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Report 1992: Tunisia - the North and the Roman Sites

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 7 of 30: A Morning Around Ville Nouvelle

photo by MAW

Central Market

This was built by the French on an area of drained land to the east of the Medina. It has a very different feel with wider streets lined with tall white colonial style buildings and a lot of traffic.

Rue Jemaa Zitounia, one of the most popular tourist routes through the Medina, ends at Place de la Victoire which is a huge open square surrounded by tall buildings. It is full of people and displays of goods spread out on the pavement. The remains of Bab el Bhar one of the original gateways into the Medina now stand in splendid isolation in the centre of the square.

Av de France leads into Ville Nouvelle from Place de La Victoire. Beyond is Av Habib Bourguiba, with trees and splendid white buildings. It is a very busy dual carriage way with a narrow central reservation and two rows of cars and tram lines. We took our life in our hands as we crossed the busy road and then discovered traffic goes round you. It is lined with trees and large splendid white buildings. There was razor wire and an armed police presence around the French Embassy.

Rue de Charles de Gaulle off Av de France is narrower and lined with modern shops with good displays selling fashions, shoes etc. The Post Office is in a large splendid building. Inside is a large hall with counters on one side. Opposite is a small table with a man giving out numbered tickets. You collect a ticket and then sit until called to a counter. We eventually found the post box tucked away in a corner. Postal vans and post boxes in Tunisia are yellow which confused us at first. Postcards posted here took nearly three weeks to arrive.

The Central Market is in a huge building on Av Charles de Gaulle surrounded by a high wall with entrances into the different parts of the market. There is a large central square with fruit and vegetable stalls with side corridors selling fish, meat, bread and spices and flowers along each of the different sides. It was fairly quiet when we arrived and several of the stalls were not in use. Some had fruit and vegetables piled in heaps. Others had beautifully presented displays of carrots, beetroot, onions, artichokes and herbs all tied into small bunches. There were red and green cabbages, huge cauliflowers and segments of bright orange gourd. There were big displays of oranges and strawberries and bananas hanging up. Some stalls just sold dates, either loose or still attached to the stems and sold in bundles. A stall sold different types of olives and capers, another pasta, pulses and dried spices loose from big sacks.

There was no sign of refrigeration in the butchers’ stalls. They sold assorted animal parts including cows feet, sheep’s heads, tripe and other innards. You didn’t want to look too closely. The cheese stalls had big piles of grated cheese, emmental, edam and gouda style cheeses as well as soft curd cheeses. These were sold as soft flat rounds with a pattern on them. The fish stalls had beautifully arranged displays of fish, carefully piled up with their tails bent up. There was herring, massive tuna, octopus, squid, cuttle fish and many different varieties we didn’t recognize.

Next on the list was the Roman Catholic Cathedral Of St Vincent De Paul on Av Habib Bourguiba. It is a large building with two towers and a central dome. It is a modern building built with a mixture of styles, including Moorish revival, Gothic revival, and Neo-Byzantine. It looks fairly plain inside. It is disliked by Lonely Planet and Rough Guide. I can’t say we particularly liked the architecture but it is an interesting building and there is plenty to admire. The nave is massive with three aisles separated by columns with round topped arches. Above is a narrow walkway with small balconies and a central cupola. There is a small screened side chapel for private prayer.

The arches in the choir area are more decorated. The dome is painted and has pictures of the Martyrs of Arbitina painted in the arches below. There is a free standing altar with a carving of the Madonna of Carthage and child behind. A walkway round the back of the choir is decorated with mosaics of the saints on the walls and a cage containing a descending spiral staircase. There are a few statues in the church and stations of the cross on the walls. There is a confessional but no pulpit. There is a small decorative 19thC reliquary of King Louis IX of France.

We then went to find the Greek Orthodox Cathedral on the street behind the Roman Catholic Cathedral. There is nothing about this in the guide books and we had seen it marked on a map of Tunis. It is set back off the road in its own grounds behind a locked gate. We don’t think it gets many visitors. A woman in the office next to the cathedral saw us and came to unlock the gate.

It is a large pleasant building with the impression of a lot of space inside. The walls are painted white with pale golden wood carvings around the walls. The tops of the windows and arches are decorated by a narrow painted frieze in reds and whites. There is a pale gold wooden balcony around three sides of the nave and pale wood rows of seats round the side walls with red cushions. There are similar chairs for the dignitaries in front of the iconostasis. Above are glass chandeliers.

The iconostasis is a darker wood and has two paintings on either side of the central door with the all seeing Eye of God above. There is a small icon on a small display stand in the nave with flowers round it. There is a larger icon of St George, Virgin and child and other saints on the walls.

We liked the building and it was well worth finding.

All in all a good morning. Central Market was great fun but then we enjoy food markets. The Roman Catholic cathedral is definitely different and the Greek Orthodox one is a hidden gem.

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