The Ribat Sousse.
We visited the Ribat at Sousse which is just beside the medina. A Ribat was a small fort cum monastery which served as a Garrison for the warrior monks. A collection of Ribats were built along the coastal region to protect Tunisia from Invasion. The Ribat in Sousse is one of the oldest Ribats in Tunisia and the original building was built in 796 but was demolished and rebuilt in 821 AD.
The fort is square in shape and there is only one entrance to the Ribat. The building looks quite plain and at each corner there is a small round lookout tower. On one corner there is a massive minaret which is over 35 meters high which was used not only as a look out post but also used for the muezzin to call people to prayer. The view from the top is quite extensive looking out to sea and also all over Sousse. Inside and outside the fort it is unadorned by decoration and appears quite bland. There is a large central courtyard surrounded by the thick walls of the fort.
On the second floor of the fort there is a large prayer hall and the small cells that housed the army and monks which were used as their bedrooms and prayer rooms. Typically each fort would accommodate around about 50 soldiers. There was no actual refectory or kitchen place inside the fort the monks and soldiers would have to prepare their own meals in the main courtyard. The soldiers divided their time between fighting and monastic studies of the Quran in the tiny little cells that were also their bedrooms.
The third floor of the Ribat was the perimeter wall of the fort which was quite pleasant to walk around giving views over the local medina and surrounding streets. I went up one of the lookout towers but the little turret style décor was only about 2 foot high which made me feel quite queasy due to there being no safety rails. It certainly is not suitable for children to go up. I think that if it were in this country you would not be permitted to go up it at all unless there were some very extensive safety features installed it would therefore be out of bounds completely. The Nador which is a watch tower soars high in the sky and it is possible to mount the 76 steps to reach the top which gives super views over the town of Sousse. The stairs are spiral and it is quite narrow to go up the tower so for those who are claustrophobic and suffer from vertigo it is not a good idea to go up.
While we were there we were introduced to the fort by a professor from Sousse University. Whilst he was supposed to be giving a talk on the Ribat its function and its uses it actually turned into a talk about Islam which went down like a lead balloon for some people in the room. However that being said the little bit of information he did give about the Ribat and life in the fort was quite interesting. Personally I would have liked him to explain more about the life and times of the Ribat as I understand although it was used as a military fort it also doubled up as a monastery, a hospice and a hostel and caravanserai for travelling merchants and their camel trains.
Would I recommend a visit?
If you staying in Sousse or nearby I think it is inevitable that you will visit the Medina. The Ribat is right beside the Medina overlooking the shops and bazaars that form the Medina and the fortified town. Be warned though that the Ribat is typically Islamic and there is no decoration to speak of internally and is pretty much a bare building of sand coloured stone!