The medina is by far the most popular part of the city for tourists, and with good reason. The Arabic old town, featuring sinuous alleyways with blank walls, beautiful vaulted alleys and famous monumental doors hiding palaces, is the historical core of Tunis. It is a true architectural wonder and became a UNESCO Humanity World Heritage site in 1979. Restoration is constantly in progress on many buildings in order to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the city. The medina mainly encompasses animated Souks selling spice blends, incense, perfume extract, and tanned leather, where the finest handicrafts share space with "Made in China" baubles. Throughout the passing of the centuries, the Souks remained as dynamic as ever, as can be seen for example in the
Forget the oriental charm of the Arabic medina and immerse yourself in this animated, Europeanized and Mediterranean-lifestyle downtown. The construction of the New Town started in the beginning of the French colonial times after the lagoon was drained, filled and converted to buildable land. The core of it consists in the most famous Avenue in Tunis, namely the Habib Bourguiba Avenue, which plots a central axis from the east to the west, starting from the medina entrance (Paris Avenue) to the Tunis Lake (by the TGM Station to La Marsa). From
Les Berges du Lac
Literally meaning “the banks of the lake,” Les Berges du Lac is the new business district of Tunis. This area started to expand during the 1990, as a result of a great urbanization project of the lagoon between the airport and the Tunis Lake. The whole landscape is a mix of modern buildings and parking lots and is a far cry from the historical atmosphere of downtown. Along with some wealthy residential districts, most of the area is occupied by both Tunisian and international companies. Many diplomatic offices have settled here, including the British and the American embassies. Shopping precincts are slowly developing, most notably, imported high-end clothing stores, located in the area of the Carré du Lac. There are also a growing number or coffee houses and restaurants, some of which have a terrace and great view of the lake (such as the restaurant and tea house Biwa, behind the Golden Bowling, open all day long until midnight), and others, like the nice tea house with terrace Le Phuket's near the Lac Palace mall. The district offers also recreation sites: the area surrounding the amusement park
From Tunis, this is the first city stop on the TGM (the Tunis-Goulette-Marsa railway line) enroute to La Marsa, after a ten kilometer-long (six mile-long) crossing of a water. La Goulette is Tunis' trading harbor, from which the ferries leave for the other side of the Mediterranean Sea. This Tunis outpost location assumed a strategic importance in the 16th Century, during the fights between the Ottomans and the Spanish to extend their respective influences on the Mediterranean Sea. The Kasbah Fortress, which unfortunately now is in ruins, stands as a reminder of the storming of La Goulette by Charles Quint. The Ottomans used La Goulette as a prison for the thousands meant to become slaves during the Mediterranean piracy times. Centuries after, during the colonization, the French used also the place as a prison. From the 1950s to the 1970s, La Goulette enjoyed a heyday which is immortalized in the French movie by Ferid Boughdir, Summer in La Goulette. People remember those times as a little Mediterranean paradise where Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sicilian immigrants lived together and made a triumphal welcome to Habib Bourguiba when he came back from France in 1955. La Goulette features a long popular beach and basic white-and-blue houses and is of little interest for the tourists. However Tunis city dwellers used to come to La Goulette to enjoy one of its good seafood restaurants which have built the reputation of the main drag, the Franklin Roosevelt Avenue.
It's hard to imagine that a city that struck fear into the heart of Roma once stood here. This calm posh suburb to the north of Tunis is also now the place of residence of the Tunisian President. To get a hint of this glorious past, you have to go in search of the spreading archeological vestiges between the rich villas of the wealthy Carthage city-dwellers. You will have to forget the part of the archeologist in search of vanished cities and play the one of a city dweller visiting a suburb. Even if the Carthage archeological sites, part of the UNESCO Humanity World Heritage, may not be the most impressive of the Mediterranean basin, it would be a shame not to admire the vestiges of this fabulous ancient city while visiting the
Sidi Bou Saïd
Sidi Bou Saïd is a tourist and picturesque village located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Tunis. The village overhangs the Bay of Tunis and its 18th-century residences are illuminated by their dazzling white walls and the gorgeous blue of their doors and moucharabies. This ancient village really developed in the 13th Century when the Sufi Abou Saïd settled his Zaouia (religious friary) here. Around his revered tomb a village was built which was devoted to military defense during the medieval period and then became a place for the wealthy Tunis city dwellers. In the beginning of the 20th Century, Baron Rodolphe d'Erlanger erected his palace here and contributed to the architectural preservation of the white and blue village colored by its bougainvilleas. Sidi Bou Saïd has hosted famous visitors, such as the French writers André Gide and Simone de Beauvoir, along with Michel Foucault, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee, who used to go to the Moorish coffeehouse of the
This seaside city is particularly appreciated by the Tunis city dwellers who escape the city once the summer heat comes. It features private and modern villas with blossoming gardens down to the beach. There are also streets with many different shops such as the TGM train station with the
Roughly speaking, Gammarth is a seaside and posh Tunis suburb area. It is just north of La Marsa, 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from Tunis. It's long beach and eucalyptus forest have been covered by high end seaside resorts and rich villas.
