10 sights of Mahdia worth seeing
Today we will talk about the city of Mahdia, Tunisia. The sights of this coastal Tunisian city are sure to appeal to those of us who like to vacation in quiet, traditional resorts. Mahdia is an old-fashioned town in which the air is literally saturated with an atmosphere of measuredness and tranquility.
Looking at its cozy alleyways with whitewashed apartment buildings and cafes along the rocky cliff, you realize: this is the place where you can just relax and enjoy the fresh sea air and watch the measured and unhurried flow of local life.
In short, the rest here will be more than excursions, trips and museums. For those who crave adventure, Mahdia offers the best places in Tunisia for diving with a variety of options for both experienced divers and beginners. Most tourists, however, will still be happy just to wander around the medina (old town), take in the local views from the top of Borj el Kebir, and just enjoy a few days of quiet coastal life.
Black Gate | Photo: wikimedia.
The entrance to the old city of Mahdia is guarded by the mighty Skifa el-Kahla (Black Gate), sometimes also called Bab Zuila. The length of the gate passage is 44 meters. Earlier, the gate was connected to the city wall, which was 175 meters long.
This wall crossed the peninsula and today its remains are one of the main architectural landmarks of Mahdia. The current gate is not an original Fatimid structure; it was rebuilt in 1554 from the remaining stones after the destruction of Mahdia by the Spanish.
Only the bases themselves remain of the original round towers on polygonal bases that crowned the northern and southern extremities of the wall. From the top of the gate tourists can enjoy a beautiful view of the medina. The entrance to the staircase that leads to the roof is on the inside of the gate. The gate itself leads to Obeid Allah al-Mahdi Street, where there is a small covered bazaar. On the opposite side of this street is the entrance to Dar el Khimma, a former mosque that today houses a small silk museum.
The address is Skifa el Kahla, Mahdia, Tunisia.
The Great Mosque
Great Mosque. | Photo: Walid Mahfoudh / Flickr.
Built in 921 AD by Mahdia’s founder, Obaid Allah al-Mahdi, the Great Mosque of Mahdia was the first Fatimid mosque modeled after the ancient Sidi Oqba in Kairouan. It was originally connected on two sides to the city walls, but when the Spanish destroyed the fortifications, the building was also badly damaged.
In fact, only its northern facade remains intact. The building, which replaced the original mosque, met the 20th century in an extremely dilapidated condition and finally collapsed in the 1960s. A meticulous restoration plan was then implemented which resulted in the Great Mosque reappearing at its old site exactly as seen by the subjects of the Fatimid dynasty.
The entrance to the mosque is through a monumental doorway, originally used only by the caliph himself. Behind the doorway is a large horseshoe arch and on either side of it are high niches, the shallower ones at ground level and the deeper ones a little higher. The 42-meter courtyard is surrounded on three sides by a colonnade with horseshoe arches. This leads to the nine-aisle prayer hall, which has the same layout as its prototype in Kairouan.
Address: Great Mosque of Mahdia, Mahdia, Tunisia.
The Borj el-Kebir Fortress
Borj el-Kebir fortress.| Photo: wikimedia.
The giant square silhouette of the Borj el-Kebir can be seen walking along the promenade from the Grand Mosque. This massive fortress, built in 1595, sits conveniently on the highest point of the peninsula and is rightly considered the most recognizable landmark of the city.
In the 10th century, there was a palace on the site of the fortress, built by Obaid Allah al-Mahdi in honor of the founding of the city, although today almost nothing remains of that construction (except for some fragments of masonry at the place, where the entrance was located). In the courtyard of the citadel is a small mosque. The tower in the southwest corner of the fort is distinguished by two reliefs, which are believed to have been “inherited” from an earlier building.
The main attraction of the fort is the magnificent view from its battlements. From here you can explore Mahdia, the old harbor and Cape Africa.
Address: Bordj el Kebir, Mahdia, Tunisia.
Mahdia’s long sandy beach, stretching from Taieb Mihiri Avenue to an area called Zone Touristique, attracts locals and tourists alike. No matter how rosy you think Mahdia is, you can walk along its tranquil beach and decide what to see and do there. There are several hotels in Zone Touristique but you needn’t worry, there are no areas reserved for private holidays, so you can enjoy your stroll without being disturbed.
