Tunis is the capital of Tunisian Republic. It is the center of commerce, politics and administration. It is situated on the Mediterranean coast, between the Gulf of Tunis, the Lake of Tunis and the port La Goulette and spreads across the surrounding hills and coastal plains.
The city is divided into two parts: the old city or the medina and the new city or Ville Nouvelle. Further out lye the suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa, and Sidi Bou Said. The Unesco-listed medina, an intricate pattern of small alleys and passages, filed with merchants selling anything from leather, spices, fabrics, Holy Books, to plastic kitsch, also features a wealth of ancient Arab architecture.
The city is steeped in ancient history: the famous Bardo Museum features stunning mosaic of the Roman era, and the legendary ruins of Carthage are only a short distance north of the city. On the other side of the Sea Gate, or Porte de France, lies the new district, Ville Nouvelle with colonial buildings and the city’s main boulevard, Avenue Habib Bourgiba.
Stunning historical heritage aside, Tunisia is experiencing rapid modernization and growth, which can be seen in the new, outer parts of the city and pervades the capital.
Tunisia has a warm climate year round. It experiences high temperatures and a lot of sunshine, being located between latitudes 37° and 30° N. The north part of the country has milder, Mediterranean climate with two distinct seasons: mild and rainy winter and hot and dry summer. Rainfall in the northern part of the country is heaviest from mid-autumn to mid-spring.
January average temperature 11 deg Celsius, 61 mm rainfall February average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall March average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall April average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall May average temperature 19 deg Celsius, 23 mm rainfall June average temperature 23 deg Celsius, 10 mm rainfall July average temperature 26 deg Celsius, 3 mm rainfall August average temperature 27 deg Celsius, 8 mm rainfall September average temperature 25 deg Celsius, 33 mm rainfall October average temperature 20 deg Celsius, 56 mm rainfall November average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 53 mm rainfall December average temperature 12 deg Celsius, 63 mm rainfall
Buses depart regularly, services are cheap. Taxis are a bit more expensive. Make sure the meter is on. At night there are no buses so getting to the city is only possible with a taxi. Note that night tariffs are higher.
LIGHT RAIL TRAIN - METRO
The above-ground metro system is a good way of getting around the town. Tickets are cheap and can be bought at kiosks and stations. Not all stops are well signposted, so keep close track of the stops.
TGM is the suburban train which takes you to Carthge, Sidi Bou Said and other suburbs.
Taxis are widely available and very convenient way of getting around the city. Always make sure the meter is on.
With the efficient public transportation, using a car seems unnecessary. Traffic is heavy and many drive recklessly.
Tunisia is known for its great sandy beaches, attracting masses of tourists. Its coral reefs, diverse sea life and crystal clear waters offer great scuba diving, especially around the town of Tabarka.
SPA - HAMMAM
Tunisia is famous for its long history of natural hot spring spas – the hammams. Many of them have been in use since the Roman and Punic times. They are mostly found in the northern part of the country and are a great way to soak up the culture and wash away the tiredness.
4WD DESERT TRIPS
Desert treks by camel or 4WD are available from several towns in lower southern part of the country, such as Douz and Touzeur.
Superb golfing facilities can be found throughout the country, catering to all levels of expertise. The courses are located in Tabarka, Carthage, Monastir, Djerba, Hammamet, Touzeur, and elsewhere.
THE MEDINA The medina of Tunis is an intricate pattern of small, interconnected alleys, and home to lively trading from early morning until evening. The medina has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. It contains many important architectural monuments - mosques, mausoleums, madrasas, palaces and fountains dating from the Almohad and the Hafsid periods. Among the medina’s many monuments there are the Great Mosque, Aghlabid ez-Zitouna Mosque and the Dar-al-Bey palace.
THE BARDO MUSEUM Open: Nov-Apr: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm; May–Oct: 9 am – 5 pm. Web: www.informatique-tunisie.com/museebardo/ Access: Metro 4, Bardo stop Situated in the old bey (ruler) palace from the Ottoman era, the museum provides a glimpse into Tunisian history, its Punic, Roman and Christian periods. The museum is renowned for what is thought to be one of the best collections of collection of Roman mosaics in the world. In addition, the palace is an attraction in itself.
THE GREAT MOSQUE /ZITOUNA MOSQUE This is the city’s main mosque and also the largest mosque in entire country. It is situated in the heart of the old medina. In fact, the city was modeled so that the mosque was in its center. It was built in the 9th century by the ruler Obeid Allah Ibn-al-Habhab. Its name means ‘Mosque of the Olive Tree’
CARTHAGE Access: TGM train from Tunis Carthage, today a suburb lying to the north of the modern capital Tunis, was a Phoenician town founded in the 9th century B.C. It developed into an important trading empire and a celebrated culture hub from the 6th century onwards. Its territory expanded as far as the Mediterranean. After the Punic wars it was destroyed by the Romans and later a Roman Carthage was established on the ruins of the Phoenician town. The Carthage ruins are an important Roman monument.
SIDI BOU SAID Access: TGM train from Tunis A suburb, located 20 km north of Tunis is a picturesque blue and white village, perched on the cliff above the Bay of Tunis. Although a huge tourist attraction, the town is still deemed a town of artists. Many European artists visited the village, among which also Paul Klee, August Macke and Gustave-Henri Jossot.
Tunis offers a wide variety of good, safe and inexpensive restaurants. Tunisian cuisine has many good things in store. Fried fish is a delicacy. Salads are great; try the Tunisian and the grilled salad. Couscous is present almost everywhere and is a sort of national dish. It is often eaten with meat and harissa (chili paste). Meat dishes are not a particular forte of Tunisian cuisine. Restaurants range from dirt cheap to midrange to those in luxurious hotels.
