Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions

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The Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions is in Dar Jeliouli, one of the old palaces in the centre of Sfax. It has a splendid carved doorway in the centre of a lime washed wall with no windows. There is a small panel on the side of the door with opening times. Through the doorway is a small dark vestibule with the ticket office (4TD + 1TD for photo permit). There is no brochure and they don’t sell post cards. There are labels in Arabic, French and English throughout the museum and a few paintings illustrating daily life.

Beyond is a dark hallway with seats which leads into the beautiful courtyard with decorative tiles and a wooden balcony round it. There is a well in one corner and very steep steps in the opposite corner lead to the underground storage area and cistern. Drainpipes from the roof have a small bowl for collecting water before it drains into the underground well.

The rooms off the courtyard are designed to give the impression the house is still lived in. A large T shaped room on the left hand wall is furnished as a living area described as the ‘Tithkitha on Qbou salon’ with cushioned benches round the centre of the room and a small table. Above are pictures and a painted wooden shelf which was used to display precious belongings. At one end is an alcove with a traditional bed with a small storage chest and a carved wooden screen in front of it. On the wall next to the screen is a peg which looks as if it could have been used to hang up a turban or other head dress. At the opposite end are display cabinets with women’s head dresses, shoes and perfume vials. It is a very high room with windows at first floor level and a painted ceiling.

In the corner of the courtyard steps lead down to the kitchen area which has a display of measures, bowls and dishes used for cooking, a still for extracting oils from flowers and a small traditional fire with a cooking pan above. Water colour paintings show how these were used.

Next to this, opposite the hallway is a narrow room set up to demonstrate wood working techniques from the area. There is a foot operated spindle for carving wood and examples of decorative bed screens and chests to store valuables.

The room on the right side of the courtyard is a long narrow room with a painted ceiling with a traditional bed and screen at one end and a display case at the other with guns, powder container tamper etc. In the small recessed T area there is a small table with paintings and decorative shelf above.

The room next to the hallway contains different examples of pottery storage jars from huge ones to store water to smaller ones for olive oil. These include a beautifully decorated yellow and green glazed jar with a fish and bird design which was used to store olives.

Stairs lead to a first floor corridor (with very dodgy toilet on the wall next to the roadway) and another set of stairs leads to the second floor balcony which runs round all four sides of the courtyard. The rooms up here are much simpler and have display cases with examples of traditional dress, jewellery which includes a splendid head dress hung with coins and shawls worn by the women. One room has a display of Arab calligraphy and old paintings. There is a delightful pictures of the tomb of Sidi M’Hamed Ben Aissa guarded by “dangerous animals” which included lions, snakes and scorpions. It was a very well worth while visit and for most of the time we were the only visitors.

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