Legend and history mix to tell of Carthage's founding in the 9th Century BCE. Greek and Roman tales assert that Queen Elyssa of Tyre fled from her kingdom after her powerful brother had her husband killed. She ended up in Carthage, where local residents agreed to give her a piece of land equal in size to an ox's hide. She cleverly cut this land into such thin strips that it stretched to cover a whole hill: the Colline de Byrsa (Byrsa Hill) (byrsa means "ox" in Phoenician). It was atop this hill that the first Carthage flourished.
Carthage was settled in the 8th Century when Phoenician sailors from Tyre crossed the Mediterranean. They wanted to explore precious metal mines in Spain and set up permanent trading posts in Carthage. The name Carthage (in the Phoenician language "Kart-Hadasht") means "new town." Carthage prospered under Phoenician control, mostly through trade with neighboring villages in the Mediterranean.
Before the Punic Wars, Carthage rivaled Rome in power and influence. In an attempt to secure its dominance, Rome began to deny Carthage access to trade in the Mediterranean by blocking its passage through certain straits. After three wars with Rome, Carthage fell in 146 BCE; much of its population was murdered or enslaved. The new Carthage became the prosperous capital city of Roman-controlled Africa. Christianity became widely accepted and practiced in Carthage, making it a haven for Christian leaders such as Saint Cyprian (Bishop of Carthage in the 3rd Century).
The prosperity and power that sustained the vast Roman Empire for so long collapsed. Aware of this weakness, Vandals attacked Carthage, and annexed it for themselves. In the 6th Century, the Byzantines forced the Vandals out and tried to take over the city. As a result, Carthage sustained significant damage to its infrastructure. Arab conqueror Ibn an-Nôman passed through Carthage to the little village of "Tunes." He found the location to be strategically desirable: it sat atop a hill near a lake, which protected the village against naval attacks from the sea. What would become Tunis was created largely from the stone of Carthage's destroyed buildings.
Initially, Tunis was a valuable naval base in Ifriqiya (the land that was once Roman Africa), but with the building of the Mosquée Zitouna in the 8th Century, and the commercial development that followed, it soon became more powerful than Carthage ever was.
The Fatimids, who were of Shiite Berber origin, seized power in Ifriqiyah in the 10th Century. The Zirids, from Kairouan, governed on behalf of the Fatimid Dynasty (which was based in Cairo). A religious conflict erupted between the two powers. The Fatimids soon grew tired of this opposition, and sent two neighboring tribes to attack Ifriqiya. Kairouan, the Zirids capital city, was destroyed.
Tunis held up under the rule of the Beni Khorassan, who made the city their capital. In the 12th Century, the Almohad dynasty (which ruled from Marrakech) designated a governor to run Ifriqiya from Tunis. This governor established his own dynasty, whose rule upon Ifriqiya is characterized by a period of Tunisian prosperity.
The Hafsid princes, who ruled from the Kasbah Hill (to the west of the Place du Gouvernement), made Tunis their capital city. And it grew thanks to its trading influence. Its commercial centers and religious buildings became fully developed by the 14th Century. The population swelled to 100,000 inhabitants. The Hafsid rulers welcomed Andalusian Moors immigrating from Spain. The Moors influenced Tunis intellectually, and their artisans introduced new statecrafts. Most notably the Sheshia, the hat that has come to symbolize Tunisia.
The Hafsid rulers also welcomed Christians to the city, who were allowed to trade and to practice their religion without persecution. Inns were built for the Christian traders from Pisa, Genoa, Venice and Marseille around the district of Bab El Bahr, which welcomed Europeans until the establishment of the French Protectorate.
