Latest From The Blog Revolution in Tunisia may have been overdue but when it came it was relatively peaceful as has been the transition to a democracy meaning that the tourism industry in the country is stronger than ever, the coverage having possibly even highlighted Tunisia to potential tourists as a beautiful and progressive nation with a long and fascinating history.
Tourism in the country is well developed and people welcoming, even in smaller towns and villages who see less visitors. Of course the beautiful, usually sandy, coastline is a major attraction but the interior of the country going down to the edges of the Sahara and the across to the Atlas mountains should also be explored by those with a sense of adventure and there is enough to keep history buffs transfixed for weeks.
Though there were other Phoenician cities that remained independent the Carthaginian empire started to spread and flourish, absorbing many other cities. The Punic Wars with Rome however eventually led to the downfall of Carthage after Hannibal and his armies were eventually defeated and the Romans sacked cities including Tunis and Carthage. It is with the Romans that Tunis gained importance though, being rebuilt and becoming an important trading post and later city in its own right under the empire.
Later Justinian sent his Byzantine armies to recapture Tunisia from the Vandals in AD and took the cities of the area back with few problems and finding the cities far from vandalised by the Vandals in fact maintained and kept in much the way the Roman Empire had left them. Arabian armies spreading the Islamic faith eventually pushed out the Christian Byzantines and spread their religion, though Arabs and Berbers fought for control for much of the next thousand years, the result was that the area became split between different tribes though Islam slowly became dominant.
With no dominate ruler the Christian Spanish and Islamic Ottomans fought for control in the s with Turkey controlling Tunisia until their power also waned and the Husseinite dynasty came to rule an independent Tunisia. Tunisia remained independent until France came on to the scene at first controlling the nation unofficially through a series of treaties and the moving in of forces, initially to put down uprisings. During the Second World War though the Tunisians sided with the Allies even after much of France had fallen to Germany and they ceased to be in control.
Tunisia was also of course a major battleground as the Allies fought for control of North Africa against the Axis powers controlled by Rommel the Dessert Fox.
The Axis armies in Tunisia surrendered in May and the Tunisians now looked to declare full independence from France as the war came to a close, it was though that Tunisia would officially become a independent republic. Tunisia is now a true Republic and elections that were judged free and fair took place in October and a new constitution has been drafted. Most Tunisians identify themselves as Arab though and the language is a Tunisian Arabic Dialect with many Berber influences and borrowed words.
The Berber language however is still spoken in places in Tunisia, primarily in remote mountain and Saharan areas. There is a small European population, mainly French and Italians, and Jewish population as well. Tunisia also has a number of well thought of universities. In Tunisia the position of women is much more equal than in many Arab countries and women visiting will find few problems in the major cities, though in restaurants and hotels questions and bills will initially be presented to the men in the party.
Tourism as well is important to the Tunisian economy and certainly a short-term drop in tourism during uprisings against Ben Ali hurt some businesses. Habib Bourguiba Avenue — Tunisia Tozeur Originally a roman outpost Tozeur is a stopping off point before heading into the dessert and if you are heading into the dessert or to the other natural features nearby such as the salt lakes you may decide to base yourselves from Tozeur but you will find there is a lot to see and do in the ancient city itself.
Chebbi Statue — Tozeur Kairouan An important city within the Muslim faith and an important centre for pilgrimage since the 7th century AD when it became a centre of Islamic teaching and learning. Kairouan has two famous mosques, The Great Mosque can only be entered by Muslims but non-Muslims can enjoy the splendid exterior. The Mosque of Three Doors is also worth visiting though tourists can only visit the outside.
Great Mosque — Kairouan Douz Tourism was slow coming to this southern city but on the edge of the Sahara and a base for centuries to the nomadic Mrazig tribe many now come here to experience the Bedoin cultures of the Sahara which are generally hard to pin down and which have few examples of their history in terms of food and architecture. The Festival of the Sahara also takes place here each winter. This certainly includes the El-Jem Amphitheatre that is wonderfully well preserved and the Medina with its 9th century defensive walls.
