The village of Shenini in Tunisia
The village of Shenini (or "Chenini") is located in South Tunisia, 20 kilometers to the west of the city of Tatavin. It is considered the oldest surviving Berber settlement in the country, some buildings in Shenini date back to the 12th century.
It so happened that Shenini became a very popular stop on tourist routes, and the neighboring villages of Doure and Gurmes were unclaimed tourist industry. If you travel independently, we recommend that you look at all three villages, each has its own "zest". As part of the tour group you will see only Shenini, and then catch a glimpse.
In this article I will tell you in detail how to get here and what to see interesting.
The name "Shenini" (or "Chenini") comes from the Arabic word "chenna" - "mix."
Now it is not known why the village was called that way. There is a suggestion that the locals among the Berbers were famous for a large admixture of the blood of other peoples.
This version has a scientific justification. In 2008, El Manar University (Tunisia) conducted a genetic study of the Berber population of Tunisia. Berbers from Shenini proved to be genetically far from Berbers from Matmata or the Seine.
What is Shenini now?
From the 12th century here was the Berber ksar - a fortified warehouse for storing grain, olive oil and other food products.
Ksar consisted of a vault - small rooms, where food was stored. Usually, one gorfa belonged to one Berber family. The ghouls in Shenin are special, they are a half-cave room. That is, the far part of the room is hollowed out in the rock, and the front part is built of stone and clay.
The doors of the ghoul went out into the big "Khosh" yard, where they kept cattle, and on certain days they organized a bazaar. Khosh was the center of ksara, surrounded on all sides by either a wall or by ghouls, whose walls were part of the fortress walls.
Some of the residents of Shenini now live in such hills, and in the guidebooks of the inhabitants are called troglodytes. This is not entirely correct, since the troglodyte is a cave dweller, and the houses in Shenin are half-cave. How to express yourself? Probably, "half-troglodytes".
But it is better not to use the word "troglodyte" with people from Shenini at all. Most of the population lives in ordinary land houses or in land ghouls.
Ksar was a fortified warehouse, and it was always built in the form of a fortress. Ksar in Shenini was on a hillside, and most of the village is now located on a slope. At the highest point, in the saddle between two rocks is a mosque.
Now in the village there are only about 600 people. Most of them moved to the village of the same name 2 kilometers to the east.
In the village there live elderly people who no longer want to change their way of life. Remained here are artisans and artists who seek inspiration in the traditions of their ancestors. And of course, there are a lot of Berbers making money on tourists - traders, guides, actors, showing traditional way of life.
What do tourists see here?
Here you can see what the Berber ksar looked like (a fortified granary).
Frankly, the ancient buildings in Shenini are a sad sight. Plaster almost everywhere flew off, the stairs to the upper floors collapsed, some of the gorff already no roofs. If you want to see a large and beautiful ksar, then go to Ksar-Ould-Soltan , 20 kilometers to the south of Tatavin.
The main tourist entertainment is the inspection of the dwellings and life of the Berbers. They show a way of life and crafts: grinding flour, cooking couscous, preparing flat Bedouin cakes, which can also be tasted with honey or syrup. A very popular place is the reconstruction of the ancient press for pressing the oil. The mechanism of the press is twisted by a camel, with which tourists like to be photographed.
In Shenini, there are several shops and an impromptu market. The assortment is usual for Tunisia - spices, dates and other dried fruits, Tunisian ceramics , souvenirs. In the workshop on the edge of the village, Berber carpets are made and sold.
The cultural program in Shenin is even better than in Matmata , and there are no annoying local residents, literally by the hand dragging tourists into the houses.
Twenty years ago, in the city of Shenin, the Berber language was universally heard. Now most of the population speaks only Arabic, and the Berber language is spoken only by elderly people. On some excursions, tourists are shown a native speaker and given a Berber speech. Such an attraction is unlikely to be found elsewhere in Tunisia.
Here they shot "Star Wars"
Several ksars in the vicinity of Tatavin were used as natural scenery on the set of the film "Episode 1: The Hidden Menace" of the Star Wars saga. The ksars were well suited to show the slave quarter in the city of Mos-esp of Tatooine. This quarter was spent by the childhood of Eniken Skywalker (future Darth Vader).