In 1534, the Ottomans plundered Tunis. Shortly thereafter, the Spaniards started a war with the Ottomans for control of the Mediterranean. Spain's King Charles V took back the city in 1535 and restored the rule of the Hafsids. The Spanish stayed in Tunis, striving to enhance its defenses (they built a fort in La Goulette), until the Ottomans regained control in the early 16th Century.
During most of the Ottoman rule, Tunis prospered thanks to slavery, trading and piracy in the Mediterranean Sea. Many new madrasas, mosques and palaces were built. The naval victories of the French and English in 1826 and 1827 ended piracy in the Mediterranean. This was a major blow to Ottoman power in Tunis. As a result, they raised taxes, and lost popularity. They also borrowed money from Occidental rulers, who took advantage of the situation by increasing their influence in the country. Europeans began settling in Tunis in greater numbers. A French military expedition from Algeria led to the signing of the French Protectorate (Bardo's treaty) in 1881.
Tunis' history changed dramatically with the coming of the French. The French Consulate and a few more buildings were erected out of the walls of the medina, triggering further urban development. A new colonial town was built after the decontamination and filling of a lagoon located between the east side of the Medina, Bab El Bahr ("Sea Door"), and Tunis Lake.
In 1942, Tunis was occupied by the Germans, and taken back by the British in 1943. In 1955, Habib Bourguiba returned from his exile in France and arrived in La Goulette, setting in motion Tunisian independence.
Tunisia gained its independence from France on March 20, 1956. The Constitution recognized Tunis, which had 550,000 inhabitants at the time, as the capital. French and European populations soon left the New Town (Carthage). Symbols of colonization disappeared from the urban landscape as early as 1956. Avenue de la Marine is renamed after Habib Bourguiba, and an equestrian statue of the new Tunisian President replaced the statue of the French Ministry. At that time, the town was facing problems related to the ghettoization of the medina. The new nation also had to deal with the growing shantytowns (gourbivilles) that were cropping up due to a rural exodus.
Since then, Tunisia has undergone rapid modernization efforts, resulting in high population growth: it now spreads to the north, and its population has reached well over the two million mark. Like the New Town of the past, today's Tunis, with its bustling business districts and flourishing cultural centers, makes it a city ready to step to the forefront of the global stage.
Museums & Galleries
The most important museum in Tunis, which is actually one of the most important archaeological museums in North Africa, is the Musée du Bardo, famous for its Roman mosaics collection. The archeology lovers also shouldn't miss the Musée National de Carthage. Life in Tunis during the Ottoman times is featured in the museum of the former palace Dar Ben Abdallah, and also at the Sidi Bou Saïd mansion Dar El Annabi. The Mediterranean museum of the Dar Bach Hamba, in the medina, is modest but also benefits from the setting of an Ottoman mansion. Contemporary art fans shouldn't miss the museum in the Palais Kheireddine, the Dar Bouderbala art gallery or the exhibits of the Club Tahar Haddad.
Dance & Theater
Theatrical presentations along with contemporary dance shows, operas and ballets are hosted in the beautiful building of the Théâtre Municipal in downtown Tunis. Theatrical performances in Arabic or in French are also given at the dynamic Théâtre de l'Étoile du Nord.
The Festival International de Carthage presents theater and dance shows each year, with a varity of performances ranging from folk dance to contemporary dance. Dance shows from different countries are also on the program of the Festival de la Médina. The festival of the Journées Théâtrales de Carthage, which takes place every two years, is devoted to Arab and African theater.
Tunis isn't a city for movie-goers, except from certain occasions such as the Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage, which takes place every two years. Tunis' cinemas, such as Le Colisée, the Parnasse or Le Rio screen commercial movies from Egypt, India and America. Some of them are subtitled in French. Art house movies can be found at the Maison de la Culture Ibn Khaldoun, and sometimes at the Club Tahar Haddad. During the month of Ramadan, a few outdoor film shows take place for the Festival de la Médina.
In the field of music, Tunis features spearheads of the preservation of the Arab-Andalusian musical heritage. There is of course the famous Arabic music institute of La Rachidia which was created in 1934 and which is notably devoted to the teaching of Arabic music and to the documentation of the Tunisian music heritage. Concerts of the Rachidia musicians are sometimes hosted in this institute. But there is also the Palais du baron d'Erlanger (Dar Ennejma Ezzahra) where quality Arab-Andalusian music concerts take place all year long.
Each year, various festivals welcome music-lovers. Some of them are thematic, such as the classical music festival Octobre Musical in Carthage or the festival Jazz à Carthage. The others offer an array of musical styles, like in the famous Festival International de Carthage or even during the Festival de la Médina.
