Posted by: travelrat | August 4, 2008


Monastir 10th June 2008


If you think that ‘Monastir’ sounds like ‘monastery’, you’re probably wondering, as I am, if there’s any connection between the two words. In the Middle Ages, there was an important Muslim religious community here, and it was guarded by the Ribat, or old fortified barracks, which, after the medina, is one of the sights to see.

It was rather a performance to get to Monastir. First, we took the land train to Souss. These land trains seem to be popping up all over the Mediterranean coast, and the route wasn’t very inspiring. It led away from the severely-gardened resort areas of El Kantaoui, and through the suburbs. Souss itself has one or two rather garish discos and night-clubs starting to make an appearance, and, if the City Fathers don’t keep a grip on it, it could become another Faliraki.

We didn’t stay in Souss very long, for we intended to return on the following Sunday, which is market day. We caught the Metro to Monastir. It is a metre-gauge diesel railway; Tunis has a mixture of standard-gauge and metre-gauge railways, which makes things rather awkward in places. They told us at the hotel that ‘Metro’ is a bit of a misnomer, because nowhere does it go underground. However, I don’t think that’s any kind of criterion for the name; as far as I know, the Newcastle Metro doesn’t go underground, either.

It’s a bit dirty, and smells slightly of diesel fuel, but it runs frequently, and is inexpensive. And, although the windows are mainly curtained to keep out the sun, you see a lot more of Tunisia than you would cocooned in an air-conditioned coach. You get to really meet people too … we spoke to one or two people who seemed genuinely interested in where we came from, and how we liked their country.

One gentleman was even kind enough to compliment me on my French … and that hasn’t happened since I left school.

In 1978, they made many scenes for the film The Life of Brian in the Ribat, which they used to represent ancient Jerusalem. I wish I hadn’t known that. Instead of concentrating on the history of the fort, I kept imagining Terry Jones appearing at each window, screeching ‘He’s not the Messiah! He’s a very naughty boy”.They charge a dinar per person per day to take photographs within the complex, so what must they have charged a film crew? They probably spent the money on the site, for Michael Palin, in his book Sahara, said that the place was now much more cleaned up and sanitised than it was when he visited to make Brian in 1978. Apparently, an abandoned set for an even earlier biblical epic stood there for many years, but it’s now been demolished to make way for some nice gardens.

The view from the top of the look-out tower is superb, and well worth it for the rather tortuous climb up the spiral staircase, and for the dinar for the photographic permit.



  1. What an interesting post. And of course, my ears perked up when I read they filmed ‘Brian’ there. I learn so much from your blog. I hope you get a lot of positive feedback because I find a lot of what you write to be invaluable!

  2. Watch this space! There’s more film locations to come.

  3. I can not get over how many amazing places you visit. I’m incredibly jealous! I can’t believe someone complimented you on your French. I’m sure your French is better than mine (I only know phrases and according to my French friends, I speak French with a Spanish accent) but by complimenting you, I can tell that the fellow obviously wasn’t French. And The Life of Brian was hilarious!

  4. A well-known French saying is ‘T’as l’accent d’une vache espanole!’ … ‘You have the accent of a Spanish cow!’

    One of my jokes is that the French can’t understand my francais, but Belgians, Swiss, Moroccans, Lebanese and Tunisians can!

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