History of the city

The first evidence of human presence at the hill of Monastir dates back to over thirty thousand years ago. The dawn of history in Monastir left many traces like the old cemeteries in the islands opposite to the seashore (Hwanet). The Phoenicians passed by the city and gave it its oldest name (Ruspina = Ras Zawiya) and it had been known for its guard spots. Since then, Monastir has been a witness to many pages of the history of our country moreover an active member in it.

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The history of Ruspina witnessed the presence of Julius Cesar in Ifrikia’s war (46B.C) which marked his glorious victory over Pompious. Following this event, Monastir gained immense popularity over many other Ifrikian Romanized cities. According to the research of Nabil Kallala, the center of the Roman city had been around the hummock of the Tannir field as the excavations have proven some evidence of great urbanization (Public Hammem, Pillar remains, Mosaics…). These evidences are visible today and spread around the city as they reach to the Island of Ghdamsi to the East, Ghdir area to the south, and north to the Kdima near the presidential palace where the major excavations of the cemetery which Dr. Nabil Kallala has performed are located. This cemetery which dates back to the end of the Old era or the Byzantine period is where the name of the city is probably taken from “Monasterium”.


The historical guard spots of Monastir had witnessed many civilizations including the Muslim civilization. It was concurred along Sousse and had not been insignificant before the appearance of Harima bin Aion which marked the construction of the famous Ribat in 796 A.C. In fact, it was a clear plan of the Khalifa Haroun Rachid as he was the mastermind behind it, although he had been pressured by the indigenous Ifrikians. Their leader Hitah had said “There is no better location for it than Monastir”. This is the story behind how the Ribat evolved since its construction, from great scientists and workers which rapidly transformed it to a popular spiritual destination which was reinforced in the third century AH with other Ribats around it which you could visit today like Ribat Daoud (Sidi Thouib) and the palace of Ibn Aljaad which was recently discovered.

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The former event has made Monastir a host of many Ribats with religious values to the people of Ifrikia. However, under the Fatimids, the city was left without guard troops and its scientists were allowed to argue with the Fatimid Khalifa.Monastir witnessed its golden age under the Ziri Era as it was safeguarded from the Hilali threat. The Zirians saw that its protection had helped the people of Ifrikia and spread the Maliki beliefs. Since then, the mosques had been increasing including the Big mosque opposite to the ribat and the mosque of Imam Mazri to its left and the Ribat Saida Om Hlal, the aunt of Almouiz. Monastir gained a holy statue in people’s hearts which had made them wish to be buried in its cemetery as their pathway to the afterlife.

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This has made the marine cemetery of Monastir a big museum with history of Ifrikia’s society which can be noticed from the old inscriptions that date back to the Zirian Era and among the most prominent buried people is Imam Almazri which is a great icon to Monastir and its people. After the Norman conquest and the Mouwahidi concur, Monastir restored a lot of its influence under the Hafsi rule and benefited from the urban policies of the Hafsi which transformed the city from its classical looks to a more modern with walls and gates with great shapes like the Aldarb gate and Sour gate. There was also an increase in neighborhood mosques (7/13th century AH).

After that, the Ribat was transformed to a Hafsi Kasba and Abu Faris Abd Alaziz added the current west gateway. At the end of this era, Monastir became independent from Hafsi Sultans and their influence and retraced back the traditional role of guarding and Jihad. It started an alliance with Darghouth Bacha against the Spanish invasion and was victorious until the defeat of the last Hafsi rulers which led to the Ottoman rule. Regardless of the obstacles, the urbanization continued in the Mouradi rule and the walls spread along.

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The western gate of the city goes back to the Mouradi rule moreover Brikcha gate and Chilou Mosque. However, in the Housaini rule, the urbanization continued along the new Rabth area (Hay Rbat) and its siege in Gate Tunis. At this period, Monastir was finalizing the administrative components to include the current cities of Monastir ad Mahdia. In the 19th century, Monastir witnessed a great economic revival which was credited to its port. It also played a role in the international trade as many foreign consulates were established.

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After 10 consulates had been established, the mid 19th century crisis, especially with the vengeful attack of Zarrouk’s troops on Monastir due to the latter’s refusal to send its people to the oppressive revolution of Ali ben Gthehem (1864). The city then went in a state of oppression and financial crisis.

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Finally, the city of Monastir witnessed the greatest damage during the French colonialism as it found itself isolated from the other cities of the Sahel. One should note that the leader, Habib Bourguib, was born in Monastir. Monastir was bound to fighting for freedom since the battle of Christianization as it paid martyr by martyr in a seemingly endless slaughterhouse: Said Merchaoui, Ahmed Ghandri, Mostfa ben Janat, Abd Eslam Trimich, and Naji Khalfouni.

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Monastir was restored after independence with great pride as it continued its urban route with economic flourishment as well as becoming a governorate of Monastir in 1974. Also, with more touristic resorts and university campuses, the city restarted its leading role in taking scientists and cultural people from inside and outside the country. The residents of Monastir will forever be the watch guards and pride of Tunisia.

Riadh Mrabit