The Ribat of Sousse

Page update - Jan 31, 2023

The Ribat of Sousse is one of the oldest Arab structures in Tunisia. It is a fortress that has survived since the 9th century without major changes or destruction. You can see the ancient fortification art and climb the high tower from which you can see the port and the whole medina of Sousse.

The prices, timetable, and other information on this page have been updated in January 2023.

What is a ribat?

Ribats are Islamic fortress-monasteries. Ribats were built in the border areas and on the coast of North Africa. Ribats were served by marabouts - soldiers-monks who were engaged in the study of the Quran, spiritual practices and warfare. It was believed that the marabout way guaranteed entry into paradise.

The word "ribat" comes from the word "rabata", which translates from Arabic as "guarded by a garrison".

The Ribat was not only a fortress but also a religious center. Prisoners of war were kept there and converted to Islam, and sacred texts and relics were kept there. Ribats were always a stopover for pilgrims. In particular, the Ribat of Sousse was where pilgrims stopped and waited for the ships that were taking them to Egypt before they traveled overland to Mecca.

Ribats eventually lost their importance for defense, but became centers of education and theology. In particular, the Ribat of Sousse became a madrasa.

What tourists see there

It is the oldest structure in Sousse. Its age is not precisely determined, but it was definitely already standing in its present form in 821. Some parts of the building are probably much older. It is one of the oldest Islamic monuments in Tunisia.

The main value of the Sousse Ribat is that it has survived unchanged, unlike the Monastir Ribat which has been rebuilt and reconstructed many times. It was only in 1722 that part of the arcade was restored. It is the brightest sample of the walls and defense structures of ancient times in Tunisia.

The tower at the eastern corner of the fortress (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge) is open to the public. You can see the Medina of Sousse from above and you can see the houses of the modern city.

The Ribat of Sousse is a masterpiece of fortification, although the size of the fortress is small. It's an example of how an effective defensive structure can be built with a minimum of resources.

And there's a clean toilet inside, which is a problem to find in the medina.

How to get there

From the hotels in the resorts of El Kantaoui and Sousse, the best way to get there is by taxi. From El Kantaoui, it will cost 6-12 dinars. From the hotels in Sousse, it will cost 3-6 dinars. For the current exchange rates, see our page "Money in Tunisia". For the cab fares, see our review "Taxi fares in Tunisia". Another option is to take a louage (shared minibus) for 1 dinar per person.

If taking a taxi, say the phrase "Ribat Sousse" to the driver to make sure he understands the exact destination. We strongly advise against saying the word 'medina', as Sousse's medina is large and the driver will bring you to wherever it is convenient for him.

Finding the ribat is very easy. Be guided by its tower which is clearly visible from everywhere (see photo near, click on photo to enlarge).

From the hotels in Mahdia and Skanes (Monastir), it is easy to take the train to Sousse. Read our review "Metro Sahel". After arriving in Sousse, you can take a taxi (instructions above) or walk straight from the station to the medina wall, turn right and walk along the wall to the entrance to the medina.

From the hotels in Hammamet, Yasmine Hammamet, Nabeul, you can take a bus or train, although it is quite tiring. A simpler option is a sightseeing tour of Sousse, which shows the Ribat, the museums, and the Sousse Mosque.

From the hotels in Djerba or Zarzis, it is too long and expensive to get to Sousse on your own, and there are no the sightseeing tours.

Ticket price

The ticket costs 7 dinars. See the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge.

Children under 6 years old are free of charge.

Photo permit for 1 dinar.

For the current exchange rates, please see our review "Money in Tunisia".

Opening hours

Winter season (16.09-31.03): from 8 am to 5 pm (8-00 to 17-00).

Summer season (01.04-15.09): from 8 am to 7 pm (8-00 to 19-00).

A bit of history

The construction date of the Ribat of Sousse is not certain. An inscription in Kufic script has been found there, which tells about the restoration and completion of the tower by Emir Ziyadat Allah I of the Aghlabid dynasty in 821. Click to see the photo of the inscription.

The fortress probably existed before then. The site was very important to the Arabs as it has a convenient harbor and is only 60 km (37 miles) from Kairouan, the first Arab capital of Tunisia.

