Tunis is a melange of many identities. Roman history and Berber culture mixes in this eclectic city, always alive with activity.
Waves of immigration and invasions have continuously altered Tunis’ face. Enter the old medina through the Bab el Bhar, a massive gate separating the medina and the more European-looking side of town.
Monuments dating back to the Ottoman Empire are tucked within the twisting maze. The angular minaret of the eighth-century Ez-Zitouna Mosque and the pointed top of the 17th-century Hammouda Pacha’s peek between the palaces, mausoleums, and tiled walls of the UNESCO-listed area.
The Ville Nouvelle-developed in the 19th century by the French is a contrast with its Art Deco architecture and wider roads. Art Nouveau buildings are so decadent, they resemble over-the-top wedding cakes.
Piping hot cups of tea are served on arabesque trays in tiny cafes. Sprigs of mint and pine nuts bob on the glass cups’ darkened surface. Baklava stuffed with chopped almonds is a sweet delight. The chatter of French and Arabic in the shisha cafes wafts into the narrow medina’s lanes. Vendors tend to rows of babouches, traditional leather shoes with pointed curving toes. Turquoise and yellow arched doors dotted with decorative metals studs add yet another layer of color. Ornamental lamps in a variety of shapes and sizes hang in abundance. Follow the scent of fragrant perfumes to the Souk El Attarine. Heaps of henna and curvy bottles of jasmine oil are stacked like an apothecary. There are many souks and each sells something different from hand-painted plates to rich textiles.
One of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world is housed in the Bardo Museum. The palace complex dates back to 1228, and the museum also features marble statues propped up between exquisite columns and arches. Byzantine and Roman mosaics grace its walls and floors, giving you a glimpse into life in Roman Africa.
Imagine what this ancient land once looked like during the Phoenician and Roman times in Carthage. Julius Caesar established Carthage under Roman rule in 44 BC. From the hill of Byrsa, the Bay of Tunis unfolds before you, a shimmering blue Mediterranean expanse. Roman villas crumble among the palms and you can explore the ruins of the second-century Baths of Antoninus with a Ker & Downey guide.
Sidi Bou Said, just outside Tunis, is a haven of blue shutters and window grills. Bright pink bougainvillea climbs up whitewashed walls. This coastal cliff-top village is one of the most beautiful in Tunisia. The arrival of Spanish Muslims in the 16th-century influenced the distinctive architecture of this fishing enclave.