the Turkish Beys of the Husainid dynasty, then ruling the region, built their residences in the town. Later, in the early 20th century, the town attracted wealthy Tunisians and French nationals, and Rodolphe d’Erlanger, the French painter and musicologist of Arab music, gave the town its distinctive white and blue colour theme and it has been preserved as such ever since.
The steep, cobbled streets of Sidi Bou Said, are lined with souvenir shops and cafes. Despite the high number of tourists it receives, it is still worth visiting. Somehow, the town has managed to retain its charm and character, and it is enjoyable simply strolling along and admiring the architecture.
It is a relatively small town, so if you do not want to spend the night, a short train journey from Tunis for a day trip is more than enough time to cover all of its attractions and take in the beautiful surroundings. A good resource for transport can be found here.