Travel to Tunis – Tunisia’s Chic and Cool Capital
Located on an isthmus between two salt lakes, the marshy Sebkha-el Sejumi to the south-west, and the shallow el-Bahira (little sea), or Lake of Tunis, to the north-east, the history of Tunis dates back to the 2nd millennium BC, when it was founded by the Libyans under the name of Tunes.
Home to the world famous Bardo Museum and close to ancient Carthage, Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, takes travellers by surprise with its modern hotels and broad boulevards lined with flower stalls, and its steel and glass architecture blending with baroque.
This cosmopolitan city offers its visitors a wide range of modern accommodation facilities, gardens, restaurants, cafés, and interesting attractions from different periods and empires. The Medina of Tunis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979.
In the 9th century the town surrendered to the coast to the Phoenicians of Tyre, who then founded Carthage. In 146 Tunis was destroyed together with Carthage by the Romans, during the 3rd Punic War. The city was subsequently rebuilt under the rule of Augustus and became an important town under Roman control and the centre of a booming agricultural industry.
The importance of Tunis dates from the Arab conquest when, as Carthage sank, Tunis took its place commercially and politically. The city became Tunisia’s capital under the powerful Hafsid dynasty that ruled from the 13th to the 16th century.
Tunis was occupied by the French from 1881 to 1956 who established a protectorate system of administration that recognised the nominal authority of local government. In those years, there were huge European colonies in Tunis and the city experienced a great expansion with the creation of new boulevards. During World War II, Tunis was held by Axis forces from November 1942 to May 1943, and was their last base in Africa.
The city is built in the shape of an amphitheatre, with the kasbah, or citadel, at its highest point. The old town (Medina), built during the 7th century AD, lies between two suburbs, the Ribat-el Sowika on the north and the Ribat Bab-el-Jezira on the south. Beyond the Bab-el-Bahar (sea-gate), now called Porte de France, on the level ground by the Bahira, is the marine town, or Quartier Franc, built during the French occupation.
Since the old times and among the centuries, the city has been a leading centre of trade between Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Visitors to Tunis can choose from a wide range of monuments and places to visit. Among them, there is the Zitouna Mosque, one of Medina’s oldest sights rebuilt in the 9th century on the site of the original 7th century structure.
The Hammouda Pasha Mosque is a delicately decorated octagonal minaret; the Mosque of Youssef Dey, the first Ottoman-style mosque to be built in Tunis in 1616; and the Tourbet el-Bey, is a huge mausoleum that houses the remains of many Husseinite beys, princesses, ministers and advisors.
The Museum of Arts and Traditions is a splendid 18th century palace which houses costumes and accessories of upper class life in 19th century Tunis. The famous Bardo Museum displays one of the world’s finest collections of Roman mosaics.
Discover the Ville Nouvelle with its typical French colonial architecture; the Cathedral of St Vincent de Paul with its Gothic, Byzantine, and North African style; and Carthage, one of the most significant archaeological sites in the whole world.
Besides sightseeing and shopping at the old Medina, visitors to Tunis can relax on the town’s golden sand beaches that offer a full range of water sports including jet skis, scuba diving and waterski.
Travellers can also visit towns in the vicinity such as Hammamet, the country’s biggest tourist destination and a lively beach town only 60 kilometres from Tunis; Bizerte, 65 kilometres north-west of Tunis; Tabarka, famous for its coral fishing and the Coral Festival of underwater photography; Sousse, an attractive seaside town; and Kairouan, one of Islam’s top four holy places.
There is a good light railway service between downtown Tunis and the suburbs of Carthage and Sidi Bou Said. Alternatively taxis are cheap and readily available.