Bizerte Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of Bizerte Altitude: 0-5m/0-16ftSituation and characteristicsBizerte (Arabic Benzert) lies at the outflow of the Lac de Bizerte, which is linked with the Mediterranean by a canal.
Until 1963 it was a French naval port.The picturesque old Arab town with its fishing Harbor extends along the canal, with the modern European quarter at the point where the canal enters the lake.Bizerte, chief town of the governorate of the same name, is one of the country's leading commercial ports, exporting oil, iron ore, cereals, cork, cement and other bulk goods. The principal imports are timber, building materials and coal (mostly used in the Menzel Bourguiba steelworks on the south side of the lake). Also of economic importance are the cement industry, a tyre-manufacturing plant, a porcelain factory and an oil refinery. In recent years Bizerte has developed into a popular seaside resort. Along the Corniche (coast road) are extensive dunes and beautiful uncrowded beaches.HistoryBizerte was originally the Phoenician trading station of Hippo Diarrhytus, founded in the ninth century B.C., soon after Carthage. The Phoenicians built the first canal linking the lake with the sea. In 310 B.C. the town was captured by Agathocles, tyrant of Syracuse. In Roman times it had a military garrison and exported corn to Rome. In A.D. 661 it was taken by the Arabs and renamed Benzert. In the 13th century the Arab town enjoyed a first period of prosperity as the residence of the Hafsid ruler El Mostansir Bihillah. In the 15th and 16th centuries Moors expelled from Spain built the Andalusian quarter to the north of the old town and established an important trading center. In 1535 the town was captured by Spanish forces. In 1572 it was taken by the Turks, under whose rule it became notorious as a pirates' lair. Under the French protectorate Bizerte became a naval base (1881). During the Second World War it was occupied by the Germans and suffered heavy damage in air attacks.After the war Bizerte remained an important French military base, which was evacuated only on October 15th 1963 (seven years after Tunisia officially became independent), following violent rioting and heavy loss of life. October 15th is now celebrated as the Fête de l'Evacuation.AccessBizerte lies 65km/40mi north of Tunis on GP 8 (Tunis-Bizerte). There are regular bus connections with Tunis, Menzel Bourguiba, Mateur and Tabarka and rail connections with Tunis and Tabarka (via Mateur).
Between the souks of the old town of Bizerte and the Harbor is Place Slahedine Bouchoucha, with the 17th century Rebaa Mosque, whose octagonal minaret with its gallery shows Turkish influence. Adjoining is a covered market (mainly fish).
The Vieux Port (Old Harbor) in Bizerte is now used only by fishing boats. It is linked by a canal with the large outer harbor (Avant-Port).
Round the picturesque Vieux Port (Old Harbor) in Bizerte is the Medina, the old Arab town. With its labyrinth of tortuous streets and covered souks, it has a very Oriental atmosphere. The streets are named after the various craftsmen who live and work in them - the smiths in the Rue des Forgerons, the armourers in the Rue des Armuriers, the carpenters in the Rue des Menuisiers, the butchers in the Rue des Bouchers, and so on.
On the north side of the Vieux Port in Bizerte rise the old walls of the 17th century Kasbah. From the top of the walls (which are open to the public) there is a fine view of the Vieux Port. The interior of the Kasbah is now occupied by houses, and contains a 17th century Hanafite mosque.
Fort Sidi el Hani
On the south side of the Vieux Port, opposite the Kasbahin Bizerte, stands the little fort of Sidi el Hani, which also dates from the 17th century. It has recently been restored and now houses a small oceanographic museum (Musée Océanographique). From the terrace of the fort there are fine views of the Vieux Port, the Kasbah and the town.
The water of Lake Ichkeul is part fresh and part salt. When the winter rains come the lake floods the shores and brings to life a variety of marshland flora.
On the north side of Bizerte, beyond the Vieux Port and the Kasbah, the coast road known as the Corniche runs north, skirting the town's long sandy beaches and lined by hotels, restaurants, holiday apartments and elegant villas. In the past Bizerte was less famed as a seaside resort than Hammamet, Sousse and Djerba, but in recent years many European tour operators have discovered the attractions of its mile-long beaches of fine sand.
On a hill northeast of the Kasbah in Bizerte stands the massive Fort d'Espagne, flanked by an old cemetery. The fort was built by a Turkish pirate named Eudj Ali in 1570-73 as a protection against attacks by the Spanish, who frequently responded to his raids on their shipping by attacking Bizerte. From the terrace of the fort there are superb views of the old town, with the modern harbor beyond it.In summer there are theatrical and musical performances in the fort.
An attractive trip from Bizerte is to Cap Blanc (10km/6mi north). Leave the town by way of Boulevard Habib Bougatfa and continue on the Corniche, passing numbers of hotels and idyllic little coves (bathing). 2km/1.25mi beyond Cap Bizerte (lighthouse) a little side road branches off on the right to Cap Blanc, the most northerly point in Africa, with cliffs falling steeply down to the sea. The crystal-clear water is a happy hunting-ground for divers.
From the town center of Bizerte, Avenue Habib Bourguiba runs west past the Military Academy (Lycée Militaire), above which is the old European cemetery, with French and Italian mausoleums. Beyond this is the Martyrs' Memorial, a column with relief decoration commemorating the liberation of the town and those who died in the struggle.
Between the Kasbah and the fort in Bizerte lies the Quartier des Andalous (Andalusian Quarter), established in the 15th and 16th centuries by Moors expelled from Spain. Only a few of the picturesque old lanes with their characteristic blue wrought-iron window grilles and doors have been preserved.
Bey Youssef Fountain
At the Vieux Port in Bizerte, can be seen the elegant Moorish/Andalusian fountain of Bey Youssef (1642), roofed with green glazed tiles. Now dry, it was once famed for the quality of its water, as an inscription in Turkish and Arabic attests: "Drink of the spring of Paradise and you will be the better of it".
1.5km/1mi from Cap Blanc a difficult track branches off on the right to Djebel Nador (260m/850ft), on the summit of which is a radio signal station; fine views of Cap Blanc below and Bizerte in the distance.
R'Mel (Ras el Djebel, Raf-Raf)
South and southeast of Bizerte are the beaches of R'Mel (south), Ras el Djebel, Raf-Raf and Sidi Ali el Mekki (southeast), which are among the most beautiful stretches of coast in the area.
Menzel Bourguiba, Tunisia
24km/15mi south of Bizerte is the town of Menzel Bourguiba (pop. 30,000; with surrounding area 90,000), originally founded by the French under the name of Ferryville. This former arsenal town has developed since 1963 into an important industrial center (steelworks, metalworking, textiles). It has a large harbor, with a direct connection to the Mediterranean by way of the Bizerte canal.
Map of Bizerte Attractions