Tunisia extends farther north than any other
country in Africa. Its northern tip is only 137
kilometres from Sicily, Italy, a part of Europe.
Both northern and eastern Tunisia border the Mediterranean
Tunisia is part of the Arab world, the Mediterranean
area, and Africa. Almost all Tunisians speak Arabic
and follow an Arab way of life. For hundreds of
years, trade routes have connected Tunisia to
Africa south of the Sahara.
France controlled Tunisia from 1881 until Tunisia
became independent in 1956. Tunisia shows many
French influences. Tunis is its capital and largest
Tunisia's beaches and historical sites attract
an ever-growing number of tourists to the country
each year. The number of tourists has risen from
56,000 in 1961 to 5 million in 1999. There has
been considerable local and foreign investment
in new hotels and resorts. Efforts to increase
tourist amenities, particularly in the coastal
cities, have been successful in attracting large
groups of tourists from Europe.
Places to Visit
Barbary Cost In the 16th century under Ottoman rule,
the coastal region of North Africa was known as
the Barbary Coast. Tunis was its centre, and the
base for piracy against European ships in the
The name is derived from the Berbers, the oldest
inhabitants of the region.
Bizerte is the northernmost city in Africa (64km
from Tunis) and the fourth largest in Tunisia.
A port city located in the Northern Tell region
at Cap Blanc on the Mediterranean coast, it is
the country's green belt.
The coast between Bizerte and the Algerian border
features steep cliffs, small bays and many secluded
beaches. Two thousand years ago this region was
the "bread basket" of Rome and many
examples of ancient Roman towns can been seen
in ruins at Dougga, Bulla, Regia, Chemtou and
Utica. Between the 16th-18th centuries, the Italian,
Spanish and French Republics were drawn to the
region by the rich harvests of coral from the
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.
Hammamet (pictured), on the Cape Bon peninsula,
is one of the best-known tourist resorts in Tunisia.
A once sleepy village it now welcomes thousands
of tourists every year. Because of the particularly
pleasant weather on the peninsula man has occupied
the region since the beginning of time -- Berbers,
Phoenicians, Arabs, Andalousians and Turks have
all lived there and all left their influence.
At Kerouane on the northeast side of the peninsula
is the best-preserved Punic village in the world,
and in recent years archaeologists have made important
historical discoveries at Nabeul and Hammamet.
Tunis is a modern international metropolis
one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the
Islamic world. Over the centuries many peoples,
including Romans, Vandals, and Arabs have occupied
Tunisians are mostly of Berber lineage, and regard
themselves as Arabs.
Arabic is the main language, but French is the
dominant language in the media, commercial enterprise,
and government departments.
Berber-speaking people form less than 1% of the
population. In the tourist resorts shop keepers
and hotel staff usually speak three or four European
languages. Most cultural activities in Tunisia
are in Arabic. However, some festivals or other
events that feature artists from different cultures
are held in French or English. It is advisable
to attend cultural activities even if they are
in Arabic since you will discover a new culture
and get to know Tunisian artists. The Department
of Culture publishes a complete list of Tunisian
festivals categorized by field of interest. As
well, local theatre in Tunis has performances
of excellent quality. Find out more about it and
reserve your seat in advance.
The major sporting events that receive the most
media coverage in Tunisia are soccer, handball,
volleyball, and basketball games. To learn more
about these sporting events, watch Dimanche sportive
on Sunday evenings. Channel 7 and Channel 21 (for
youth) also have interesting shows. To listen
to news or French music on the radio, tune in
to RTCI (FM 98).
In Tunisia, there are a number of cafés
where people meet for a coffee or to play cards,
talk, or smoke a hookah pipe. It is recommendable
for foreigners go to cafés in the tourist
areas (La Marsa, Sidi Bousaid, Les Berges du lac,
El Manar, or La Goulette, for example). The National
Tourism Bureau has offices throughout the country
and can help you find information on cultural
events, brochures, or places to visit.
Tunisian Stew Rich in Tradition - Video
A wonderful video showing how Tunisian Stew is Rich in Tradition.
Narrated in English by Nooraj of Al Arabiya with Agencies.
Merely a stone's throw away from the Algerian border is the Tunisian town of Nefta.
The large oasis town became a trading hub, with routes spread across the Sahara desert, and over the centuries people of various nationalities and countries contributed to the flow of gastronomic influences.