Those wishing to listen to live music from young Tunisian bands will head to the Théâtre de l'Étoile du Nord, and the night-owls head to Le Bœuf sur le toit. You can also check the programming of the Club Tahar Haddad, where classical music concerts can also be found.
Coffee Houses & Bars
One of the favorite pastimes of Tunisian males is to gather at local coffee houses to sip mint tea or coffee and enjoy a water pipe (called shisha in Tunis) to discuss, read the newspaper or play dominoes or cards. While the women may feel more comfortable in the coffee houses of H. Bourguiba Avenue. The Medina has a few beautiful coffee houses, such as Dar Hamouda Pacha (Restaurant & Salon de Thé), the one in the Hôtel Dar El Medina, Café Restaurant M'Rabet or Café Ezzitouna. There is also a nice coffee house in the Souk of the Chechias in the medina.
Tunis city-dwellers come to Sidi Bou Saïd to enjoy its two famous coffee-houses, the Café des Nattes and the Café Sidi Chabaane. In La Marsa, everybody knows the Café Le Saf Saf where friends and families gather after having enjoyed a delicious ice-cream at Le Grand Salem (Chez Salem).
Bars are far less common than coffee houses. Other than the bars of the surrounding hotels, the most famous ones are located along Habib Bourguiba Avenue, like the Café de Paris.
Most of the discotheques can be found 20 kilometers (12 miles) away from Tunis, in the resorts of Gammarth like the nightclub in the hotel La Tour Blanche. In La Marsa, the Discothèque Plaza Corniche is notably frequented by expatriates. Closer to Tunis is the trendy Light Bar in Carthage, whereas in La Goulette, the Club Les Jasmins always has a festive atmosphere. A fun venue in Tunis is Le Bœuf sur le toit.
Leisure & Beaches
Beaches follow one after the other along the seaside, north (La Goulette, Sidi Bou Saïd, La Marsa, Gammarth) and south (Hammam Lif) of Tunis. They are often very popular and especially crowded by families in the summertime, like in La Goulette. The nicest beaches are those of La Marsa (La Marsa Cube). In Sidi Bou Saïd the beach is unfortunately rather small. Even though the Gammarth's seaside has been invaded by the hotels, it still possesses a few preserved beach corners, but a vehicle is necessary to access them.
Concerning leisure and sport activities, Tunis has some facilities, such as bowling: the Golden Bowling - which features also a tennis court - or the Bowling Du Lac, both of them in the suburb of the Berges Du Lac, but also the bowling alley of the hotel Golden Tulip Carthage Tunis. Golfers will enjoy the Golf de Carthage. Close to the Golf is the equitation center of La Soukra. The Centre d'Animation Equestre Tunis Belvédère is closer to the city center, in the park of the Belvedere (Parc du Belvédère).
Various nautical sports are available in some hotels in Gammarth and the Hôtel Dar Saïd rents a sailing boat. For those wishing to quietly benefit from the health-effects of the sea-water, the center of thalassotherapy Les Thermes Marins de Carthage in Gammarth will be perfect.
More basic than this modern Spa are the traditional hammams, those hot popular public baths spread all over Tunisia, whose origin dates from the thermal baths of the Roman times. You will have to bring your own towel and swimsuit, a washcloth (or one with bristles for the exfoliation), some soap and shampoo. Massages and exfoliation scrubbing are available for an extra fee. In Tunis, the Hammam Kachachine is quite enjoyable. This is an old hammam of the medina (in the Street Des Libraires), featuring green-and-red pillars, which is open only for men. As for women, they can go to the hammam of the Noria Street (next to the Dar Lasram). There are plenty of other hammams locations, you can ask your hotel for advice.
A journey in Tunis must include a walk through the medina, the old Arabic town, part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The archeology lovers will not miss the sites of the antique Carthage: the Thermes d'Antonin, the Colline de Byrsa (Byrsa Hill) and the Colline de l'Odéon (Odeon Hill). Families will like the luna park of Tunis, the Dah Dah Happy Land Entertainment Park. Those who need vegetation can take a walk along the Parc du Belvédère in Tunis. And if the domesticated nature of this park doesn't fit them, they can head to the Parc National du Jebel Bou Kornine, 18 kilometers (11 miles) away from Tunis.
