Tunisia Tour Guide: Tunis

Tunisia Tour Guide: Tunis Last updated on Wednesday 28th April 2010

Tunis is the capital and largest city in Tunisia. It is situated 10km inland from the Gulf of Tunis on the shores of a lake linked to the Mediterranean Sea. An ancient city whose history goes back to Punic times, Tunis flourished as part of the Roman Empire, and after the destruction of Carthode in the 7th century it became the second city in Afriqiya, a province of the Arab Empire.

In the 16th century under Ottoman rule, Tunis became the centre of the Barbary Coast, a base for piracy against European ships in the Mediterranean. Today it is a city of contrasts between the ancient Medina and the modern metropolis that holds an interesting mixture of European North African cultures.

The medina is the old quarter of Tunis; a maze of tiny, winding streets which has been designated by UNESCO as part of mankinds cultural heritage. The new city is centred around Ave Habib Bourguiba where architecture ranging from baroque to rococo contrasts with the futuristic creations of more modern architects. Most of the monuments and historical buildings are in the old quarter.

Dar Ben Abdullah Palace is a traditional late 18th-early 19th-century Tunisian mansion which displays its collection of costumes and furniture against a spectacular decor.

The Great Mosque Ez-Zitouna, the largest mosque in Tunis was started by the Umayyad rulers in 732 and finished by the Aghlabites in 864. From the beginning it was an important Arab Islamic university which functioned until a few years ago when its facilities were amalgamated with those of the University of Tunis. The mosque is in the centre of the Medina and the souks and old city buildings have expanded and developed around it.

Souk el Attarine specializes in perfumes, but also sells many other local craft items.

Bibliotheque Nationale built in 1813 as barracks by Hammouda Husseinite is now the National Library.

Souk Birka, the gold souk, was built in the 17th century.

Sidi Yousef Mosque, a 17th century Turkish mosque was the first mosque to have an octagonal minaret, which went on to become the architectural fashion for many other Turkish mosques.

Dar Hussein, an Arab house decorated with rich-coloured tiles and plaster lacework features many beautiful Islamic artefacts including valuable Qur'an manuscripts. This building was occupied by the French army during their time in Tunisia; after Independence it became the National Art and Archaeology Institute.

Dar El Haddad is one of the oldest palaces in the Medina.

The Bardo National Museum, also known as The Alaoui National Museum is considered one of the most important in the Maghreb. It is a masterpiece of Spanish-Moorish architecture and exhibits a vast collection of relics from every period of Tunisia's past, including the finest Roman mosaic collection in the world.

Belvedere Park, also the zoo, is an attractive park in the centre of the city.

Beaches are nearby at La Marsa and Gammarth, but Tunis itself has no beaches as it is situated on a lake which, due to a fair amount of pollution, is not recommended for swimming.

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