While villagers now reside in proper houses, they still choose to spend the summer season in the oasis, preparing and savoring a local dish called zitouna.
Berber women cook the lamb in a stew of tomato sauce, onions, and flavor it with hot peppers and olives -- ingredients which have been derived from the Romans, Turks, Arabs and Pheonicians.
Such multicultural influence has distinguished Tunisian cuisine from the rest of its neighbours, and desert gastronomy in particular is deeply rooted in tradition.
Ammar Esseghir says his family visits the oasis on a weekly basis and prefers to cook a meal on a bonfire instead of a gas stove.
Stews have withstood the effects of time and modern preparation methods, and the Berber people are loyal to their traditions even though Tunisia is a rapidly developing country.
Tunisian cooking is a blend of European, Oriental
and desert dweller's culinary traditions. Its
distinctive spicy fieriness comes from neighbouring
Mediterranean countries and the many civilizations
who have ruled Tunisian land -- Phoenician, Roman,
Arab, Turkish, French, and the native Berber.
Many of the cooking styles and utensils began
to take shape when the ancient tribes were nomads.
Nomadic people were limited in their cooking by
what locally made pots and pans they could carry
with them. A "Tagine" is really the name of a conical-lidded
pot, although today we apply the same word to
what is cooked in it.
Unlike other North African cuisine, Tunisian
food is spicy hot. There is an old wife's tale
that says a husband can judge his wife's affections
by the amount of hot peppers she uses when preparing
his food. If the food becomes bland then a man
may believe that his wife no longer loves him.
However when the food is prepared for guests the
hot peppers are decreased to suit the more delicate
palate of the visitor.
Couscous is the national dish of Tunisia and
can be prepared in a dozen different ways. It
is cooked in a special kind of double boiler called
a couscousiere. Meat and vegetables are boiled
in the lower half. The top half has holes in the
bottom through which the steam rises to cook the
grain which is put in this part. Cooked this way
the grain acquires the flavour of whatever is
below. The usual grain is semolina. To serve,
the grain is piled in the middle of a dish, and
the meat and vegetables put on top. A sauce can
be then poured over before serving.
Tunisian dishes include authentic lamb or dorado
(bream) cous-cous, the fish dishes, tajine and
brik or brik à l'oeuf (egg and a tasty
filling fried in an envelope of pastry).
dancing is a common cabaret feature and lively
local bands often play traditional music.
Hotels: Tunisia has approximately
160,000 hotel beds. There are also several vacation
villages within each area. There is a luxury resort
in Tabarka which hosts the International Coral
Festival of Underwater Photography.
Grading: Hotel accommodation is classified by
a star system ranging from deluxe (5-star) to
clean but simple (1-star).
Marhalas: Marhalas are converted
caravanserais and often consist of several connected
underground houses (in Matmata and Ksars - ancient
granaries), where sleeping quarters and communal
bathing and toilet facilities have been installed.
They also have their own simple, but clean and
adequate, restaurants. There are Marhalas at Houmt
Souk, Nefta and Kairouan.
Camping/Caravaning: Tents can
be pitched or trailers parked on beaches and in
parks with permission from the property owner
or from the nearest police or National Guard station.
The major campsites are Le Moulin Bleu (Blue Mill)
at Hammam-Plage, 20km (12 miles) from Tunis; L'Auberge
des Jasmins (Jasmin Inn) at Nabeul, 65km (40 miles)
from Tunis, equipped with showers, wash-basins,
toilets, hot and cold running water, shop, restaurant
and outdoor theatre in an orange grove; L'Idéal
Camping at Hammamet, 60km (35 miles) from Tunis,
with restaurant facilities; Sonia Camping &
Caravan Site at Zarzis, 505km (313 miles) from
Tunis; and The Youth Centre of Gabès, 404km
(251 miles) from Tunis (summer only).
Youth Hostels: Youth Hostels
are open to all young people who are members of
the International Youth Hostel Association. It
is recommended to make reservations well in advance,
especially for groups. For details, contact the
Tunisian National Tourist Office.
Air: Tuninter runs regular services
seven to eight times a day between Tunis and Djerba
airports (flight time – approximately 1 hour).
