Traditionally, the Dar was the home of one of Tunisia's noble families, named after the family. They are often referred to as palaces. From the outside they do not look no different from neighbouring buildings, but inside were elaborate and luxurious.
Many have been restored and are now now used as offices. Several of these are open for visitors. Entry is free and it does give you chance to see what is inside the plain wall facing the street.
The best one to visit is DAR LASRAM in the north east part of the Medina. It is one of most lavish palaces in the Medina, being built in the 18thC by a rich landowner and high ranking officer whose family provided the Beys with scribes. It is now the offices of Association de Sauvegarde de la Medina, who oversee medina conservation and anyone can go in during office hours. There is just a small plate outside the building, with no mention of opening times.
The doorway leads into a black and white painted entrance hallway. Rooms off this have beautifully tiled walls and painted wooden ceilings. There is a huge central courtyard with marble pillars robbed from Roman sites and a carved white stucco frieze above. Opposite was a large T shaped room with tiled walls, carved stucco frieze and painted wood ceiling which had chairs and tables is now used as a lecture area. Steps lead up to the first floor with more tiled rooms.
DAR OTHMAN is in the south west corner of the Medina near Tourbet el Bey and Dar Ben Abdallah Museum which was shut for restoration in March 2012. These are in rather a run down area of the Medina and there is litter blowing around. Dar Othman is one of oldest palaces in Medina dating from the 16thC. We got lost trying to find it and after going round in circles were eventually taken to it by a kindly local who didn’t expect a tip. Like all the houses in the medina, it is a plain building outside with a decorated doorway. Entry is into a passageway with decorative tiles and carved stucco above. You are only allowed into the small courtyard with palm trees and plants. This is lined with an arcade of slender columns supporting round arches with black and white marble decoration round the arches. Pictures on google look better than the actuality. We were disappointing and felt it was not worth the effort we had put in to finding it.
DAR HUSSEIN is near both the Great Mosque and Place du Gouvernement belonged to a senior government official and was later the seat of the French Military Command. It was built in the 18thC built on the site of a 12thC house. This is an interesting area to explore. It is very quiet with few visitors and there are a lot of very old buildings. Again you are only allowed into the courtyard which is covered with a glazed glass roof. There was a sign in one corner pointing to ‘cafe’ but we were stopped from going any further. Perhaps this is just for the use of people working for the National Institute of Arts and Archaeology.
The courtyard is splendid with a wooden first floor balcony which was painted green and brown and had white ribs underneath to support it. Again there were decorative tiles around the walls with carved white stucco above.
Near by is DAR EL HADDAD which houses the National Heritage Institute but was firmly shut.