The House of the Bey

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The ‘House of the Bey’ is now a carpet shop. He had four wives and the house had 70 rooms. We were taken here by our driver as he thought we would enjoy seeing the building. He was right, we did enjoy the building. We were shown round the shop while our driver disappeared to have a cup of tea and talk to the rest of the staff.

Through the doorway is the Summer Music room with a highly decorated wood painted ceiling, set out with small chairs and tables for tea. Beyond is the smaller, snugger winter music room with an attractive painted cupola above. There is a balcony above where the musicians played. Beyond this is the central courtyard with more tiles and painted ceilings with the rooms of the four wives above. Apparently the Bey would sleep with each in turn but had Fridays off… Carpets of all sizes and patterns hang from the walls. Beyond is the grand reception room.

A woman was sitting on the floor at a loom knotting a traditional carpet. Working in blocks across the carpet, she took a few strands at a time and knotted the wool round them and cut it off. Each family makes the same design of carpet and learns the designs by heart. Weavers usually work 2-3 hours a day at home and a carpet can take 2-3 months to make. The best wool carpets can have up to 90,000 knots per sqm. Silk carpets have 250,000 and are very expensive.

We were shown examples of Kalim carpets which are ‘embroidered’ and are patterned on both sides. These are a lot thinner and used as general purpose rugs. Then the hard sell began. We were shown examples of 2x1m carpets for 240TD, ‘only £110’ and told they would cost at least £300 to buy in UK. We said we were not interested and were promptly shown the door. I’m not sure if we would have got off so lightly if we hadn’t had our Tunisian driver with us. Other tourists have been subjected to a very hard sell in Kairouan.

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