In pre-Islamic Tunisia, the site was occupied by the Byzantine (previously Roman) city of Hadrumet, on which the Arabs built the city of Sousse. It is most probable that the Ribat was not built from scratch. Some historians disagree. Some think it was built on the site of a Byzantine fortress and some say it was a Christian basilica.

It is widely believed that the construction of the Ribat was begun by Yazid ibn Hatim al-Muhallabi, a deputy of the Abbasid dynasty, in the years 771-778.

The building materials for the fortress were taken from the ruins of the town of Hadrumet. The Great Mosque and the walls and houses of Sousse's medina were built in the same way.

Ribat was part of the coastal defense system that protected the still young city of Sousse from Byzantine naval attacks. Also, the emirs of the Aghlabid dynasty used Sousse to prepare for the invasion of Sicily in 827.

A few centuries later, the Ribat gave way a leading defense role to the Casbah (fortress in the corner of the medina, now the Archaeological Museum of Sousse). The massive walls of the medina of Sousse made the Ribat almost useless for military purposes.

The Ribat was not rebuilt to adapt to the new realities of coastal combat, but it remained a religious center. That is why it has been preserved in its original form. We do not know the details of military life in the Ribat. Numerous sources tell only about the saints who lived there, but not about military activities.

In 1722, the Ribat underwent a minor reconstruction and became a madrasa (religious college). After the establishment of the protectorate in 1881, it became a place of detention under quarantine. After the declaration of Tunisian independence, it became an open-air museum.

What to see

The interesting part starts already at the entrance to the ribat. Note the very narrow and tall gate, which barely allows two enemy fighters to enter. The gate is made of Roman columns, taken obviously from the ruins of Hadrumet.

Behind the gate is a small hall where the defenders met the enemy who broke through the gate, guaranteeing themselves a numerical advantage. There is now a metal detector frame, a cash register, and a small souvenir shop. See a small gallery of photos below.

The Ribat of Sousse is square, with each wall 38 meters (125 feet) long. This form of fortress is found everywhere in Tunisia, probably borrowed from the Byzantines.

Passing through the hall, you enter the central courtyard. Along the perimeter of the courtyard is an arcade, followed by a corridor. Along the corridor are the entrances to the cells where the marabouts lived and where the storehouses were located. You can see with your own eyes the very ascetic conditions in which the marabouts lived.

The second floor is similar, but there are no cells on the southern side. In the center of the hall, in the wall, there is a semi-circular recess. This is the mihrab where the Imam prayed. Like the gate, the mihrab is surrounded by columns of evidently Roman origin.

Stone tablets with inscriptions are displayed in some cells. Naturally, only massive objects are shown, lest they be carried away by visitors.

On the roof (considered the third floor) are the entrance to the tower and seven bastions. Throwing machines were set up there. Be careful on the roof, there are low fences.

The tower is the main attraction for tourists. Its exterior resembles the minarets of Abbasid-era mosques, a style that was popular in North Africa from the late 8th century. Such towers were called nadors and served as observation posts, beacons and signal towers at the same time. The nador of the Ribat of Sousse also served as the minaret of the neighboring Grand Mosque.

There are 76 steps leading up to the top. The way is very narrow, but two people can separate in it if they are enough thin. There is not much room at the top, so we recommend taking your time. If you see another person upstairs or hear a voice, it is best to wait for the person to come back down.

The upper platform has very low sides. Be extremely careful. Taller tourists will be advised to walk squatting. From the top, you can look out over the Medina of Sousse and other parts of the city. You can try to see your hotel. Many tourists do that.

And that is the end of the ribat visiting.

Important and useful tips

- If you walk forward after leaving the ribat, you will reach the El Kobba museum and the bazaar in the medina;

- If you get hungry, the best place to satisfy your hunger is near the ribat. There is a record concentration of cafes and restaurants there;

- If visiting the ribat with children, be very careful. There are low fences everywhere and in many places there are simply no fences. Watch out for children. For safety, read our pages "Tips for tourists with children in Tunisia" and "Dangers for tourists in Tunisia".

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