There is a daily flight to Sfax from Tunis Tuesday
to Friday, with two flights on Monday. There are
flights to Tozeur on most weekdays. Tuninter is
represented internationally by Tunis Air (tel: (020)
7734 7644). Prices are reasonable and services are
normally heavily subscribed, so it is advisable
to book ahead.
Sea: Ferries operate between
Sfax and the Kerkennah Islands twice daily, and
between Jorf and Jerba Island regularly during
Rail: Regular trains (run by
SNCFT) connect Tunis with major towns. The main
route is between Tunis and Gabès, via Sousse,
Sfax and Gafsa. It is essential to purchase a
ticket before boarding the train or double the
fare may be charged. Several daily trains run
on each route, many with air-conditioned accommodation
and a buffet. The superb views of the Selja Gorge
can be seen from the Lezard Rouge (Red Lizard),
a restored old-fashioned train that runs daily
between Metaloui and Redeyef. It is highly advisable
to book in advance, if possible, especially for
the more popular air-conditioned routes.
Road: Tunisia has an extensive
road network. In case of breakdown, the Garde
Nationale (National Guard) will assist free of
charge (they usually contact the nearest garage).
Traffic drives on the right.
The green and yellow coloured national buses,
run by SNTRI, are air conditioned and travel daily
to most towns across the country. Other services
include the intercity buses which are cheap and
reasonably comfortable. The destination is written
in French and Arabic on the front of the bus.
Passengers are allowed 10kg of luggage without
additional charge. Each piece of luggage must,
however, be registered.
Long-distance taxis (usually large Mercedes or
similar), called louages, are authorised to carry
five passengers. They have no fixed schedule and
leave their respective departure points when full.
They serve the whole of Tunisia. This is the quickest
form of public road transport. There are many
louage stations and prices are similar to those
of buses and trains.
Car hire: This
can be very expensive. To rent a self-drive car,
the driver must be over 21 years of age. A full
driving licence, which has been valid for at least
one year, is acceptable.
50kph (30mph) in towns; 100kph (60mph) on major
highways. Documentation: Log books, valid national
driving licences and insurance are essential.
Both the RAC and AA are affiliated to the National
Automobile Club (NACT) based in Tunis. Insurance
valid for up to 21 days can be purchased at the
Note: For safety reasons, it
is forbidden to drive a car in the Sahara without
first contacting the National Guard post at the
nearest town, giving the planned itinerary and
the expected point of exit from the area. Full
provisions, a suitable vehicle and an experienced
guide are necessary for any travel in the Sahara.
Urban: A surburban train line
(TGM) links Tunis with the northern suburbs. Tunis
and Sousse also have a modern and convenient tram
system (métro léger). Taxi: Within
Tunis and other cities, city taxis are numbered
and have meters. The price on the meter is what
you should pay. There is a 50 per cent surcharge
on night fares. Bicycle: Bicycles and motorcycles
are available for hire in most major towns and
do not require a licence.
1: A yellow fever certificate is required from
travellers over one year of age arriving from
2: Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a
cholera vaccination certificate is no longer a
condition of entry to Tunisia. However, sporadic
cases of cholera do occur in this region and up-to-date
advice should be sought before deciding whether
these precautions should include vaccination,
as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness.
See the Health appendix for further information.
3: Vaccination against typhoid is advised.
Food & drink: Mains water
is normally chlorinated, and whilst safe may cause
mild abdominal upsets. Bottled water is available
and is advised for the first few weeks of the
stay. Drinking water outside main cities and towns
may be contaminated. Milk should be boiled when
unpasteurised (ie if not commercially processed
and packed). Powdered or tinned milk is available
and is advised but make sure that it is reconstituted
with pure water. Avoid dairy products which are
likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only
eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served
hot. Salad and mayonnaise may carry increased
risk. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
These precautions should include western-style
Other risks: Dysenteries and
diarrhoeal diseases are common in this region.
Hepatitis A is present and hepatitis E is endemic
in some areas; precautions should be taken. Lassa
fever occurs in rural areas. Mediterranean spotted
fever has been reported. Tungiasis is present.
Rabies is present. For those at high risk, vaccination
before arrival should be considered. If you are
bitten, seek medical advice without delay. For
more information, see the Health appendix.
Health care: Health insurance
is recommended. Tunisia has a well-developed,
if somewhat limited, public health service.