Sidi Bou Said Tunis is one of the best unknown destinations in the world. It is also one of the places to visit in Tunis. This enchanting sea view neighborhood is known for its white and blue villas, charming doors, and sprawling bougainvillea. It has become synonymous with art and history. This guide encompasses a brief history and architecture of the city, where to stay, where to eat, and finally what to do in the animated neighborhood of Sidi Bou Said.
Sidi Bou Said was originally named Jabal el-Menar. However, it owes its name change to saint Abu Said Ibn Khalef Ibn Yahia El-Beji. After he spent much of his life studying and teaching at the Zitouna Mosque, he had looked for somewhere to retire to pray in. In 1231 he passed away and became a saint that many Muslims still visit and pray to today. As a result, the town started to develop around his tomb and was given the present-day name Sidi Bou Said.
Sidi Bou Said Tunis received its blue and white colors in the 1920s from the influence of the home of the French painter and musicologist Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger. He lived there from 1909-1932. He played a critical role in reviving Traditional Tunisian music known as Ma’luf. Without a doubt, this beautiful neighborhood has become one of the places to visit in Tunis and one of the best unknown destinations in the world.
As you spend your day exploring you will notice some of the charming architectural elements that make this neighborhood unique. Below I gave a brief overview of a few of them.
As you wander through the neighborhood of Sidi Bou Said gaze up towards some of the windows. You might come across a Mashrabiya. A Mashrabiya window is an architectural characteristic of Arabic residences. The first purpose of a Mashrabiya window is privacy. The windows allow the resident to view the street without being seen. The second purpose is the window serves as a cooling system for the home. Typically the wooden screen has openable windows that provide shade during hot summers while allowing air to flow into the room.
Along with the Mashrabiyas, you will notice the charming doors throughout this neighborhood. These doors are beautifully designed in looks and purpose. Originally the doors were designed to have three ways to enter. The large door was for one to enter with his or her camel or horse. Notice the bigger door typically encompasses two smaller doors. One smaller door was for family members to enter. And the other smaller door was for guests to enter. As a result, it was an easy way to distinguish who was a visitor and who was a family depending on the door they knocked on.
In Sidi Bou Said you will find quite a few mosques. When you look at a mosque you will notice a long tower built into or adjacent to the mosque. These towers are called Minarets. The Minarets serves as a visual cue for the mosque also as a vantage point for the call of prayer.
Where to stay in Sidi Bou Said Tunis
Here are some of the best options it you would like to stay in Sidi Bou Said Tunis.
Villa Blue is a beautiful Boutique Hotel located at the heart of Sidi Bou Said. The hotel-style keeps to the original feel of Sidi Bou Said, and its rooms offer amazing views of the sea.
Hotel Dar Said
It is another Boutique hotel centrally located in Sidi Bou Said. They offer sensational sea views, as well as excellent breakfast and a nice pool.
There are some great Airbnb options located in Sidi Bou Said, that give an amazing view of the neighborhood. Airbnb makes for a great option if you want more for your money. If you decide to stay in an Airbnb here are 34 dollars off your first stay.
Where to eat in Sidi Bou Said Tunis
You can not miss eating at these places in Sidi Bou Said Tunis.
Villa Blues restaurant offers an excellent selection of food. I would recommend eating there for Brunch. The hotel serves brunch, lunch, and dinner on its beautiful terrace that overlooks the sea.
Grab a Bambaloni
Bambaloni is a fried sugary Tunisian donut. You can not miss trying it during your time in Sidi Bou Said. Located in a whole in the wall you will find plenty of local lining up to order one of these sweet donuts.
Café des Nattes(Cafe el Alia)
This historical place, known as Cafe des Nattes or Cafe el Alia, is a cafe that is perfect to bring your bamboloni, grab a Tunisian tea, and sit and enjoy the view and people watch.
Cafe des Delices
Cafe des Delices is the most picturesque cafe in Sidi Bou Said. With that being said do not expect great service. In spite of the bad service, I still managed to put it on my list because I do recommend visiting and taking a picture of it. If you don’t care for good service you can always grab a tea and watch the sunset there.
What to See in Sidi Bou Said Tunis
Ennejma Ezzahra Palace
Ennejma Ezzahra Palace was built between 1901 and 1929 and served as the former home of Rodolphe d’Erlanger, a french painter and musicologist that specialized in Arabic music. He played a critical role in the rival of Ma’luf. Ma’luf is an Andalusian classical traditional music of Algerian, Moroccan, Libyan, and Tunisian music introduced by the Andalusian refugees. The sea view palace is preserved as a museum and serves as a Centre for Arabic and Mediterranean Music.
Find the Hidden Saints
Sidi Bou Said, being one of the best unknown destinations in the world, has plenty of hidden secrets. It is believed that Sidi Bou Said has had at least 100 saints pass through it, but only the whereabouts of 20 saints are known. Many residents of this neighborhood have Saints buried in their home, some even have one in the middle of their living room. You can usually spot a saint buried within the neighborhood. It will have a wood screen in front of their final place of rest with little holes for viewing. Below I listed a few:
The Mausoleum that houses Sidi Bou Said is still frequented by his followers today. It is believed that he is not actually buried in the tomb that is above ground, because that tomb is not facing Mecca. In Islam, all Muslims should be buried facing the direction of Mecca. However, he is believed to be buried underground. Sidi Bou Said’s daughter, Lella Chrifa is buried with him. She died at a young age and people pay their respects by bringing her dolls and toys.
Next to Sidi Bou Said’s Mausoleum covered by a thick blue wooden screen is Lella Zaafrana.
Sidi Bou Fares Hotel has two saints inside; one is named Sidi Bou Fares, and the other Sidi Bou Chaala.
In the Cemetery of Sidi Bou Said you will find two more Saints: Sidi Jbali and Sidi Bennour.
Finally, in the back wall of Cafe des Nattes (Cafe el Alia) you will find Sidi Faweh El Misk, whose name means the sprayer of musk.
Climb Down 350 steps to the Marina – Chairs of the Reformers
Last but not least, if you are interested in seeing the marina up close there are steps from the top of Sidi Bou Said that take you down to a Marina as well as a beach where you can swim. The steps offer breathtaking views of the Mediterranean. This stairway has received the name “ Chair of the Reformers” as the legend dictates it has a saint buried under each step.