The address is LTI-Mahdia Beach, Zone Touristique, Mahdia, Tunisia.
Old Harbor area
Old Harbor area. | Photo: wikimedia.
Between the Borj el-Kebir fortress and the lighthouse, located on the eastern tip of the peninsula, is the old harbor with a cemetery and interesting ruins. Near the lighthouse there are several 10th century Shiite vaults and the remains of some old cisterns.
On the south side of the peninsula there used to be a harbor (Port Fatimid), which was probably in use during the Punic Wars and had a koton (inner harbor), which was so characteristic of the ports of Carthage. At the height of Mahdia’s prosperity under the Fatimid dynasty, the harbour’s narrow inlet was protected by two watchtowers (built into the city walls and later linked to it by an arch).
Address: Ancien Port Fatimide, Mahdia, Tunisia.
Diving shipwreck sites.
Mahdia is one of the best places for diving in all of Tunisia, so lovers of exploring maritime mysteries are sure not to be disappointed. In 1907, divers discovered the remains of a Roman sailing ship sunk in 86 B.C. off Cape Africa, proving that the harbor has been in use since classical times.
Its cargo, which included reliefs from Piraeus and a large number of marble columns, clearly hinted that the ship was coming from Piraeus (today the territory of Greek Athens). The objects recovered from the underwater excavations are now preserved in the Bardo Museum in Tunis. Although it is not possible to explore the shipwreck itself, there are the remains of a number of more modern vessels (mostly sunken during World War II) resting on the seabed, which can be explored by booking a special diving tour.
Address: Subway Diving Center Mahdia, Mahdia, Tunisia.
The local Medina (in other words, the old town) is a small and cozy neighborhood with old white-washed houses and narrow streets. A walk through this place is an ideal way to understand the true character of this quaint city.
They don’t want to give Medina up to tourists, so there are not as many souvenir stores as in Djerba or Hammamet, but that is its “zest”. This traditional neighborhood is the heart and soul of the city, where locals still live.
Address: Medina Mahdia, Rue El Kaem Vieille Ville Medina, Mahdia 5100, Tunisia.
Ruins of ancient Salakta. | Photo: wikimedia.
The promontory of Ras Bou Tria, 52 kilometers south of Mahdia, is accessible by a coastal road that goes through the town of Melloulêche. This windy and extremely scenic stretch of coastline bears the memory of ancient Achalla, and recent excavations have uncovered the foundations of Roman houses as well as the ruins of an amphitheatre and a bathhouse.
Closer to Mahdia itself, only 14 km from the town near the small town of Xour-Essaf, are the ruins of the ancient Salacta. This was most probably the local port through which live lions were ferried to fight with humans in the grandiose and extremely cruel gladiatorial tournaments at El Djem. The rest of the ruins are rather poorly preserved and will probably appeal only to the most fond of history.
Address: Musée Salakta, Salakta, Tunisia.
Mahdia Museum | Photo: wikimedia.
On the first floor of this modest museum you can see three magnificent mosaics: an amazingly realistic face of the Gorgon (3rd century A.D.), a delightful depiction of Orpheus charming animals (late 2nd century A.D.), and an interesting mosaic with a floral design.
Higher up is the Treasure and Jewellery Room, in which ancient manuscripts and jewelry are kept, as well as the Trésor de Chebba (109 gold Byzantine coins) and the Trésor de Rougga (268 gold Roman coins).
Address: Musée Mahdia, Avenue Farhat Hached, Mahdia, Tunisia.
Sitting in the shade of a sprawling tree café in Cairo Square, you can enjoy the beautifully decorated arches of the Mustafa Hamza Mosque and its majestic octagonal minaret. The mosque was built in 1772, when the square itself was the center of the rich Turkish quarter of the city.
Even today you can still see several old Mahdi houses with beautiful portals that have come down to us in almost unchanged form from those very days.
