Around Tataouine and Medenine, the desert appears in all its implacable ruggedness. A vast rocky plain opens onto majestic landscapes of mountains and desert plateaus, cliffs and rocky spurs. In this Dante-esque setting can be found the astonishing architecture of the Ksour, collective fortified granaries of the Saharan nomads. Just as impressive are the old Berber villages clinging to the mountain tops, such as Chenini and Douiret. A region of out of the ordinary landscapes and historical traditions.
What to see ?
Ghorfas and hilltop villages
Visit the Ksour by climbing the ladders and stairs that once allowed people to hoist their harvests into the storage chambers, the ghorfas. The hilltop villages also had their ghorfas, attics built into the peaks of mountains, as if they were citadels, today in ruins. Below the troglodyte dwellings, dug into the rocky walls, descend in terraces. In these villages – Chenini, Douiret –, the Berber language is still in use today. In Chenini, they will show you giant tombs and tell you the legend of the Seven Sleepers: this ancient Mediterranean myth found one of its avatars here. In Douiret, delve into a subterranean mosque. For lovers of geography and prehistory, cave paintings from the Neolithic era can be seen close to Ghomrassen, and a Permian marine outcrop (250 million years old), unique in Africa in Jebel Tebaga close to Medenine.
What to do ?
Trekking and dinosaurs
Take a hike on foot to visit the Ksour, all different, in the villages of the ridge. Visit the Museum of the History of the Earth, in Tataouine: here you can see dinosaur fossils and meteorites found in the area. Watch how they weave flij, long bands which, once assembled, make up the nomad tents. Pay a visit to the weekly market where herders and farmers meet. Attend the Festival of the Ksour: there you can see a reconstruction of the harvesting and storing ceremonies, hear traditional music and songs of the Southeast (in March). If you are passionate about fauna and flora, explore the natural reserve of Sidi Toui, characteristic of the region. Take an excursion westwards to reach the frontier between the desert of sand and desert of stones: the oasis of Ksar Ghilane.
What to eat ?
Semolina bread or couscous
The food of the village inhabitants is very simple. Taste the semolina bread kesra dipped in virgin olive oils pressed from the village olives, figs or pomegranates freshly picked from the jessour, honey with the strong fragrance of rosemary and thyme from the mountains. And of course, couscous with mouthwatering lamb or mutton. For international cuisine, dine in the area’s hotels.
Where to sleep ?
Hotel or underground dwelling
Several simple hotels can be found in Tataouine and Medenine. The region is particularly marked out by its unusual accommodations: comfortable hotels camouflaged in a desert landscape, or guesthouse built into an underground dwelling.
How was it possible for the villages to settle and survive in such an inhospital region as that of the Ksour? And why did they choose to build their houses on the mountain peaks? The answer can be found in the jessour, a system which allows the retention of water from the rare rains. These small dams of earth and rock, across several terraces along the mountainside, retain runoff water and make possible the cultivation of crops on the terraces to serve the village’s needs. As for the underground dwellings, they offer a temperate atmosphere in every season; a precious advantage in these mountain regions in the dog days of summer. In spite of a rustic way of life, the villagers have a handicrafts industry that is much admired by visitors, the weaving of carpets and shawls in brilliant colours with delicate decoration.
The astonishing architecture of the Ksour rises up in the heart of an arid landscape of mountains, plateaus and rugged rock formation. These “desert castles” (ksour is the plural of ksar) were once rallying points for the semi-nomadic peoples of the region who would stock their harvests there out of the reach of looters, in the stacked compartments known as ghorfas. The Ksour of the ridges, today in ruins, stand atop rugged mountains, married to the rock with which they are camouflaged, in the heart of villages such as Chenini, Douiret and Guermassa. Other Ksour, much more extensive, irresistibly evoke the image of gigantic hives with their countless chambers surrounding a vast courtyard. All different and spectacular, they are Ksar Haddada, Ksar Ouled Soltane, Ksar Ouled Debbab.... The largest have several hundred ghorfas and up to four stacked levels. Striking scenery surrounded by majestic Saharan landscapes.
Good to know
Tataouine Tourism Board
Tel : 75 862 556 / 75 862 674
Festival of the Ksour in Tataouine: (in March)
Monday, Tuesday: Tataouine. Sunday: Médenine
Tataouine is accessible via paved road, 140 km from Djerba airport.
Pay a visit to the weekly markets. You may find a blanket woven with bright colours, or a beautiful fabric decorated with chevrons and geometric patterns like the bakhnoug (Berber shawl) worn by the women in the area.