Art festivals, guesthouses bring the old town of Tunis back to life |

“Where Tunis began”

The district also has about twenty small souks dedicated to specific artisans such as tanners, perfumers and shoemakers.

“The medina is the lungs of Tunisia and it’s where Tunis began,” said Salma Garbi, a 38-year-old architect who was taking part in a guided walk.

While visitors mostly stick to its two main thoroughfares, “new cultural events are springing up and breathing life into the medina,” she said.

Garbi welcomed the launch of two art festivals, Interference (art and lights) and Dream City, which involve young artistic productions in unusual places like chapels, often in the evening.

“They brought the medina back to life,” she says.

She also pointed out that during Ramadan, shops and cafes stay open late and the medina bustles with concerts and modern dance performances until the early hours.

The district has also found new life with the creation of Art Rue, which organizes art workshops with local schools and a host of guest houses.

Leila Ben Gacem, who set up her first guesthouse in the UNESCO-listed old town in 2013, is on a mission to brighten up the neighborhood.

She brought together a group of small businesses to “create experiences for people to enjoy coming to the medina, spending the weekend there, meeting artisans and having authentic moments,” she said.

The Mdinti (“my city” in Arabic) project, funded by the German aid agency GIZ, which also campaigns for better lighting and cleaner streets, has 21 members including craft workshops, guest houses, cafes and restaurants.

They organize activities throughout the year, from scavenger hunts to walking tours and lessons in North African cooking, Arabic calligraphy and making traditional “balgha” shoes (leather slippers without heels).

“If there is something to do at night or on Sunday, traders will close later or keep their shops open,” said Souhail Fitouri, involved in the Mdinti project.

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