Part 5 of 6
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Some might know the city of Monastir from the filming of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ or the ‘Life of Brian,’ and it’s just as stunning to visit in person. Monastir is rightly considered one of Tunisia’s top tourist destinations with its ancient architecture and monuments and its blissful strips of sandy shore.
Monastir is a stunning touristic city in Tunisia. Tunisia is an underrated tourist destination in the Mediterranean and it boasts a rich history going back as far as Carthage and some of the Mediterranean Sea’s most stunning beaches. Monastir is located on the central coast of Tunisia around 20 kilometres or 12 miles south of the more popular coastal city of Sousse.
Snugly wrapping around the coast, the historic city of Monastir is prime beach territory, and it is these blissful strips of sandy shore that are top of most visitors’ things-to-do list. With its golden beaches and sapphire blue sea, its medieval monuments and its charming marina, Monastir offers one of the most attractive faces of Tunisia.
An ideal destination to sun yourself by the sea, but also to visit a fascinating region: from Sousse to Kairouan, from El Jem to Mahdia, you will travel through time. In fact, Monastir is one of the best places to visit and base yourself for a day trip to the mighty El Jem amphitheatre, rightly considered one of Tunisia’s top tourist attractions.
Monastir became famous in the 1970s when the film Jesus of Nazareth was filmed there. Additionally, the outrageously funny Monty Python’s Life of Brian was also filmed there with its memorable quotes like “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!” and “Oh! It’s blessed are the meek! I’m glad they’re getting something, they had a hell of a time...”
However, if you’re seeking more than simply soaking up the sun, Monastir is also home to two important monuments that are well worth getting off the beach for. The Ribat, perched right on the coast, is one of Tunisia’s most impressive relics of the Islamic era. And next door to the Ribat is the opulent Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba, named after the founder of the modern Tunisian Republic, which magnificently blends traditional and modern Tunisian architecture.
“Ribat” is an Arabic term for a small fortification that was built along the frontier of North Africa. These were built during the first years of the Muslim conquest of North Africa from the embattled Byzantine Empire. They were built to house military volunteers (called murabitun). Later on, the forts served to protect commercial routes and as centers for isolated Muslim communities.
The Ribat of Monastir was used to scan the sea for enemy ships and to protect it from any attack by the Byzantine fleet. It’s one of the oldest Islamic structures in the region and is the oldest ribat built by the Arab conquerors during the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb. It’s easily the town’s most famous monument.
In addition to the Ribat, other old attractions here include the great mosque, the Bourguiba mosque, museums, the Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba (named after the founder of the modern Tunisian Republic), the souk (Arabic word for a traditional Arabic market), and the Kiriates islands. Other more modern attractions include nightclubs, a racecourse, diving centres, and two golf courses.