Tataouine, Tunisia

Festival of the Ksour: Sand Castles That Don't Collapse

day at ksar
Natives leave Ksar Ouled Soultane.
elder hug
Two elders greet each other at Ksar Oule Soultane.
berber fashion
Women exhibit Berber folklore in Ksar Douiret.
desert cavalry
A group of riders lined up in front of the stands of the Tataouine stadium where the Festival of the Ksour took place.
Tunisian jockey before the start of an equestrian event.
battle enactment
Knights enact ancient battles in the desert.
desert runners
Prizes are awarded to the winners and participants of an athletics event at the Festival dos Ksours.
Libyan warrior exhibits Tuareg war art.
desert scenery
The desert seen from Ksar Douiret, on the verge of a sandstorm.
discreet conversation
Driver of the delegation of politicians speaks on the phone in a corner of Ksar Ouled Soultane.
Back home
Women descend from Ksar Douiret to the surrounding plain, on their way to their village.
Colorful life
Woman exhibits weaving skills during cultural exhibitions held in Tataouine.
forced reverence
Ksours Festival attendees praise then Tunisian President Ben Ali, ousted during Tunisia's Arab Spring revolution.
berber conviviality
Natives of the Tataouine region pose against an interior facade of Ksar Ouled Soultane.
horse stunts
Rider gallops backwards to Berber music.
Tuareg warrior, part of a Libyan entourage that participated in the festival.
simulated everyday
Two Berber natives observe the work of an extra blacksmith at Ksar Ouled Soultane.
The ksour were built as fortifications by the Berbers of North Africa. They resisted Arab invasions and centuries of erosion. Every year, the Festival of the Ksour pays them the due homage.

Tataouine gained new life.

Thousands of souls from the Sahara desert, from the four corners of the Maghreb and the Egypt, settled in the village

They arrived by land, in vans covered with fine dust. Or on short flights from neighboring nations. They formed disorganized and noisy retinues that settled all over the city and surroundings, from Bedouin-inspired tents to the most luxurious hotels.

The natives of Tataouine are used to this annual invasion of visitors. Easily identify the origins of visitors. They greet us with effusive salamales and repeated handshakes.

The World (By This Time Even More Extraterrestrial) of Tataouine

We are not that far from Europe but these Sahara gates still establish a frontier of exoticism that was famous in colonial times.

The French left Tunisia in the third month of 1956. Through Gallic lands, “aller to Tataouine” continues to mean getting lost at the end of the world. Without knowing how or why, George Lucas managed to ridicule the expression.

Filmed a substantial part of episode IV of Star Wars in the surrounding region. When he had to name a remote exoplanet from the sands for the saga, he chose Tatooine.

Knights, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

A group of riders lined up in front of the stands of the Tataouine stadium where the Festival of the Ksour took place.

As we advance from the center of the provincial capital to the hippodrome that would host various festival events, Tataouine really seems to us from another world.

A vast zone of low pressures resists over central and north Africa. It extends from the interior of Senegal, Mali and Niger to Sicily and Sardinia.

The accomplice cloud cover steals the blazing sun from much of the Sara. Simultaneously, gales rattle the desert dunes and paint the atmosphere of southern Tunisia a somewhat Martian sepia tone.

ksar guermessa, festival of ksour, tataouine, tunisia

The desert seen from Ksar Douiret, on the verge of a sandstorm.

Athletics, Horse Racing, Stunts, Dances and the like

Zulia, an event hostess, welcomes us in front of the racecourse. After the due greetings, he makes a point of warning: “A race is about to start. Walk around freely but be careful with the animals. Some feel the excitement in the air and may kick or bite.”

We don't take it too seriously. we circulate among camels and horses to which owners and jockeys give ultimate care. A veterinarian on duty inspects them thoroughly and takes notes in a pad with pre-formatted pages. It is clear that the tests are not for fun.

Horse, Jokei, ksour festival, tataouine, tunisia

Tunisian jockey before the start of an equestrian event.

We pass to the interior of the enclosure. We find the benches full of a warm and curious public that follows the arrival of the first classified in a half-marathon at the finish line. We are hindered by outlaw camels who insist on not leaving the track.

Prizes are delivered with pomp and circumstance.

Award-winning Athletics, ksour festival, tataouine, tunisia

Prizes are awarded to the winners and participants of an athletics event at the Festival dos Ksours.

Afterwards, mounted acrobatic displays begin that excite the crowd: horsemen galloping backwards. Others who hang from them and pick up dirt from the ground. All to the sound of drums and desert flutes played live. All narrated live by an accurately equipped radio reporter.

Meanwhile, an army of jilaba-clad pedestrians takes over the enclosure. They line up at the far end of the bench holding red and white flags – the colors of Tunisia.