Monastir is great for families as well as those with a love for watersports and those with a love for history as the Ribat, the ruined fortified monastery, is open to tourists and a great place to explore.
Habib Bourguiba Mosque — Monastir Djerba To the south of Tunisia and close to the Libyan border Djerba is an island resort that is a perfect place to relax with less high rise hotels and view-spoiling modern developments than some other resorts and plenty of unspoilt nature: The village is actually atop a coastal hill.
Sidi Bou Said — Tunis La Marsa The town is popular more with the wealthy of Tunisia itself than foreign tourists but they are unable to keep it completely to themselves and La Marsa with its grand palm lined streets is mainly of the French colonial era with ambassadors villas and grand town houses now summer homes or hotels. La Marsa — Tunisia Hammamet An area spread around two bays and centred on what was, until the s, a small fishing village Hammamet is fairly well developed without having lost too much charm and the exquisite beaches and Turkish baths are where visitors spend most of their time.
Yasmine Hammamet Korbous Somehow almost undiscovered by tourists from within or outside of Tunisia, Korbous is a small resort based around a spa where people come to take the waters but rarely stay long enough to make the most of the quiet and unspoilt coastline, there are few facilities here but you can really find some peace and relax.
Korbous — Nabeul Attractions to visit in Tunisia Carthage Punic Carthage was mainly destroyed by the Romans but some ruins lay undisturbed for centuries under later Carthage and have been rediscovered including a kiln and a cemetery. The most interesting parts of the Carthage site today though are the Roman sites including the Hippodrome, Baths, Amphitheatre and theatre of Hadrian with the National archaeological museum of Tunisia here as well. Tozeur Zoo On the edge of the dessert the zoo specialises in Saharan and North African species as well as some sub Saharan animals with lions, ibex, camels, hyenas, and fennec dessert foxes all on show, plus many reptiles, birds and insects.
Utica A Phoenician city that outdates both Carthage and Tunis most of the remains are Roman but there are two main sites, the Antiquarium is actually Punic with a Sarcophagus inside. The House of the Fountain is Roman with its fine mosaics and still standing archway.
Lake Ichkeul A brakikish lake in the north of the country the lake remains all year round as is the heart of an area of outstanding natural beauty and an important breeding ground for many species of birds. Sidi Bouhlel Canyon A long meandering canyon, the wide base can be toured on horse or camel and a number of deserted traditional buildings explored. Many films have used the canyon including Star Wars New Hope.
Dougga Not as popular with casual history enthusiasts as Carthage those with a real interest and who are willing to travel off the beaten track come to Dougga, a much bigger and well preserved site, there are temples, theatres, streets ands the central Square of the Winds.
El Jem The Roman Amphitheatre here is often claimed to be more magnificent than the Coliseum in Rome and is more complete: Lezard Rouge The Red Lizard is a grand train service, with the line, locomotives and carriages dating from the early 20th century and installed by the French. The train journey is a popular tourist excursion taking you up into the Atlas Mountains along the Sejia Gorge in real style. Star Wars film sets Tunisia was used for almost all scenes on Tatooine in the first star wars movie and as well as the Sidi Bouhel Canyon already mentioned many locations around Tozeur were used borrowing the style for the buildings on Tatooine from Berber architecture.
In fact some historic buildings were used in the film including shots of the temple Sidi Jemour. The Mos Espa set built in the middle of the dessert for episode 1 and then deserted is arguably the most interesting site though.
Check out all the star wars set locations here. Tunisian Art and Architecture though not truly unique to the country are a unique mix of different elements and the highly decorated buildings, often covered in tiles, in cities like Tunis and other northern and coastal cities differ greatly from Berber influenced cities with their own architectural style where colour is less important than shape and form.
