2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: African Geography

Tunis, capital of Tunisia.
Tunis, capital of Tunisia.
Tunis - Ave. Habib Bourguiba as seen from Carlton Hotel
Tunis - Ave. Habib Bourguiba as seen from Carlton Hotel

Tunis (Arabic: تونس, Tūnis) is the capital of the Tunisian Republic and also the Tunis Governorate, with a population of 699,700 in 2003. Informal estimates state that the population of greater Tunis approaches two million.

Situated on a large Mediterranean gulf, (the Gulf of Tunis), behind the Lake of Tunis and the port of La Goulette (Halq al Wadi), the city extends along the coastal plain and the hills that surround it. At the centre of more modern development (colonial era and post) lies the old medina. Beyond this section lie the suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa, and Sidi Bou Said.

The medina is found at the centre of the city: a dense agglomeration of alleys and covered passages, full of intense scents and colours, boisterous and active trade, a surfeit of goods on offer ranging from leather to plastic, tin to the finest filigree, tourist souvenirs to the works of tiny crafts-shops.

Just through the Sea Gate (also known as the Bab el Bahr and the Porte de France), begins the modern city, or Ville Nouvelle, transversed by the grand Avenue Bourguiba (considered by many to be the Tunisian Champs-Élysées), where the colonial-era buildings provide a clear contrast to smaller older structures. As the capital city of the country Tunis is the centre of Tunisian commercial activity, as well as focus of political and administrative life in the country. The expansion of the Tunisian economy in the last decades is reflected in the booming development of the outer city where one can see clearly the social challenges brought about by rapid modernization in Tunisia.


Tunis is located in north-eastern Tunisia on the Lake of Tunis, and is connected to the Mediterranean sea's Gulf of Tunis by a canal which terminates at the port of La Goulette / Halq al Wadi. The ancient city of Carthage is located just north of Tunis along the coast.

Tunis is located at 36°50′N 10°9′E ( 36.8333° N 10.15° E).


Early history

In the 2nd millennium BCE a town, originally named Tunes, was founded by Libyans and also over time occupied by Berbers and Numidians. In the 9th century BCE, the city was taken over by Phoenicians from Carthage. The Berbers took control of Tunis in 395 BCE but it was soon lost when Agathocles invaded Africa and established his headquarters there. When Agathocles left Africa, the Carthaginians took control of the city once again.

In 146 BCE, the Romans destroyed Tunis (along with Carthage). However, the city was subsequently rebuilt under the rule of Augustus and became an important town under Roman control and the centre of a booming agricultural industry.

Islamic Control

It was not until the 7th century, after the final destruction of Carthage, that the city achieved its own importance under the control of Arab Muslims. It was at this time that the medina of Tunis was first built.

From the 12th century to the 16th century, the old city was controlled by the Almohad and the Hafsids Berbers dynasties. During this time, Tunis was one of the richest and grandest cities in the Islamic world, with a population of about 100,000.

Ottoman rule and piracy

The Ottoman Empire took nominal control of the city in 1534. However, the former Sultan, Mulai-Hassan, fled to the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Charles, who suffered at the hands of the corsairs, agreed to reinstate Mulai-Hassan in exchange for an acceptance of Charles's suzerainty by Mulai-Hassan. A naval expedition led by Charles himself was dispatched in 1535. The city was quickly recaptured; the victory against the pirates is recorded in a tapestry at the Royal Palace of Madrid. The resulting protectorate lasted until the Ottomans retook Tunis in 1574. After 1591, the Ottoman appointed governors ( Beys) were relatively independent and piracy and trade continued to flourish.

In April 1655, English Admiral Robert Blake was sent to the Mediterranean to extract compensation from states that had been attacking English shipping. Only the Bey of Tunis refused to comply, with the result that Blake's 15 ships attacked the Bey's arsenal at Porto Farina (Ghar el Melh), destroying 9 Algerian ships and 2 shore batteries, the first time in naval warfare that shore batteries had been taken out without landing men ashore.

European colonialism

St. Louis Cathedral on the Byrsa hill at Carthage
St. Louis Cathedral on the Byrsa hill at Carthage

The French occupied the city from 1881 to 1956 having established a protectorate system of administration that recognized the nominal authority of local government. During World War II, Tunis was held by Axis forces from November 1942 to May 1943, and was their last base in Africa.

Modern history

The Arab League was headquartered in Tunis from 1979 to 1990. The Palestinian Liberation Organization also had its headquarters in Tunis, from 1982 to 1993. In 1985, the PLO's headquarters was bombed by the Israeli Air Force, killing more than 61 people.


The medina

The "Porte de France" or Sea Gate, Tunis
The "Porte de France" or Sea Gate, Tunis

The medina of Tunis has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. The medina contains some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains dating from the Almohad and the Hafsid periods. These ancient buildings include

  • the Great Mosque (including the Muslim University and library)
  • Aghlabid Ez-Zitouna Mosque ("Mosque of the Olive") built in 723 by Obeid Allah Ibn-al-Habhab to celebrate the new capital.
  • the Dar-al-Bey, or Bey's Palace, is comprised of architecture and decoration from many different styles and periods and is believed to stand on the remains of a Roman theatre as well as the tenth century palace of Ziadib-Allah II al Aghlab.

Other landmarks

  • The Bardo Museum was originally a 13th century Hafsid palace, located in the (then) suburbs of Tunis. It contains a major collection of Roman mosaics and other antiquities of interest from Ancient Greece, Tunisia, and from the Arab period.
  • The ruins of Carthage are nearby, along the coast to the northeast


Products include textiles, carpets, and olive oil. Tourism is an important source of the city's income.


Tunis is served by the Tunis-Carthage International Airport. The growing metropolitan area is served by an extensive network of public transportation including buses, an above-ground light rail system (le Metro), as well a regional train line (le TGM) that links the city centre to its closest northern suburbs. Multi-lane autoroutes surround the city and serve the increasing number of privately owned cars one encounters in Tunisia.

Twin Cities

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