They watch the action offered by riders galloping from one side to the other, simulating ancient historic battles that Lawrence of Arabia would rather not have missed.

Riders at Gallop, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Knights enact ancient battles in the desert.

Without expecting it, we became victims of confrontation.

Dangerous Dry Gunpowder Shots and the Libyan Tuareg

The knights had been ordered to fire when they crossed in front of the center of the bench.

Some do it against the ground, too close to photographers and the public. We got kind of deaf.

As if that wasn't enough, we are hit by small stones thrown from the ground that cause slight wounds to the neck and face. These splinters and leave a spectator to cry, with momentary loss of vision.

We recovered from the inconvenience. A sarcastic comment from an English colleague brings us back in good spirits: “That's what desert warriors are! If they'd let them use gunpowder seriously, by this time we were all dead!”

Shortly thereafter, a Libyan Tuareg militia enters the scene. Their black outfits, red shoulder bags and turbans and veils that only reveal their eyes impress us.

Warriors, Libyans, ksour festival, tataouine, tunisia

Libyan warrior exhibits Tuareg war art.

We feel intimidated but, at the same time, relieved. As weapons, they used only daggers. Only with bad luck would we suffer further damage.

An Awaited Presidential Apotheosis

In recent years and until the Tunisian revolution, the great event at the hippodrome was closed in apotheosis.

It was carried out by a crowd of participants and extras who showed the public a framed photograph of former President Ben Ali, amid waving Tunisian flags and shouts of unconditional support. This, while the on-call announcer ensured a long standing ovation.

Viva Presidente, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Ksours Festival attendees praise then Tunisian President Ben Ali, ousted during Tunisia's Arab Spring revolution.

The holding of the 2012 Ksour Festival was in doubt. It was recently confirmed by representatives of the Asociación des Diplomés du Superieur, for the first time in charge of supervising the organization. Ben Ali was no longer present, neither in person nor in pictures.

The following day, the Festival of the Ksour becomes itinerant. Get away from the city and visit the ksour considered the most important in the region.

Horse acrobatics, ksour festival, tataouine, tunisia

Rider gallops backwards to Berber music.

The Fascinating Tour of the Ksour Festival

We traveled almost 20 km. Until we come across a crowd of pedestrians on the side of the road.

Like us, they were on their way to Guermassa's ksar, set in an extraterrestrial setting that was even more and more orange, interspersed with distant plateaus. The climb to the top of the hill makes it clear why the Berber people installed there your fortification.

Women going out Ksar, festival of ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Women descend from Ksar Douiret to the surrounding plain, on their way to their village.

On the way, they inform us that the villagers' show is about to begin. We arrived exhausted but just in time to hear the music introduce the dances, performed by a chorus of women dressed in haiks folklore and red scarves covering heads crowned by golden tiaras.

Indifferent to human agitation, a haughty camel, also decked out, lurks above this group.

Women group, ksour festival, tataouine, tunisia

Women exhibit Berber folklore in Ksar Douiret.

At ground level, two elders in white jilabas perform a strange war dance.

They circulate in one direction and the other. The old shotguns they keep at the ready remind us of clock hands. The way they handle them, the old warriors renew dramatic taunts and slow, restrained pursuits.

When the exhibition ends, we move to ksar Ouled Soultane.

Saida Ksar Ouled Soltane, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Natives leave Ksar Ouled Soultane.

Ouled Soultane's Sumptuous Sand Castle

Ouled Soultane is one of the most sumptuous sand castles in the Maghreb. It groups two structures of ghorfas (food storage cells) built at different heights (XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries) and spread over four or five floors.

Ksar, Ouled, Soltane, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Natives of the Tataouine region pose against an interior facade of Ksar Ouled Soultane.

Here too, villagers organized a warm welcome to visitors. It includes tasting of traditional food, music and dances and a reenactment of what is believed to have been the existence of the Berber tribes that inhabited the ksar.

Two other elders meet. They exchange an endless hug that seems to put an end to a long separation.

Hug, festival of ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Two elders greet each other at the ksar Oule Soultane.

We ask the reason for such emotion to a French-speaking organizer.

The host proudly explains to us: “It has never been easy around here. Tunisia is now predominantly Arab but was once Berber. From the time the first Islamic armies arrived here, incursions became frequent and, always under threat, the tribes got used to giving value to friendship and solidarity.

These were values ​​that were never lost again. These greetings are just one of their expressions. Don't think that they only happen these days.”

We followed the festival until the end and understood better the honor because the event is governed: in spite of all the adversities, the indigenous peoples of the Sahara did not only save the ksour.

Teela, festival of the ksour, tataouine, tunisia

Woman exhibits weaving skills during cultural exhibitions held in Tataouine.

By keeping their castles in the sand, they preserved their identities.

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Winter White
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Dark day

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