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Mahdia is a fishing village that looks enraptured at the Mediterranean as the sea kisses its limits. A place where time seems to pass at a different pace and where anything seems possible from sunrise to sunset.
Home to fishermen, merchants, goldsmiths and silk weavers, charm oozes from this little piece of paradise in Tunisia which has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. Some locals gather on the harbour to watch the boats arriving with their cargoes of sardines, anchovies or mackerel at high tide. Some boats come, while others go, busy with their daily tasks, and others, painted in bright colours, await their turn, rocking patiently in the waves.
From the fort to the cemetery, through the medina with its narrow streets full of charm and along its beautiful beaches of sapphire coloured water: everything in Mahdia breathes tranquility, tradition and history.
Mahdia can boast being Tunisia’s main port while still retaining its traditional air. It is the same port to which, at the begining of the 20th century, local sponge fishermen arrived loaded with beautiful sculptures and other art objects from a shipwreck. Today, the boats dock teeming with fish and those who live from the sea have to repair the broken nets as tomorrow they will be once again out at sea.
When in 912 Ubayd Allah el Mahdi decided to choose a capital for the new Fatimid dynasty, he built fortifications around the city. From this period we can still admire the Skiffa el Kahla, an imposing gateway whose name translates as “the dark porch”. It was the grand entrance to the area where the prince’s palace shared land with the great mosque and artisans’ shops.
Everything is magical and quiet in the chaotic maritime cemetary in Mahdia, where the white graves appear to be arranged haphazardly among the blanket of daisies that arrives every spring. Framed by the walls that surround it and the sea that gives it meaning, shape and peace.
The medina, fiercely protected from the waves, seems to have been anchored in time. Its traditional atmosphere invites you to wander through its narrow streets without a map or a watch, so you can enjoy the delight of coming across the life and activity that hides around every corner.
Every Friday, Skiffa el Kahla transforms into an authentic oriental bazaar with the colours, smells and sounds taken straight from the pages of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. It is time to stop and admire the embroidery and traditional costumes which the local embroiderers will proudly show you. Delicate silks and sumptuous golden brocades appear to have been here for centuries waiting for our eyes to rest on them. This is the richest tradition of Tunisa, showing us its most exotic and oriental side.
For centuries Mahdia was famous for the decoration of its homes, also known as “dar”. In Hamza Street there are a dozen or so beautiful 20th century houses which hide authentic works of art in their interiors. The walls of the “majless” or main rooms are covered by rich golden fabrics and decorated by breathtaking frescoes. The cornices and ceilings are painted with floral motifs, contrasting with the wooden shelves of bright colours on which stands a delicate collection of ceramics, small hand-blown glass perfume bottles and old mirrors with ornate frames.
The port of Mahdia is famous for its sardines caught at nighttime. On summer evenings the horizon that separates the sea from the sky is lit up by the lights belonging to the fishing boats in a beautiful, as well as fascinating and hypnotising, spectacle .
Scuba diving fans can find here a rich and varied marine life which the famous French conservationist Jacques Cousteau fell in love with. There are many who come to Tunisia every year to dive into the coastal waters of Mahdia eager to discover the remains of a long forgotten shipwreck .
Close to Mahdia, golf fans can let loose their passion for this sport on courses where the sea breeze and the sunshine invite you to close your eyes, breathe deeply and simply enjoy every moment.