CARTHAGE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL Date: July-August Web: www.festival-carthage.com.tn The festival is the largest cultural event in the country, featuring a rich program of music, dance, theatre, and art. The events take place in the superb setting of the Roman amphitheatre in Carthage.
TABARKA JAZZ FESTIVAL Date: July Location: various The festival is held in Tabarka, a town some 100 km from Tunis. The popular event features folk and jazz music performed by local and international musicians. The accompanying program features seminars and workshops.
MEDINA FESTIVAL Date: October – November Location: various The annual festival takes place in the medina during the holy month of Ramadan and is a great presentation of Tunisian culture. The cultural and music performances are staged in various beautiful palaces and medersas.
CARTHAGE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL Date: October Web: www.jccarthage.org/ The festival is held biannually (on even-numbered years). It features an interesting program of African and Arab films.
In the center of Tunis your best bet of nightlife are the terraced bars along the Habib Bourguiba Avenue which are full of people until late into the night, but these serve no alcohol. Most bars serving alcohol are all-male venues and can be pretty harsh. The ones welcoming women, preferably accompanied by a male companion, are located in better hotels. The most popular hangouts, especially in the summer, are the bars and cafes of Sidi Bou Said where people relax, sip mint tea and puff on the hubby-bubbly pipes. Discos and night clubs are found in the resort hotels of La Marsa and Gammarth. Tunisian wine is cheap and relatively good. Locally brewed beer is also available.
PRE – 20TH CENTURY A town named Tynes existed already in the 2nd millennium B.C. During the first Punic War the Roman general Regulus camped there, but after the defeat of Carthage the Romans completely ignored Tunis. Tunis remained an insignificant settlement until the arrival of the Arabs in the 9th century. They preferred the less exposed position of Tunis. The Aghlabids built the Great Mosque in the heart of the medina in 732 AD, and this can be seen as the birth of the city. Tunis became the seat of power only in the 9th century when the Aghlabids moved their court here, making it the imperial capital. Under the Fatmids the city was again largely ignored, as the capital was moved to Mahdia in the 10th century. Due to this fact Tunis was not the focus of the Hilalian invasion in the 11th century. Tunis again emerged as the capital after the Almohads conquered North Africa in 1160. Under the Hafsids Tunis flourished. The period of their rule, from 1229 to 1574 is considered the golden age of the city. The population boomed, and new facilities were built, such as medersas (schools), mosques and souqs (markets). In addition, the trade with Europe was booming. As the struggle for power begun between the Ottoman Turks and the Spainish, the Hafsids were removed from the throne. Tunis was largely destroyed and its population fled. After changing hands several times, the city finally came under the Ottomans in 1574 and people started coming back. Among the newcomers many were religious Spanish refugees from Andalusia and Jews who had fled persecution in Livorno, Italy. Many of them were artisans who left an important mark on the city.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY) The French occupied the city in 1881. They quickly established their power by building the Ville Nouvele, east of the medina. This new town became the heart of modern Tunis. The French established a protectorate system which enabled the local government nominal authority. During WW II Tunis was held by the Axis alliance (Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan) from November 1942 until May 1943 and served as their African base. In 1956 Tunisia reached independence from France but the two countries retained close political, economic and cultural ties. In 1979 the Arab League transferred its headquarters to Tunis from Egypt because of Egypt’s peace with Israel, but was moved back to Egypt in 1990.
RECENT Tunis is today a modern city with a distinctly European feel. The heart of life is its main boulevard, Avenue Habib Bourgiba, with its street cafes and fine 1920 architecture, iron wrought balconies and stucco work.
Tunisia is a Muslim country and even though it is known to be liberal, there are still certain things to keep in mind. It is advisable for women to dress conservatively and not expose too much skin. Women should wear long light trousers or skirts and not expose their shoulders. Otherwise, they may cause anything from fury to (a lot of) unwanted attention. Men are not supposed to show too much flesh either. When away from the beach resorts, wearing shorts in equal to wearing underwear and can be frowned upon. These rules vary a lot, just keep in mind that in hotel resorts and beaches the rules are more relaxed, whereas in the countryside they tend to be stricter.
Never use your left hand when eating or greeting someone.
If you are invited to a Tunisian home, bring pastries, nuts, cakes, etc. to the hostess.
Tunisia is a relatively safe country. Petty crimes such as pick-pocketing, theft and scams are present, so take the necessary precautions. Do not carry excess money with you, and always keep your valuables – such as your passport and airplane tickets - in a hotel safe. Keep eye on your bag, handbag or backpack on the markets and crowded streets. There have been reports of purse-snatchers on motorbikes that attacked pedestrians. Touts and fake tourist guides can glue themselves to unsuspecting tourists, mostly around major tourist spots. A firm no thank you should do the trick. Do this before they force you on a ‘tour’ as they will demand money for this unwanted effort.
Violent crime and rape is rare. Women are frequently harassed, especially young ones. You can avoid it by dressing conservatively, and possibly traveling in a group. Avoid walking alone in isolated areas.
Theft from cars is also present. Never leave your camera, laptop or other valuables in a parked car. Keep doors locked, windows rolled up and valuables out of sight.
Travelers are advised to practice caution when traveling close to the Algerian borders, and in the southern desert areas.
Emergency Phone Numbers: Police: 197 Medical service: 190
Tunisia experiences warm temperatures and a lot of sunshine. Summer months of July and August are too hot for comfort of most people. Consider visiting during autumn and winter (from October to May) when temperatures are more comfortable and range from 12 to 28 °C. Spring is also a great time, especially if you intend to tour some countryside, which is at its loveliest at the time.