Nabeul, the home of colourful pottery and Tunisian harissa

November 19, 2017
Sugar dolls on display at a shop in Nabeul. (The Tunisian Association for Safeguarding the Town of Nabeul)

Nabeul - Fine, sandy beaches, unique culinary art and colourful pottery and ceramics are all to be ex­plored and savoured in Nabeul, a coastal town in north-eastern Tunisia.
Only 75km from Tunis, Nabeul, which derives its name from the Greek “Neapolis” (new town), is known for its unique pottery, rich spices, sweets and fascinating his­tory.
“The name of the town of Na­beul is reminiscent of other Medi­terranean towns that have similar names like Napoli in Italy and Na­blus in Palestine,” said Chiheb ben Hammamia, general secretary of the Association for the Safeguard of Nabeul. “Like these towns, the name of Nabeul means ‘the new city.’
“Despite (being a new town), it has witnessed the passage of sev­eral civilisations, from Greek to Ro­man, as it was an attraction for its port.”
Nabeul’s museum, in a tradition­al house in the heart of the town, is a great way to gain insight into this history. It displays a collection of artefacts exhibiting both Ro­man and Punic influences and is renowned for its collection of mo­saics, which depict ancient Roman myths and culture.
“Nabeul is one of the most interesting towns today for its rich history… It also has many charac­teristics that cannot be found in other towns; it has a mild weather and is close to the capital, Tunis, and is accessible through many means of transporta­tion,” ben Hammamia said.
Nabeul’s coasts boast beautiful beaches and the town has a market of pottery and spices that captivate visitors.
Pottery, especially, has a long tradition in Nabeul. Its locals have worked in the trade since ancient times, when clay was first available in large quantities. The town’s buildings, walls and markets are adorned with ceramics of colourful motifs and patterns.
“Nabeul has many artisans that are unique… Certain sewing and carpet patterns are unique to Na­beul (and) they say we used to have 100 carpet makers and sewers in the past and those display Andalu­sia’s influences,” ben Hammamia explained.
“In Nabeul, the buildings are sim­ple but the decorations are quite unique. The complex drawings, patterns of ceramics and scriptures used on those building brought an aesthetic beauty and it is inspired by the pottery decoration. The col­ours and patterns of our pottery ex­tend to our buildings too.”
Nabeul’s market includes beau­tiful rush mats and embroidered clothing and showcases a wealth of spices, particularly the country’s renowned harissa (pepper paste), a key ingredient for Tunisian cuisine.
“Across Tunisia, Nabeul is known as the capital of spices. All the spices used in Tunisian culinary are from Nabeul. Even the original recipe of Tunisian harissa is often called Nabeul’s harissa before it be­came an industry,” ben Hammamia said.
Three years ago, the town began “The Celebration of Harissa and Pepper of Nabeul,” a festival at the end of October.
“It is essentially a celebration of the culinary art that uses the Tuni­sian pepper paste or harissa,” ben Hammamia said. “During the fes­tival, there is a competition for all dishes that use harissa.”
“People come to try the dif­ferent kinds of harissa and people learn more about the dishes. We had foreign par­ticipants from Korea and Hun­gary who shared their traditions of spices.
“It is an opportunity for the farmers to share their knowledge and expertise on planting peppers. Also, the festival serves as a way to pre­serve the old recipes as we dedicat­ed a panel for elders to share their culinary experience.”
In addition to culinary art, Na­beul is famous for a special type of sweet that is baked to celebrate the beginning of the Islamic year.
“The town has a special way of celebrating the beginning of the Is­lamic year as many people visit the town to enjoy that celebration. We are known for making sugar dolls in Nabeul in different forms and shapes and it is celebrated with the children,” ben Hammamia said.
With its colourful pottery and ceramics, ancient roots and the unique taste of harissa, Nabeul is a great destination for visitors of all kinds.