One of the satellites of the fantastic planet Tatooine from the Star Wars is named "Shenini" in honor of the village.
In Shenini, most of the groups in the program "Excursion to the Sahara." Many not only watch the village, but also dine at one of the local restaurants. Dinner from Tunisian cuisine : Tunisian salad, chorba, couscous .
The quality of the program depends on the guide and the organizers of the excursion. If there is a good organization and guide, then they are taken to the top of the mosque, the Berber house and crafts will be shown, bread will be presented, press and camels will be shown, the guide will tell a lot of interesting things.
If the organization is not up to par, they just take the photo up and make it to the workshop where they will offer to buy carpets, and at this visit Shenini will end.
To see all the interesting things in Shenini and feel the life of Berbers in full, you need to come alone, and better with an overnight stay.
How to get there by yourself
If you come for one day, then do not recommend to appear in Shenini in the morning, as it is at this time here are drawn tour groups. Come after dinner, in the village there will be almost no tourists.
Public transport in Shenin does not go at all. You can get there by taxi from Tatavin. If you arrive for one day, we recommend not taking any chances and asking the driver to wait at the entrance and take the same taxi back to Tatavin. Tariffs for travel and waiting for a taxi are found on our page " Taxi in Tunisia ".
Usually, a trip to Shenini by taxi costs tourists 40-60 dinars. The current exchange rate is shown in our article " Tunisian Dinar ".
How to get to Tatavin
If you have a rest on Djerba , then it is convenient to get to Tatavin for 10 dinars on the minibus. Take a taxi from the hotel to Houmt Souk (the capital of Djerba), tell the taxi driver the phrase "Humt Suk lyazh stasyon", and he will understand what to deliver to the stop of minibuses. About the minibuses read our review " Marshrutki in Tunisia ".
Holidaymakers in the northern resorts of Tunisia need to reach the city of Gabes. This can be done with a train or bus, read our pages " Tunisian trains " and " Tunisian buses ".
From Gabes you can get to Tatawina by bus or minibus. The bus runs twice a day - at 7 am and 14-30. On the minibus you can sit all day, but you have to wait until the salon is completely filled with passengers, only then the driver will go. Buses and minibuses depart from the bus station "Gare Routie".
Hotel and restaurants
In Shenini there is only one hotel, it's called "Residence Kenza" (in the photo below, click to enlarge). The hotel consists of several Berber houses, the furnishings of the rooms are appropriate.
Residence Kenza has only 10 rooms, each with its own bathroom. The price of accommodation is from 25 to 100 dollars per night. If you are aiming to spend the night in Shenini, it is highly recommended to book in advance, there are often no vacancies for the required dates.
Near the hotel there is a restaurant where you can try "cesra" - local tortillas from manga, fresh figs and pomegranates, mountain honey. And of course, couscous with lamb. Note that the restaurant Kenza serves only Tunisian cuisine.
Mosque of the Seven Sleepers
This is a very interesting place, wrapped in legends. To see it it is possible only at independent trip, during arrival by the organized excursion on it simply there is no time. How does the mosque look, look at the photo below, click on the photo to enlarge.
Seven Sleepers are revered in Christianity as the "Seven Adolescents of the Ephesians." In Islam, they are mentioned in the 18th Sura of the Koran. According to the legends, these are the seven believing Christians who, as punishment for faith, were immured in the cave by the pagan emperor Decius Trajan.
According to the Christian legend, they did not die of thirst by divine will, but fell asleep. After a few hundred years, the cave was opened, and the children came to life. After a while, they realized that Christianity had triumphed and slept again before the Last Judgment. According to the Quran, the children fell asleep for 309 years (300 years according to the Gregorian calendar).
There are local legends that say that the children did not just sleep in a cave, but grew up and became real giants 4 meters tall. They were tormented and could not die until they converted to Islam. Here are their graves.
Near the mosque there are actually graves about 5 meters in length. The minaret of the mosque of the Seven Sleepers is inclined, it is also called the "Tunisian Tower of Pisa". The whole mosque is accessible for non-Muslims, you can climb the minaret.
Have a good walk through Shenini, and read our articles about Tunisia ( links below ).
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