The Berber charm of Tunisia’s Takrouna
TAKROUNA, Tunisia - On the side of a 200-metre hill, the Berber village of Takrouna offers a breathtaking view of the tapestry of colours and scenery that surround it.
From the top of the village, visitors can admire the panoramic view of the Gulf of Hammamet and Sousse and look over the vast groves of olive trees that cover the landscape of the Kairouan and Zaghouan regions.
Takrouna, on the Mediterranean littoral 100km south of Tunis and 55km from the tourist resort of Sousse, is very accessible from two major cities of Tunisia.
The Berber village has a history that spans 2,000 years. Its architecture boasts the intricacies and sophisticated details of the Berber culture. Many historians say the village was named after a Berber tribe that immigrated to the region in the eighth century.
“When the Berber tribes settled in Takrouna and chose the summit of the hill to build their town, they put a lot of effort in showcasing their cultural heritage and also worked hard to preserve the natural landscape,” said Haitham Bejraidia, secretary-general of the Friends of Takrouna association.
Bejraidia pointed out Takrouna’s “strategic” position in the region — 50km from Hammamet and 5km from Enfidha — saying that position played an important role in the history of Tunisia.
“Its position at a mountaintop protected the village against attacks, which is why it was chosen by the Berber tribes,” he said. “They could supervise the surrounding areas from such an altitude and anticipate attacks.”
It also played a role in World War II. In 1943, New Zealand forces, led by Lance-Sergeant Haane Te Rauawa Manahi, attacked the perched village, which was occupied by Italian and German forces. Despite losing control after a series of counterattacks, Takrouna was taken and held by New Zealand.
Today the upper part of the town is nearly deserted and the remaining population has settled in the lower half of the village. Yet, even with its empty buildings, the town exudes serenity and peace that enchant its visitors. One can enjoy the different hues of blue as the sky hugs the coastline. Visitors can watch the sun slip beneath the horizon as a majestic silence envelops the decaying buildings of the old village.
Climbing stairs to the top of the hill, visitors marvel at the striking colours and intricate scriptures and symbols that characterise Berber architecture. While some houses are crumbling, others are open for visitors. Some have been turned into shops selling traditional Berber carpets and cafes offering delicious tea and fascinating views.
“When you look at the architecture of the village, you notice different levels. You find the old town, which reflects the tradition and heritage of our country at the time,” Bejraidia said. “You can see from the structures of the buildings and the traditional houses that Tunisian families had close ties and they all lived together. Family members, including uncles and aunts, often lived in close proximity.”
“Despite the effect of time, the architecture of the old city is authentic. It remained the same,” he added. “The old village is preserved as an example of Berber architecture.”
Over the past decades, families in the old village of Takrouna left for other towns in search of jobs and education. However, a few Berber families still live in the town and rely on agriculture, alfa and Berber carpets, which are displayed at the small shops in the upper half of the village.
Takrouna is preserved as a historical site but some fear for certain aspects of the village’s Berber heritage.
“The Berber culture of the village is in the process of extinction as most Berber families that lived here left,” Bejraidia said. “Today, no one left speaks Berber. The last Berber-speaking woman passed away years ago.”
Takrouna’s beautiful Berber buildings are well preserved, however.
The village remains an attraction for Sufis and it has a shrine of one of the renowned Sufis of the Maghreb, Sidi Abdelkader Jilani, the patron of the village. The mausoleum boasts a radiant green dome and is the site of Sufi rituals.
Despite some of the village’s decaying architecture, the mosque of Takrouna remains an attractive part of the cultural heritage of the town.
Bejraidia said the mosque dated to the 1400s and has withstood the effects of time following many renovations.
One cannot pass by Takrouna without exploring its deserted alleys, which provide a break from the bustle of modern cities not far away.
In any day, the village’s hilltop offers visitors a soothing sense of serenity that adds to the cultural enrichment provided by its authentic architecture and heritage.