Tunis Tourist Attractions
Capital of Tunisia and chief town of the governorate of Tunis CitySituation and characteristicsTunis, capital of the Tunisian Republic and the administrative, cultural, economic and communications center of the country, lies on a hilly ridge of land some 3km/2mi wide between the Lac de Tunis (Arabic El Bahira), a shallow brackish lagoon to the east and northeast, and the Sebkha es Sedjoumi, a shallow salt lake to the southwest. The city is sheltered on the north by the Belvédère hills, on the south by the Sidi Bel Hassen hills.The Lake of Tunis is linked with the sea by a narrow canal, with the city's outer harbor in La Goulette, at its seaward end. In 1888-93 the French colonial authorities dredged out a channel 10km/6mi long and 45m/150ft wide across the lake between the inner and outer harbors in order to enable vessels of greater draught to reach the inner harbor. The excavated material was used in the construction of a causeway carrying a road and TGM line over the lake from the city center to La Goulette.As the country's cultural center Tunis has numerous educational and cultural institutions of national importance. Of particular note are the University (founded 1960), the famous Islamic Zitouna University, with faculties of language, literature and Islamic law, and the world-famed Bardo National Museum; in addition there are several specialized higher educational establishments (technical colleges, etc.), the Institut Pasteur and the National Library. Tunis also offers a wide range of entertainments (cinemas, theaters, art galleries, sporting and cultural events).With its well preserved Medina, numerous features of interest in its immediate surroundings and other major tourist sights within easy reach (Utica, Bizerte, Dougga, Thuburbo Majus, Cap Bon, etc.), Tunis justifies and will repay a stay of some length.TopographyThe historic center of Tunis is the old Arab town, the Medina, which is bounded on the east by the harbor and on the north and south by the new town, a modern development of European aspect.Around the main built-up area is a semicircular ring of suburbs, concentrated particularly in the coastal area. The outer limits of this Greater Tunis are marked by Gammarth on the north, Hammam-Lif at the southern tip of the Gulf of Tunis and La Manouba on the west.The principal sights of Tunis are the Medina in the city center, the new town to the east, the internationally famed Bardo National Museum in the western suburb of that name and, to the northeast, Carthage with its ancient remains and its museum and the pretty Moorish-style village of Sidi Bou Said. Carthage and Sidi Bou Said are linked with the city center by the TGM (suburban railroad).EconomyAlmost a quarter of Tunisia's population live in Tunis, which is the seat of government and the country's administrative center, with the offices of almost all government departments and agencies and the headquarters of leading banks and large companies. The economic life of the city is centered on its industries (50% of all Tunisian industrial establishments are within the Tunis conurbation) and on the port. The most important industrial plants are to the south, west and north of the city, in Ben Arous, Radès, Djebel Djelloud, Bardo and Cherguia. The leading branches of industry are the chemical industry (large phosphate plant), the smelting of lead ore, cement works, the foodstuffs industries, engineering and papermaking. Most of the city's external trade (70%) is handled by the outer Harbor at La Goulette, which has largely replaced the old inner harbor.HistoryThanks to its location on a wide, sheltered bay and to its fertile hinterland the site of ancient Tunes (present-day Tunis) was occupied by Numidians before the foundation of Carthage in 814 B.C. It thus ranks with Rome as one of the two oldest cities in the whole of the Mediterranean area.In the seventh century B.C. the town came under Carthaginian control, was fortified by its new masters and thereafter shared the destinies of Carthage. During the three Punic Wars Tunes supported Carthage; in 246 B.C. it was taken by Regulus, and in 146 B.C., like Carthage, it was utterly destroyed. Later rebuilt by Caesar and Augustus, it continued to be overshadowed by its sister city Carthage.The rise of Tunis began with the final destruction of Carthage by the Arabs in A.D. 698. The Lake of Tunis provided a natural Harbor for the Muslim fleet. In 894 the Aghlabid ruler Ibrahim II transferred his capital from Kairouan to Tunis, and thereafter, particularly under the Hafsids (1228-1574), the town developed into the metropolis of North Africa, with a population of some 100,000, and one of the leading spiritual and intellectual centers of the Islamic