La Goulette is a popular destination for Tunisians throughout the year.

Sunday 23/07/2017
Fishermen repair nets at La Goulette port near Tunis. (Reuters)

La Goulette - The Lake of Tunis sparkles under the scorching sun, as the summer breeze finds its way into the northern-bound train. The train’s first stop is the Tunisian port town of La Goulette, which rests peacefully at the beginning of a string of beautiful beaches to the north.

Only ten minutes from down­town Tunis by train, La Goulette is Tunisia’s portal to the Mediter­ranean and has played a significant role in trade and commerce over the centuries. It is known as a ha­ven for religious tolerance and as beautiful site. The town served as an inspiration for many artists, in­cluding Tunisian film director Ferid Boughedir, whose movie “Summer in La Goulette,” explored the town’s diverse cultural landscape in the 1960s.

“The town’s name is derived from the channel where the city is located,” said Ali Bouras, a La Gou­lette municipality official. “The Ar­abic name translates to the ‘throat’ of the river as it is on a channel that connects the Lake of Tunis to the gulf, making the placement of the town strategic.

Due to its strategic location, La Goulette was the site of numer­ous battles between civilisations. Today, the Fortress or El-Karaka, a stone-walled monument mark­ing the ancient power struggle between the Spanish and Turks, stands as a testament to the bygone era. The 16th-century landmark, which was con­structed as a tower by Ot­toman leader Hayreddin Barbarossa and restored by Spanish King Charles V in 1535, greets visitors as the centre of the town.

“The fortress was de­stroyed again, as the war between the Ottomans and the Spanish continued in 1574 by the Ottomans. It wasn’t fully restored until 1965 and today, the monument requires some restora­tion work,” Bouras said.

The fortress offers a breathtak­ing view of Tunis’s coastal shores. It also has served as a theatre for summer festivals in La Goulette.

“The annual festival of La Gou­lette is a celebration of music and arts. The Spanish fort is a beautiful place. It has a theatre that can host a stage and the audience but the problem is that it has a limited number,” Bouras said.

While La Goulette’s popula­tion was originally composed mostly of Moors and Turks, it drew in a range of nationalities due to its flourishing maritime commerce. By the early 20th century, La Goulette was well-known as a cosmopolitan hub for Italians and Maltese, who, together with Tunisian Jews and Muslims, gave the town a diverse religious and cultural makeup.

“It was in 1830 that Tunisia signed a convention with the Ital­ians and the Maltese enabling the latter to immigrate to Tunisia to work in fishing and maritime activ­ities. The number of families soon rose in 1852 making the town’s population cosmopolitan,” said Bouras, adding that it is also known for its “religious tolerance.”

“Religious occasions for different religions are still celebrated. In one town, you can witness the Jewish ritual celebrations, the festival of Madonna and the ritual to the Sufi saint of La Goulette.”

In addition to beautiful beaches, a serene aura and rich culture, La Goulette also boasts delicious sea­food cuisine. On just one street, more than 40 restaurants offer a variety of savoury seafood platters. There is an annual fish festival in August, which Bouras described as “an annual feast for people and visitors to enjoy food at reasonable prices.”

La Goulette is a popular destina­tion for Tunisians throughout the year. In the summer, thousands of visitors enjoy the beaches and food.

Abdessalem Khirat, who owns a restaurant in La Goulette, stressed the role of the town’s annual fish festival.

“The fish festival is a celebration of the town’s wealth of fish and of its long tradition as a maritime cen­tre. People come to celebrate, to have fun and to savour the fish and the dishes we offer,” Khirat said.

“It has a carnivalesque feel as the streets are reserved for pedestrians only and there is an area with music and dance shows while restaurants open the doors and showcase their culinary arts.”

With cafés stretching along the beach and a historical fortress over­looking the coast, La Goulette is an iconic Tunisian town full of beauty and meaning.