I was struck by this city, as if taken from the paintings of French impressionists. Indeed, Mahdia left only the most pleasant impressions in my heart.
Founded by the Phoenicians, Mahdia was a pirate stronghold on the Mediterranean coast. Yes, it was once home to bloodthirsty pirates who came here to spend their loot in local taverns. Mahdi means “Savior” in Arabic, the name of a caliph who established the capital of his caliphate here.
Now Mahdia is a quiet Mediterranean town with a small population. I liked the clean narrow streets of Medina (Old City), charming beaches with white sand (they seemed to me the best of those I’ve been in Tunisia) and warm sea, and seascapes that evoke peace and tranquility.
As a resort, Mahdia would suit more couples in age or families with children. There are few hotels and therefore few tourists, so you can enjoy a pleasant vacation in the company of loved ones.
I also recommend those travelers who do not stay in Mahdia itself, but in another resort, to visit this town if possible. It is here where you can feel that unforgettable relaxing atmosphere of the Mediterranean, when it seems that life is beautiful and that it never comes to an end.
How to get there
There are no airports in Mahdia itself: the town is too small. Tourists fly either to Enfidha, to Carthage or to Monastir airport. From there you can take a bus, a cab or rent a car.
The nearest airport to the city is near the town of Monastir, about 40 minutes away. This airport name Habiba Bourguiba. It receives only a few Russian charters and charters from Eastern Europe. The airport building is old and amenities are minimal. Nearby are the salt lakes, home to pink flamingos and herons.
A little further, near the town of Hammamet, an hour and a half drive, is Enfidha airport. It is newer and busiest for Russian charters.
Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Alitalia, Air France and so on fly to Tunisia. Note that all these flights have connections that may last from 30 minutes to 12 hours or more. Tickets cost from 400 EUR. In the season, from May to September, charter flights fly to Tunisia almost daily. Tickets for such flights will cost 150-200 EUR. Travel time is about 4 hours. See all actual variants and prices on any aggregator site, for example here.
In more details about how to get to Tunisia I told in this article.
I want to warn you right away that in terms of comfort the train is far from “number one”, and their website occasionally does not work. Trains can be late, so it is better to check the schedule at the station beforehand. Also it may change (days and time).
If you are coming from Habib Bourguiba Airport in Monastir you should take a cab to the train station (15 min, 2.5 EUR), and there take a train to Madhia, which leaves every 40 min. It will take about 1.5 hours to get there. One way ticket costs around 3.5 EUR. You can buy it already at the train station.
There is no direct train connection from Hammamet to Mahdia. First of all take a cab from Enfidha airport to Sousse railway station (40 min, approx. 5 EUR) and from there take a train to Mahdia (approx. 2 hours, approx. 4 EUR).
If you arrive at Carthage airport you have to take a cab to the train station (15 minutes, from 5 EUR), then take a train to Mahdia (about 3.5 hours, from 5 EUR).
From Mahdia railway station to the Tourist area you can again only take a cab (15 min, 2.5 EUR).
From Monastir to Mahdia there are shuttles and buses, but their comfort leaves much to be desired. The price of the ticket is about 4 EUR. The trip takes about 1.5 hours. Firstly we take a cab from airport (15 min, from 2.5 EUR) to a bus stop.
From Hammamet there is also a bus going once a day, ticket price 4 EUR and travel time about 3 hours.
From Enfidha to a bus stop in Hammamet you must take a cab (40 minutes, from 5 EUR).
From bus stop in Madhia you can take a cab to the Tourist area – 15 minutes, starting from 2.5 EUR.
It costs a pretty penny to take a cab from Carthage and Enfidha airports, and plus there’s no guarantee you’ll find a driver who will agree to drive you, because the distances are long: from Carthage to Mahdia – 230 kilometers, from Enfidha – 130 kilometers. From Monastir you can take a cab: it is the closest to Mahdia – 45.5 kilometers. There is no fixed price. The price is as you agree with the driver. It is better to go out of the airport building and bargain with those who stand near it.