Contrary to many Tunisian cities, the economic and political capital city of Tunis doesn't live on tourism. However this is a city open to the world and more specifically to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, which has a whole range of hotels for business travelers. Tourists will also find fitting accommodations, but there are very few boutique hotels. One should also keep in mind that most of the time the number of rating stars placarded in Tunisian hotels doesn't suit exactly the international standards of comfort.
During the Ottoman times, the caravanserais (named fondouks in Maghreb) of the medina served as inns for the foreign traders who gathered there by crafts or countries. As for the important guests, they stayed at the Palace of the Government, on the Place du Gouvernement. But with the extension of the city beyond the walls of the medina, the latter has lost its inn-keeping function. There are few accommodations in the medina. A resplendent boutique-hotel opened recently, the Hôtel Dar El Medina. There is also a beautiful Auberge de Jeunesse. The low-budgets will also find first-price accommodations without many comforts at the entrance of the medina in the vicinity of Bab El Bahr, such as the Hôtel Marhaba located on the Place de la Victoire.
Various categories of hotels can be found in the city-center, but there are no boutique-hotels. A first category refers to hotels of average standing devoted to business travelers but that can also fit the holidaymakers. Among them, the most famous and one of the most expensive is the Hôtel Carlton. There is also the Golf Royal Hotel or the Hôtel Naplouse along with some hotels settled near the Parc du Belvédère such as the very good Les Ambassadeurs or the Hôtel Belvédère Fourati. A second hotel category deals with cheap hotels that can fit the tourists given their interesting locations such as the Hôtel Salammbô, the Grand Hôtel de France or the Hôtel Maison Dorée. The four and five stars hotels in Tunis have known their heyday in the 1980s and some of them struggle to keep a certain level of excellence and modernization. However, some up-to-date establishements with modern ammenities include Hôtel Africa Meridien, the Mercure El Mechtel, or the Sheraton Tunis Hotel & Towers. As for the Hôtel Abou Nawas Tunis, it is one of the last ones belonging to the Tunisian hotel chain Abou Nawas.
Les Berges du Lac
Business travelers can perfectly consider staying at the Berges du Lac, the new business district located between the Tunis Lake and the airport, which is only five minutes away by taxi. This district doesn't have any touristy appeal, but it is growing as a leisure and shopping center: the area around the amusement park Dah Dah Happy Land Entertainment Park is devoted to the entertainment of the whole family, while the district is progressively equipped with bowling alleys (Golden Bowling), discotheques, restaurants and coffee houses, where alcohol is however still prohibited in this district. Some standing hotels have consequently settled here, such as the Hôtel Les Berges du Lac Concorde which offers excellent services.
Carthage, Sidi bou Saïd & La Marsa
The few accommodation facilities of these three touristy destinations are not systematically adapted to the business traveler's needs, but they are perfectly suited to tourists.
There are very few hotels in Carthage, as the site benefits from protections concerning its status as a part of the UNESCO Word Heritage. However one of the rare boutique-hotel of Tunis can be found there, the modern Hôtel Villa Didon located on the Colline de Byrsa (Byrsa Hill).
It is also kind of a privilege to stay in the picturesque white-and-blue village of Sidi Bou Saïd! Indeed you will have to make a reservation a very long time in advance if you want to find a room at the charming Hôtel Sidi Bou Farès or at the well-known boutique-hotel Hôtel Dar Saïd.
In summertime, the villas of La Marsa are all occupied either by their owners or by holiday's tenants, but the hotels are scarce. However, there is a welcoming address: the Hôtel Plaza Corniche. As for people with low-budgets, they can try at the Pension Predl.
The new generation of luxury hotels is to be found 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of Tunis. Indeed, the Mediterranean forest and the long sandy beach of Gammarth have been colonized by luxury resorts. This seaside location doesn't make it a place only for tourists because most of the hotels are perfectly equipped to welcome business travelers. Except for some places such as the two-star hotel La Tour Blanche, most of the hotels are five star. Some of them are among the bests in Tunis, such as the excellent Hôtel The Residence Tunis with its famous thalassotherapy center Les Thermes Marins de Carthage, or the Renaissance Tunis Hotel. However, before choosing a hotel in Gammarth one should take into consideration the relative isolation of the area. The amount of amenities provided by the resorts aims at compensating for it: private beaches like at the Hôtel Abou Nawas Le Palace or at the Corinthia Khamsa Hotel, an array of restaurants and bars, swimming pools and spas, and leisure facilities such as a Bowling like in the case of the Golden Tulip Carthage Tunis.