In Central Tunisia, it is well worth exploring the traditional Berber settlements perched on hilltops and the remains of ancient Roman architecture.


Berbers, an indigenous ethnic group to North Africa, are known for their strength, pride, and deep reverence for the natural environment. They refer to themselves as i-Mazigh-en, a term that potentially translates to ‘free people’ or ‘noble men’. In Central Tunisia, the Berbers built their villages amidst mountainous terrain, skillfully utilizing stones and other materials to seamlessly integrate their houses into the surrounding landscape. These distinct Berber settlements, situated on separate mountains, communicated with one another by sending smoke signals from their mountain peaks.

Traditionally, Berbers practiced various religions such as Christianity, Judaism, or Animism, which is a belief system that attributes spiritual essence to objects, places, and creatures. Notably, several Berber theologians played significant roles in the development of western Christianity. However, when Islam spread across North Africa in the 7th century, many Berbers resisted the conquest. They concealed their Christian heritage and outwardly embraced Islamic rule. To deceive Muslim invaders, they constructed white mosques in their mountaintop villages, making them highly visible from a great distance. As the invaders passed through the valleys and saw the mosque, they assumed the village had already converted and continue on their way.

In 1957, the primary objective of Tunisia’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, was to unify the nation and foster a ‘Tunisian Arab’ identity. To achieve this, he established villages in the lowlands to encourage the Berbers to leave their formidable mountain strongholds. As a consequence, The Berbers have lost many of their distinct traditions as a result of enforced assimilation with the Arab majority.

Takrouna and Zriba el Alia are villages characterized by their stone houses, which still proudly stand atop rocky peaks, serving as a testament to Berber culture. These mountain villages are now inhabited by only a few families, lacking basic amenities such as electricity and water. Many of the houses cling precariously to the cliffs, in a state of ruin. However, the residents live with pride, embracing a life away from the bustling cities and in perfect harmony with their natural surroundings. Takrouna has a two-room museum housed in a traditional building, displaying artifacts that reflect the local Berber heritage. The collection is curated by Aida Gmach Bellagha, a local woman who left the capital, Tunis, to reconnect with her family’s ancestral roots. In Zriba el Alia, it is highly recommended to climbing one of the rocks overlooking the village for a splendid panoramic view. The sight of rolling hills covered with orchards and the imposing presence of the Atlas Mountains in the background creates an unforgettable scene in both villages.


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