The Ribat of Sousse is one of the most ancient and best conserved of Islamic landmarks in North Africa. It is an outstanding example that reflects Arabo-Muslim urbanism applied to a coastal town exposed through its history to piracy and dangers from the sea.
Ribat of Sousse: A Historical Fortress
The Ribat of Sousse was principally built in the 8th century under the Aghlabid rule as a fortress against the Christians of neighboring Sicily.
The Sousse Ribat has rectangular enclosure flanked with towers and turrets, pierced with a single gate on the south, an inner courtyard rising over two levels with thirty-five cells opening onto it, a mosque on the southern side of the first story, with its south-east facing tower, added in 821, serving as both a minaret and watch tower, from which signals from the Ribat could be transmitted to Monastir.
- Ribat of Monastir: The Oldest Islamic Fortress in North Africa
- The Great Mosque of Ez-Zitouna — Tunis’ Oldest & Most Significant Mosque
History & Architecture of the Sousse Ribat
The Ribat is made of stone and has a 38-meter-long square base. Its external facades, topped with merlons, are flanked by round towers at the corners, semi-circular towers midway along the walls, and a cylindrical watchtower on a square base on the southeast side. The design of the observation tower was influenced by the Abbasid minarets that spread across the Maghreb at the close of the second century AH (8th century AD).
The monument is accessible via a rectangular entrance porch in the center of the south façade. The military function of this portico is evident from its machicolations and slits, which are reminiscent of the entrances of Abbasid palaces.
Above the porch is a square room topped by a dome supported by squinches and an octagonal tambour, which is believed to be the earliest example of an original oriental structure in Tunisia.
The door leads to a square entrance chamber covered by a stone groined vault with four ribs. From this corridor, one can access a patio enclosed by porticos. Those on the northern side were refurbished in AH 1135 (AD 1725).
Two opposing staircases constructed on the south gallery lead to the first floor, where student chambers line four passageways. On the southern side is the prayer hall, which has 11 naves with barrel vaults. Two parallel chambers are delineated along the qibla wall by cruciform pillars supporting semicircular and basket-handle arches. This wall features six windows and a mihrab. Through a semicircular arch supported by two columns with antique capitals, the mihrab’s cul-de-sac leads into the hall.
Two staircases provide access to the parapet walk, which is a straightforward terrace. After the conflict between the two Mediterranean shores had ended and fighting techniques had evolved, the Ribat’s military function terminated, but its spiritual purpose remained the same. A number of ribats were converted into religious science institutions. In truth, the architectural designs of ribats influenced those of the Tunisian Madrasa.
Visiting the Ribat of Sousse
The Ribat of Sousse is the oldest Islamic monument in North Africa. Its square courtyard is surrounded by arches and cells for provisions.
On the upper floor, there you find the rooms for the ascetics and a small hall of prayer, the oldest in the entire Muslim world.
A murder-hole overlooks the entranceway of the Ribat: it was used to shoot at invaders below.
But its most spectacular part is the tall watchtower. At the time, it made it possible to communicate using light signals. Today, you can climb to the summit and enjoy a wonderful panorama across the whole medina of Sousse, a World Heritage Site.
You May Also Be Interested In:
- El Ghriba Synagogue, Djerba — Africa’s Oldest Synagogue
- El Jem Amphitheatre — The Greatest Roman Colosseum in North Africa
FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn’t look right, click here to contact us!
If you would like to comment on this article or anything else you have seen on Carthage Magazine, leave a comment below or head over to our Facebook page.
And if you liked this article, sign up for the monthly features newsletter. A handpicked selection of stories from Carthage Magazine, delivered to your inbox.