An authentic town that was built by Muslims and Jews who fled Spain during the Reconquista. The town has a unique 400-year old mosque. Its clock rotates counter-clockwise and its minaret is adorned with two Stars of David.
Testour – Few places in Tunisia portray religious coexistence as wellgood as Testour. In the 17th century, the town was a shelter for thousands of Muslims and Jews fleeing religious persecution, and its monuments reflect the contributions of all religions to its history.
The town, perched on hills overlooking the Mejerda River and surrounded by a great green tapestry of fields and rivers, was initially given the name Tichilla, which means “green grass” in Berber. It retained the name until the 17th century, when Muslims and Jews from Spain arrived.
Rachid Soussi, president of the Society for the Preservation of the Medina of Testour, stated, “It (Testour) is constructed on a hill surrounded by mountains and near three rivers.” Between the 13th and 14th centuries, tribes fought over the town. It ultimately became the capital of these tribes.”
By exploring the alleys of Testour, one notes the unusual construction of the city, which is reminiscent of Moorish architecture.
“Testour’s architecture is heavily influenced by Andalusian design, as many of its residents hail from Spain,” stated Soussi. They imported Spanish architectural traditions. Constructed from the ground up, each roof is adorned with the distinctive brickwork of Spanish homes.”
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The heart of Testour is a tranquil, Western-style plaza bordered by blue and white on either side of the main thoroughfare. Its Arabic style is evident in its arches, tiles, and entrances.
Soussi said the town was established as a haven for religious communities that were banished under Spanish King Philip III in 1609. “For decades, they solely talked Spanish with one other and exercised Spanish traditions,” he added, adding that they implanted Andalusian culture and architecture in the area.
Testour’s old town dates to the 17th century, making it one of Tunisia’s oldest cities. A walk down its streets draws visitors into the world of Andalusia. The Old City’s alleys lead to the Great Mosque, which is a complex amalgamation of architectural styles and a symbol of religious tolerance.
The 17th-century mosque, built by Spanish immigrant Mohamed Tagharinu, is noted for its lack of windows, magnificent domes, semi-circle arches and wealth of decorative inscriptions. It also includes a minaret that is 22.5 meters tall. Soussi explained that Roman stones were used to construct the mosque’s courtyard and pillars. All of these are constructed with Roman elements. The interior of the mosque contains Andalusian arches. It has no windows. The roof is embellished with unique shapes that do not resemble one another. You might contemplate the ceiling for hours.”
For many, the mosque is a symbol of religious tolerance, as its minaret features a rare combination of Islamic forms from many Muslim sects and a Star of David, recognizing the Jewish community’s contribution to the city’s development.
Soussi stated that the mosque’s message of tolerance was unique among those constructed during its time. It was intended to convey that everyone were “welcome in the mosque,” according to Soussi. That it is a mosque open to all. The dome is especially famous for its two-sided Star of David, which dates back 400 years.”
The Great Mosque of Testour boasts a number of remarkable characteristics, including a front made of Spanish-style rubble stone enclosed by rectangular bricks. The most remarkable aspect of the minaret, however, is the magnificent clock that rests on its south-western side.
The digits on the minaret clock are positioned backwards symbolically. It is one of only four clocks in the world to possess such features. Restored in 2014 by Abdel Halim Koundi, an engineer whose relatives were among the Andalusian families who sought safety in Testour, the clock is renowned for operating anti-clockwise.
Koundi stated, “This is the only clock on a mosque in the world.” “The Andalusians may have revived the concept in order to incorporate elements that reminded them of their Spanish hometowns.” The second significant aspect of this clock is that it runs counterclockwise. There are three additional [similar] clocks, one each in Florence, Prague, and Germany. The Testour clock is unique in that its numbers face the center and rotate in the opposite direction. Some claim it was designed such that the numbers face west to honor the residents’ ancestry. Others assert that it was put backward to signify their desire to return to Andalusia’s era.
“All the numbers on the clock face the center. Six would be interpreted as nine… Historically, all clocks were oriented toward the center. “The other three clocks use roman numerals, while the one in Testour uses Arabic,” Koundi explained.
“Our ancestors believed that the clock faces west in order to remind them of their hometowns in Spain whenever they check the time”
Testour is famous for its Malouf Festival, a musical event that commemorates the town’s Andalusian and Moorish roots every June. “Visiting Testour can feel like a voyage back in time to the Andalusian world. Not just the architecture, but also the traditions and music, transport us to that period of history,” Koundi explained.
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