Crowned with a Ksar

Tataouine, Tunisia
Jan 15, 2019

The rugged landscape around Tataouine is riddled with hillocks, many of them topped with what looks like a cardboard cutout with jagged edges. Each is a ksar built by the Berbers in the 13th or 14th century. Built as fortified granaries, some incorporated entire villages and trailed along the ridgeline. The villages have long since moved down to the plains and the hills wear the ksour like crowns. Some like Chenini still have some inhabitants but Douiret is totally abandoned and slowly merges into the hillside.

Partway up the hillside in the old village of Chenini is the Mosque of the Seven Sleepers. With its leaning tower and Berber patterns on its pillars, it is certainly picturesque. Visitors are enthusiastically told the tale of seven sleepers and a couple of niches in the wall are pointed out dramatically as the walled-up cave where they slept for three hundred years. Not only were the men able to live to grand old ages, they must have had the gift of being in two places simultaneously, because near Ephesus in Turkey is another cave with a curiously similar tale. Here however, they had yet another talent; they continued to grow as they slept, hence the oversized tombs.

One of the largest of the Berber granaries is the Ksar Ouled Soltane. Extensively renovated, it makes for an awe-inspiring sight in the dying rays of the sun. There are two vast courtyards linked by a door. Each courtyard is lined with walls of ghorfas, the barrel-shaped storage spaces for grain. Three or four storeys high, they have narrow staircases that link one level with another. I do mental gymnastics trying to figure the amount of grain it could store and how such an arid area could produce enough grain to fill all the ghorfas.

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