Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Of Bedouins and Berbers: The Sahara Festival and Tamerza

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Of Bedouins and Berbers: The Sahara Festival and Tamerza

Article excerpt

In Douz, Tunisia's gateway to the Sahara, palm trees dramatically outnumber people. The wind sprinkles fine talc sand over the roads until those roads begin to disappear-swallowed up by the desert.

This Dec. 24, however-as it does every winter-this sleepy oasis best known for its spectacularly delicious deglat en nour dates (which will have just been harvested) suddenly swells with locals and tourists alike. The opening ceremonies of the International Festival of the Sahara kick off four days of pageantry, beauty and splendor.

Although nomadic life has nearly disappeared in Tunisia, the love of that culture finds its expression in the Sahara Festival. Proud young men richly attired in carefully embroidered, brightly colored costume ride massive, spirited stallions. Musicians play tunes whose melodies seem to revolve at varying speeds, while men and women in traditional clothing swirl in centuries-old dances. Most famous, perhaps, are the camel races.

Accommodations can be a problem, however, so reservations should be made early. Smaller, less expensive hotels can be found in town; the larger, pricier hotels are in the zone touristique, which is within walking distance of the festival stadium.

While in Douz, stop at the medina. The souq is not a traditional labyrinth, but an open plaza-open, sunny, and bright-with a broad selection of kilims and megoums from southern Tunisia, the rugs and blankets of Berbers and Bedouins.

If you see something you love in Douz, don't wait until you go back to Tunis-buy it. You might (or might not) find something similar in the capital city's vast souq, but you won't find it at the price offered in Douz.

Tamerza Palace

Not far from Douz-but too far to be convenient for the Sahara Festival-is Tamerza. A continuous settlement since the fifth century, the city was abandoned in 1973 after five days of rain and flooding. Now it sits, serene and elegant-Berber ruins in umber, accented by a white mosque. It is as quiet and timeless as the Sahara Festival is raucous, active and immediate.

Situated on a bluff overlooking the ruins is the Tamerza Palace. A handsome, quirky four-star hotel, every room has either a balcony or a large window facing the ruins. Although always fascinating-tour buses pull up regularly so camera-toting tourists can rush to the road's edge to take pictures-the ruins are especially beautiful in the evening's dying light. …

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