While in some countries tourists pour in to see historical sites and museums that natives themselves are barely aware of, in Tunisia the people are aware of their own history and many Tunisians take holidays within the country seeing what the country has to offer. Tunisian Food and Drink Tunisian food is a little different to other North African cuisine with a lot more spice used with chilli peppers and garlic important ingredients.
Potatoes and cous cous are the main staples of Tunisian food but there is a great variety of Tunisian dishes made with them and other ingredients. Lamb based dishes are very common but other popular meats include camel. Seafood dishes are also popular main meals along the coast and it is most commonly served simply grilled or baked, squid and octopus are more likely to be put into other dishes including of course those cooked in Tagines that are in evidence across Tunisia.
Turkish Efes is the most popular beer in Tunisia and the non-alcoholic version is very popular as well. Tea remains the drink of choice with mint and fruit teas the most commonly drunk and offered to visitors in many homes as well as stores.
These different habitats each attract different animals and a huge number of both resident and migratory birds can be found here with Lake Ichkeul a beautiful spot to bird watch and relax in the surrounding meadows of wild flowers. Throughout much of Tunisia geckos on the walls of buildings are a common site that you will quickly become used to, slightly larger animals that are common in the towns include scavengers such as foxes, vultures and kites which live off what people through on the rubbish tips.
Other animals that are common but not wild include domesticated camels, sheep and goats. The waters around the Tunisian coast are teaming with fish and many people come to Tunisia for fishing holidays and may charter boats to go game fishing. As you move closer to the dessert you may expect to see less wildlife but instead it becomes simply less like that you would see in Europe or other temperate areas. Scorpions are common as are a number of snakes, if you prefer something more cuddly though look out for Fennec Foxes.
If you like to hunt for a bargain then a lot of similar souvenirs can be found I a number of stores allowing you to haggle. Some of the more interesting items including jewellery, antiques and handicrafts are unique and so you can spend days looking for items that really catch your interest, though haggle too hard and you could miss out.
In Tunis and a few other cities there are also main squares, in Tunis the main square is Mohammed Bouazizi square, formerly November 7 Square, and is regularly full of stalls selling primarily food and clothes, whereas permanent stores are more likely to sell electronics, tourist souvenirs and local rugs, carpets, ceramics, and leather and metal made objects.
Though it may not be practical to get a whole carpet back with you on a plane the rugs on offer are much smaller and can be very beautiful. Though in many places shows are put on which claim to be traditional Tunisian performances but often are nothing of the sort. Tunisian dancing can be very elegant and should be done to the sounds of Pipes and Drums, a genuine show though should be mesmerizing without being vulgar.
Other shows follow stereotypes of what tourists expect including snake charmers, sword swallowers, knife juggling and belly dancing all of which have little place in Tunisian culture.
Events Tunisia has many festivals including not only local or national festivals but a number of regional and also truly international festivals. The Carthage International Festival is a major summertime event with dance, art, theatre, opera and classical music including many of the best artists and performers from around the Mediterranean and Arab world. Other festivals include many music and dance festivals including the Carthage Jazz festival and A Capella international music festival in Tunis.
The International Festival of the Sahara in Douz is one of the most unique festivals though and as well as being an important social event for the nomadic people of the Sahara it is a tourist attraction as well.
The Bedouin people come here to meet, exchange knowledge and stories and compete in games including camel racing and horse racing and other events based on important nomadic skills such as hunting rabbits with desert hunting dogs.
They also put on grand displays of dancing, singing and poetry including new works and works that have been passed down through generations and are often only kept through memory. Getting Around If you fly in to Tunisia hiring a car can help you get around and there are four main motorways.
Cars are especially useful to get to some of the coasts quieter resorts and beaches and to get to the south of the country and into the dessert. There are railways that cover the north and centre of the country with regular services joining major cities and there is also a light transit system in Tunis.
There are currently rail links with Algeria allowing you to take the train into or out of the country but there is no rail link with Libya and to travel to the country driving along roads skirting the desert is required, a link with Libya is planned though a change of gauge is delaying developments.