world.In 1270 Tunis was besieged by a crusading army led by King Louis IX of France, who died in Carthage of the plague. The outbreak of war was prevented by the conclusion of a treaty with France granting equal rights to Christians.In the 16th century Tunis's prosperity attracted the attentions of pirates, who captured and looted the town in 1534. In the following year they were driven out by the Emperor Charles V, and Tunis became Spanish, though the administration remained in the hands of the Hafsids. In 1569 the Spaniards were driven out by the Turks, who in turn were defeated by Don John of Austria. In 1574, however, Sinan Pasha won back the town for the Turks and it became the seat of an Ottoman governor.In 1871 the Turkish Bey of Tunis, Hussein, declared himself independent of Constantinople. Thereafter the town developed rapidly and there was much new building. The new town which now came into being extended eastward from the old Medina.The growth of Tunis accelerated from 1881 onwards, when the French made it the administrative center of the protectorate. Most of the Medina's circuit of walls was pulled down, and the new town expanded farther towards the sea. Handsome public buildings were erected, new residential districts were developed for Europeans and a modern harbor was built. From November 1942 to May 1943 the French protectorate was occupied by German forces. French rule finally ended on March 20th 1956, and in the following year Tunis became capital of the Tunisian Republic.After the departure of most of the Europeans well-to-do Tunisians moved out of the Medina into the abandoned European districts, and less prosperous families occupied their houses in the old town. The Medina now has a population of around 200,000. The traditional craftsmen (smiths, saddlers, dyers, etc.), however, have now almost disappeared, their place increasingly being taken by souvenir-sellers.In the outer districts of the city many overcrowded slum areas have been demolished and replaced by modern housing estates. Since the 1970s numbers of high-rise buildings occupied by luxury hotels, banks and insurance corporations have begun to dot the Tunis skyline. The Métro network is being actively developed in an attempt to alleviate the city's rush-hour traffic problems, and the Lake of Tunis is to be dredged and cleaned up.Air servicesThe international airport of Tunis-Carthage lies 8km/5mi northeast of the city on GP 3 (the road to La Marsa). There are regular bus services to the airport from Avenue Habib Bourguiba/Rue de Rome (lines 27 and 41).Rail servicesFrom the railroad station in Place Barcelone (separate entrances for local and long-distance services) there are regular connections with Sousse, Hammamet/Nabeul, El Djem/Sfax, Gabès, Tozeur, Bizerte, Algiers and Kalaat Khasba.TGMFrom the TGM (Tunis-Goulette-Marsa: suburban railroad) station at the east end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba, on the Harbor, there are services to the northwestern suburbs - La Goulette, Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, La Marsa, etc.MétroThe Tunis Métro, a tram rather than a train, has a stop beside the TGM station. It runs to the railroad station and to the southern suburb of Ben Arous.Bus servicesCity busesCity bus services start from Place Barcelone, the Theater (Avenue Habib Bourguiba) and the TGM station.Long-distance servicesServices to the south depart from the bus station (Gare Routière du Sud) at Bab Allouj. There are buses to Hammamet/Nabeul, Sousse, Monastir, Sfax, Gabès, Médenine, Djerba, Zarzis, Gafsa, Tozeur, Nefta, Kairouan, Le Kef, Maktar, Sbeitla, etc. Services to the north depart from the Gare Routière du Nord near Bab Saadoun. Buses to Bizerte, Raf-Raf, Menzel Bourguiba, Mateur, Testour, Téboursouk, Le Kef, etc.Boat servicesThere are ferry services to Europe (Marseilles, Genoa, Naples, Sardinia and Sicily) from La Goulette.Head Post OfficeThe Head Post Office (PTT) is in Rue Charles de Gaulle, a little way west of the railroad station. Poste restante mail can be collected at counter 8. The telephone office is in Rue Gamal Abdel Nasser (open 24 hours).Tunis has a great variety of historic buildings and other features of interest, reflecting its long and eventful history. At least two days should be allowed for seeing the sights, with an additional day for Carthage and Sidi Bou Said.Excursions from TunisTunis is a good base from which to visit other places of interest such as Cap Bon, Dougga, Utica and Thuburbo Majus.
The Medina in Tunis is the largest in Tunisia and considered one of the finest. The walls have long since disappeared and most of what is visible today is from the 13th C and 17th to 18th C.
More Tunis Pictures
Map of Tunis Attractions