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Chenini, Tataouine Governorate (TA: Wilāyat Taṭāwīn; FR: Gouvernorat de Tataouine), Tunisia. March 2024.

Southern Tunisia’s oldest surviving settlements are the hilltop villages built to take advantage of the region’s dramatic rocky outcrops. The outcrops are formed by alternate layers of soft and hard rock, which have weathered into a series of natural terraces. They are dotted with natural caves, which became a place of refuge for Berber tribes who were forced to flee the plains by the Hilalian invasions of the 11th century. The caves were extended into houses by tunneling rooms into the soft rock, and further expanded by the addition of walled courtyards at the front. The highest point of the villages was occupied by a ksar, where the food supplies and valuables of the village were stored, while the village itself stretched out along the terraces below.

The ruins of the original Chenini kala'a, dating from the 12th century AD, stand at the junction of two ridges. The settlement tumbles down and out from this point, built into the rock along a series of small terraces that lead around the steep hillside. The houses consist of a cave room, which has a fenced front courtyard containing one or two more rooms. Doors are made from palm trunk, and the interiors of some cave rooms still contain the faded remnants of decorative paintwork and carvings on the roof. Some of the doorways are very small, requiring extreme flexibility to enter. The ksar is still used to store grain and the village even retains a few occupants (unlike the other villages), although most of Chenini’s inhabitants have moved to the modern settlement of Nouvelle Chenini.

Source: Lonely Planet Tunisia (2007).

Categories & Keywords
Category:Travel and Places
Subcategory:Africa
Subcategory Detail:Tunisia
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