Top choice in Tunisia

There's hardly a souvenir shop in sight within the monumental medieval walls of Sfax's Unesco-listed medina. The narrow thoroughfares are crowded with local shoppers stocking up on cheap clothing, shoes, household goods and other prosaic items on offer, and the market areas on the northern edge are noisy, colourful and aromatic places where locals come to buy fresh produce. Elsewhere, modest residences sport iron balconies and painted doors, and tiny ateliers are used by industrious traditional artisans.

The medina dates from the 9th century AD. Its main southern gate, the triple-arched Bab Diwan, is where most people enter. This gate and the still-standing walls and ramparts were added in the early 14th century.

In the centre of the medina is the walled Great Mosque (closed to non-Muslims), founded by the Aghlabids in the middle of the 9th century. Its eastern wall is the only section that’s visible, as the other sides are hidden by souqs. The elaborate sandstone minaret, a smaller replica of the three-tiered square minaret at Kairouan, was added by the Fatimids in AD 988.

North of the Great Mosque is the wonderful world of the covered souqs. The main souq running north–south is the celebrated Souk Erbaa, where chechias (traditional felt caps) and traditional clothes are sold. It was used as the setting for the Cairo markets in Anthony Minghella's 1996 film The English Patient.

Souk Erbaa emerges on Rue des Teinturiers, where the dyers once carried on their business. It then continues to Rue Abdelkader, which runs inside the medina’s northern wall, and to Bab Djebli, one of the original Aghlabid gates. Just outside the gate is the fresh produce market and further north again, in a modern structure, is the always-bustling fish market.

In the southwest corner of the medina is the kasbah, originally built by the Aghlabids as a watchtower and steadily expanded into a fort. Used by the French as a prison, it is now home to the Musée de l’Architecture Traditionnelle de Sfax.

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