For renting a car in Tunisia about 25-30 EUR per day, during the season – 40 EUR. It will be quite difficult to rent a car in the airport (except for Carthage airport, but it will be more expensive there, starting from 35-40 EUR per day). You’ll need only a passport and a license (both Russian and European will do). You can compare prices and choose the best deal here.
If you go by car, you should follow the signs and head in the direction of Kairuan.
By boat or by boat
You can get from Monastir or Sousse to Mahdia by boat or yacht, but it’s a bit pricey: around 750EUR/day. There is no ferry service.
When the season. When is the best time to go
In Mahdia the season begins in late May and lasts until early October. The temperature during the daytime is around +30, +35 ° C, the sea is very warm and sometimes hotter near the beach. In the evening, it gets cooler, +25 ° C on average.
It’s better to travel either at the beginning of June or from the end of August to September: during this time there isn’t that unbearable heat you want to hide indoors, the temperature is high but comfortable, you can swim in peace. Pick up a tour (with airfare, hotel, airport transfer and insurance) to Mahdia can be here.
Mahdia in summer
In summer, Mahdia is very hot. Does not save and light breezes from the sea. The temperature reaches an average of +35 ° C and in the evening is a little cooler. If you go for a walk in town, you must have a hat and a bottle of water in your bag.
Mahdia in Fall
Fall in Mahdia begins in October. During this time, temperatures drop to between +25 and +20°C. It can rain, sometimes very heavily. There are strong, dank winds from the sea that bring piles of sand into the houses.
Mahdia in Spring
Spring begins in mid-March, when the daytime temperatures are gradually getting warmer (up to 25 °C) and the sun appears in the sky more often. In April, the locals are already beginning to swim in the sea, although it is still cool. In May you can go to the beach and swim at your pleasure.
Mahdia in winter
In winter, the average temperature is +12 , +15 ° C. Sometimes there can be sunny days, but often rains and strong winds.
Mahdia – Monthly weather
Colorful neighborhoods. Where to live
In Mahdia itself there are few hotels, only about twenty. And almost all for the pleasure of tourists are located on the first coast line, so to walk to the beach is not far. All hotels are located in the so-called tourist area, which is taken out of the city (except for the hotel Le Phenix in the center).
Among the hotels there are 5 -, and 4 -, and 3-star hotels, which are mixed with each other.
If you can afford it, choose Iberostar Royal El Mansour (the building is impressive with its monumentality and interesting details, such as arches); Vincci Nour Palace (well-equipped rooms, and near a large pool) or Golden Tulip Mahdia Palace (there you can undergo thalassotherapy, and the building has an indoor pool).
The more modest hotels: Topkapi Beach (good for families with small children, it has a nice beach nearby); Club Thapsus (it has a spa and thalassotherapy courses); Les Princes (in a very beautiful Arabian building) or Sirocco Beach (not bad cuisine and infrastructure) will suit people on a small budget. However, the hotels Topkapi Beach and Sirocco Beach have a drawback: locals like to visit them for a drink or two and have fun, but the other two are located near the end of the tourist zone, so the locals do not get there.
If you’re more of a history buff, opt for Le Phenix, which has a pretty decent local restaurant. The couscous is excellent!
For a completely budget holiday suit hotel Dimess – it is modest, but clean, located on the second coastline.
I usually look for hotels on the hotel booking service – here, and you can check if there is a better price here. See private apartment rentals conveniently at this link.
Of course, Mahdia is a small and well-protected by the police, but still, in the evening and at night it is better for girls not to go out alone. Only in company, and preferably with men around.
What are the prices for recreation
On average, the cost of a hotel room is around EUR 470-550 for 1 person for 10-15 days. Depending on the type of hotel room may cost from 16 to 78 EUR per day.
As for food, there are good cafes with terraces (for example, very close to Medina) and a variety of restaurants. The price list at the cafes is as follows: coffee or tea plus dessert will cost 2.5-5 EUR. At a restaurant for a full lunch or dinner you will pay around 17,5-20 EUR.
Cab will cost from 0,5 EUR to 2,5 EUR depending on the distance. But it is unlikely you will need it. The city is not big, almost all places of interest are located in the center or around the Medina, so you can easily get around on foot in less than 1 day.