A Pedacito Of Tunis, Tunisia
Updated: May 21, 2021
Tunis is the capital city of the North-African country Tunisia. Originally a Berber settlement, Tunis was at the center of multiple wars and became an important military and strategic stronghold for Carthaginians, Romans, and Greek civilizations throughout the centuries. Later, in the 7th century, Tunis was conquered by Arabs who firmly established Islamic rule in the region.
Today, Tunis is a city that feels modern and new, but there are plenty of opportunities to experience examples of the rich history of this region. We spent a week in Tunis, and it felt like the perfect amount of time to get a good feel of the city and take some day excursions to some of the surrounding suburbs as well.
We spent our first couple of days wandering around the Ancient Quarter of Tunis. The Tunis Medina has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and contains around 700 monuments. My favorite part of the Ancient Quarter of Tunis was the various coffee and tea shops. We overloaded on caffeine and sugar throughout the day because we couldn’t get enough of these places. The tiny coffee shops served thick Turkish coffee and were scattered throughout the medina. We found multiple tea shops on the rooftops where we could sit among the beautiful tile mosaics and look over the city landscape.
After spending time in the Ancient Quarter, we spent the next day touring Tunis’ modern districts. The modern city was formed gradually by the French protectorate at the end of the 19th century. The main walking street, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, was designed to resemble a sort of Tunisian Champs-Elysees. In my opinion, the architectural design of many of the residential buildings in this part of Tunis was the best part of the modern city and made it worth spending an entire day just walking around.
On our fourth day in Tunis, we decided to take a day trip to the suburb of Carthage. The train from Tunis to Carthage costs $1 and took us thirty minutes from start to finish. The train itself was an experience. The trains in Tunis are old. So old, in fact, that one needed to pry the doors open with your hands when ready to disembark.
Once we arrived in Carthage, we walked to the first destination on our self-guided tour. A tophet is an ancient Carthaginian cemetery, believed to be the site where thousands of animals and human children were ritually sacrificed and buried. Though the geographical area was small, it is believed that over 20,000 urns containing the ashes and bone fragments of these sacrifices are located there. Today, large stone slabs called stelae are still there, marking the location where these urns are buried.
I must admit, being in a place where children had once been sacrificed, even though it happened centuries before, was unsettling. Still, it was worth a quick look and gave us the opportunity to purchase an all-inclusive ticket to visit the other historical sites that Carthage had to offer. The cost of the ticket was about $5 and granted access to seven different archeological places of interest within Carthage.
After the tophet, we visited several more of the historical landmarks. Each one seemed larger and more interesting than the last. My favorite among these was the Antonine Baths. This Roman bath-house was overwhelming in size and brilliantly preserved.
Perhaps the most historically significant among the archeological sites we visited was that of the Acropolis of Byrsa. This hillside citadel holds examples of multiple layers of history. You can walk through what was one of the first Carthaginian settlements, and see examples of the early Romans and Christians who conquered the area during and after the Punic Wars.
We finished the day in Carthage with a fantastic meal at Dar Zarrouk. Feasting on freshly caught shrimp and fish, we sat at an outside table and watched the beautiful views of the Mediterranean Sea, which lay before us.
The week spent in Tunis was remarkable. The city offered a kind of cultural schizophrenia. Many civilizations have called Tunisia their home throughout the centuries. These influences are layered on top of one another, making them difficult to differentiate, but equally satisfying to experience. If Tunis hasn’t yet made your list of places worth visiting, it should. I enjoyed every minute of my time in the city and surrounding suburbs and highly recommend that you put it on your radar too!
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