Africa - Tunisia - Tunis
Crossroads of mighty civilizations
(photos of June 2010)
To view in full-screen mode: press F11 (press again for normal mode).
To return from a link in Internet Explorer:
point at top edge and close window or tab.
To return from a link in Mozilla Firefox, etc:
point at top edge and press back-arrow.
Return to Table of Contents
A colorful and complex history
map), the northernmost country of Africa,
occupies a strategic position at a relatively narrow passage in the
center of the Mediterranean Sea, opposite Italy's island of Sicily.
The name Carthage
in particular, is indelibly linked with Tunisia's history.
The city of Carthage, located near today's capital city Tunis,
was founded in 814 BC by the Phoenicians whose empire was based in Tyre,
in today's Lebanon, and spread across the Mediterranean.
After Tyre fell to Babylonian forces, Carthage headed the
Carthaginian Republic, which lasted from about 650 BC until 146 BC.
Carthage competed with the Greeks, Syracuse (on Sicily), and especially
the Romans (who needed food and slaves from Africa) against whom
Carthage fought and finally lost the three Punic wars.
Rome then called this region its Africa province, after a local name,
and the name was later applied to the whole continent.
After the eclipse of the Roman Empire, around the 5th century AD,
the Vandals and later the Byzantines took over,
followed in turn by Muslims of the Ottoman Empire in the 8th century AD,
after which the Roman Carthage was destroyed and Tunis became the capital.
At times, local Berbers controlled power, such as the Hafsid dynasty.
In the 19th century Tunisia became a French protectorate.
During the Second World War it was occupied by the Germans and Italians.
Tunisia finally gained independence in 1956.
Clearly, all these layers of civilization and occupation have left
their deep traces on the cityscape, landscape and mentality of Tunisia.
As a visual example, the next two scrollable panoramas show that
the harbor of Phoenician Carthage is still visible from a hill
where Roman ruins are resting below a former French cathedral.
The first panorama shows the military part of the old Carthage harbor
(map): it was circular with a circular island in its center.
This view looks up toward the hill and its cathedral.
The next panorama was taken from atop that hill (called Byrsa,
Toward the left, the old Carthage harbor is barely seen as a small inlet.
Sweeping to the right, the Gulf of Tunis approaches the capital Tunis,
which lies in the distance beyond the tree.
The next view shows the remains of a Roman warship stall
on the circular harbor island, followed by a gorgeous local blossom.
One of the finest museums in Tunisia, the Bardo National Museum
(map), is pictured below.
The building itself has Berber origins.
It contains a wealth of items from all periods of Tunisian history,
in particular remarkable Roman mosaics from various Roman buildings
in the country.
The medina, the old town of Tunis
A medina is a North African walled town center, with a maze of
narrow twisting streets that give good protection from the summer heat.
The Tunis medina
started in the 7th century AD. Although it has lost many of its walls,
it has kept most of its character of a lively and bustling market,
called souk or bazaar, even if it now focuses mainly on tourists.
The next picture shows one of the ancient gates to the Tunis medina.
Within the medina are several mosques, including the
Grand Mosque Zaytuna (or Zitouna,
map), pictured next.
Minarets are abundant and often well equipped with loudspeakers
for good connection with the believers.
Surrounding houses can also be well connected to the wider world.
Mosques and former palaces use an infinite variety of colorful tiles
and intricate designs.
The next three pictures were taken in the Medersa Slimania
(a former coranic school or madrassa), converted to a beautiful cultural center
Next are two views inside fancy old houses
that are now used as restaurants and art galleries.
Roaming the bazaar
Let us now get lost in the maze of alleys of the medina,
among the artisans and shops offering an incredible variety of goods.
Waterpipe smoking is quite common in Arab countries --
the smoke is cooled and supposedly filtered by passing through water.
The waterpipe goes by various names in different places,
such as hookah in India, its place of origin, or shisha, nargeela and narguileh
We end up in quiet alleys.
Return to Table of Contents
© Copyright 2010 Michel Van Hove