Tunis, Tunisia

Reference work entry


The capital and largest city in Tunisia situated 10 km (6 miles) inland from the Gulf of Tunis on the shores of a lake linked by a deep–water channel to the new port of La Goulette on the Mediterranean Sea. The old part of the city, the medina, was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979.


Founded by the Libyans, Tunis was surrendered to the Phoenicians around the ninth century BC. During the Third Punic War in 146 BC it was conquered by the Romans. The Arabs took control in the seventh century AD with Tunis becoming the capital under the Aghlabites from 894–905. The city prospered, especially under the rule of the Hafsid Dynasty (1230–1574). Between 1534–74 the town was attacked by a number of factions including the Turkish pirate, Barbarossa, the Austrians, and the Turks in 1574 who ruled until the French invaded in 1881. During the reign of the Husseinid Dynasty many palaces and mosques were built forming much of the area known as the medina. The French built the new town area between the medina and Tunis Lake. The city was occupied by the Germans for 6 months during WWII. Self–government was granted by the French in 1955 and the city became the national capital of Tunisia on gaining independence in 1956. In 1957 a republic was established and the monarchy abolished with the prime–minister, Habib Bourguiba becoming president. In 1975 the constitution was changed making Bourguiba President–for–life. Overthrown by a bloodless coup in 1987, the minister for the interior, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, became president. A new constitution was promulgated in 1988. Ben Ali was re–elected in 1999. Democratic reforms were introduced but since 1999 political rights have been reduced and media censorship is common. The death of Bourguiba in 2000 has brought about widespread dissent against Ben Ali’s strict regime.

Modern City

The Ville Nouvelle is the commercial part of Tunis. Centred around Avenue Habib Bourguiba it is lined with colonial French buildings with wrought–iron railings. After independence many of the streets were renamed. The centre is linked to the port, La Goulette, by a water channel, and by rail and road across a causeway through Lake Tunis. Chief exports include carpets, fruit, iron–ore and olives. Ferries run from the port to Europe. The International Airport of Tunis–Carthage is located northeast of the city. Tourists come to see the medina and its many mosques, palaces and markets. The Festival of Carthage held every July is another main attraction. The University of Tunis was founded in 1960.

Places of Interest

Before the arrival of the French the medina was the centre of Tunis. The Great Mosque Ez–Zitouna (the Olive Tree) is the largest and most venerable. Building commenced in 732 and finished in 864 with the minaret added in 1834. Its 184 columns surrounding the courtyard were brought from the ruins of Carthage. It was once the Islamic University. Close–by is the Souk el Attarine, a market specialising in perfume. Dar el Haddad is one of the oldest palaces built in the sixteenth century. Sidi Youssef Mosque, a seventeenth century Turkish mosque, was the first to have an octagonal minaret. The Mosque of the Kasbah was built during 1231–32. The Bibliotheque Nationale, built in 1813 as barracks by Hammouda Husseinid, is now the National Library. Dar Hussein, an Arab house decorated with colourful tiles and plaster lacework, is now the National Art and Archaeology Institute. The Bardo National Museum, to the west of the town, is of Spanish Moorish architecture and exhibits relics from every period of Tunisia’s past, including a very fine collection of Roman mosaics.

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Limited 2019

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