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Mediterranean & Adriatic

About Tunis

Market Spices

Tunis is Tunisia’s cultural hub and capital on the North African coast. This diverse and historic city is a remarkable treasure trove of French colonial influence and classic souks. Many travelers find it a welcome respite from the more crowded Mediterranean ports. As modern as it is storied, Tunis boasts world famous marketplaces and incredible seafood.

The history of Tunis reaches all the way back to the 4th century B.C., when it was founded as a Berber village with the similar-sounding name of Tunes. Tunis was an early member of the Carthaginian Empire, and has long been connected to the city of Carthage, only minutes away. Tunis was destroyed early in its history during a clash with the Romans. The city was quickly rebuilt, but suffered attacks again during the Punic Wars.

From the 9th century, many factions fought over this strategically positioned city, including the Ghassanids, Aghlabids and Khawarij. Many of the city’s oldest buildings have survived from this time. In the 12th century, Tunis became a Berber city once again, and remained so for hundreds of years. This period of stability marks one of Tunis’s wealthiest periods.

In 1534, Tunis joined the Ottoman Empire and it was ruled by sultans until the early 19th century. Over time, the city became increasingly populated by the French and in 1860, the French government tore down the old city wall to accommodate the growing metropolis. By 1881, the city was a French protectorate and began substantial trade with Europe. In 1956, Tunisia became an independent state, with Tunis as its capital.

From the 1950s, Tunis experienced rapid modernization. The city remains firmly rooted in both European and North African traditions, a phenomenon easy to see as French colonial buildings stand beside mosques and madrasas, and as cafés serve baguettes with mint tea.

Tunis Lifestyle and Culture

Travel down the Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the “Tunisian Champs-Élysées” to witness day to day life here. Fresh sea breezes mixed with warm winds from the south accompany your exploration. As you move to the interior of the city, the modern gives way to the French colonial, which in turn gives way to even older traditions.

The medina of Tunis is perhaps the most famous in all of North Africa. With more than 700 historic sites, palaces, mosques and statues, you quickly begin to glimpse the breadth of Tunis’s grand history amidst the ancient warrens of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The majority of the buildings here date from the Almohad and Hafsid periods; but Tunis has also been influenced by Roman, Andalusian, Berber and Ottoman cultures. In this way, Tunis can begin to seem like a cross-section of the entire Mediterranean.

Today, the medina of Tunis is heralded as one of the best preserved urban spaces in the Arab world, having never been struck by a natural disaster. Among its stalls and shops, you’ll discover the graciousness of the Tunisians,known far and wide for their friendly and relaxed attitude.

Tunis Sights and Landmarks

The National Bardo Museum is one of Tunis’s must-see sites. Located within a 13th-century Hafsid palace, it holds one of Tunis’s largest Roman and Ancient Greek collections.

Just beyond the suburbs outside of Tunis lies the ancient city of Carthage. This once-powerful capital of the Carthaginian Republic was established over 3,000 years ago. Its former military might is on display in its vast port, where 200 warships once docked. Nearby, perched on cliffs overlooking the sea, you can stroll among the beautiful white and blue buildings of Sidi Bou Said, an old Moorish village dripping with charm.

Tunis Entertainment and Activities

While in Tunisia, take the opportunity to step outside the city and into the small villages for a glimpse of traditional Berber culture. Head into southeast Tunisia in a 4X4 to the fertile slopes of Mt. Zaghwan. Here, you can experience the remarkably preserved traditions of an ancient region. Past the great limestone peaks of the Dorsale Range, you can visit the villages of Jeradou and Sidi Jedidi. The latter is known for its thermal springs that bubble up from deep inside the earth.

North of Tunis, Cape Bon sticks into the Gulf of Tunis like a finger. This is a true scenic wonderland of North Africa, where potters keep their craft alive in the markets at Nabuel, where Fort Kelibia perches on a dramatic hillside and where the caves of El Haouaria were quarried to build Carthage. But it’s the incredibly preserved ruins of the once-majestic Kerkouane that take center stage here. This Punic city was abandoned before the First Punic War. Thresholds, curbstones and mosaics remain as they were in the 4th century B.C.

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