Nearby Carthage was the Roman capital of the region, but when the Arabs invaded in 698 they made Tunis their capital. They built the medina which was the city, with nothing outside its walls for another thousand years or so. Inside there were up to 100,000 people living, whereas today the population is down to 15,000 – and about 14,000 of them seem to own carpet shops! The other 1,000 all have a brother who owns one.
The medina was made a World Heritage Site in 1981, emphasising its importance, and no visit to Tunisia would be complete without a wander round its side streets. The other great attraction in the city is the Bardo Museum, which even non-museum lovers admit to being impressed by. It is the best museum in North-West Africa.
Apart from the Bardo Museum, which is about two miles west of the centre, most of the sights are inside the medina. The Ville Nouvelle is the ‘New Town’ built by the French when they took over in 1881, and here is the modern life of Tunis – the banks, the offices and the cafés. It’s a busy but pleasant area to stroll around in, especially in the evening when people are promenading prior to a night on the town.
Other pleasing aspects of the city are Lake Tunis, where you can sometimes see flamingoes in winter, and the fact that Tunis has several parks. Belvedere Park to the north of the city centre sits around a hill, from the top of which there are splendid views.
TUNISIA TRAVEL TIP
Carpet touts are persistent and some are devious. It’s probably safest to refuse all invitations to come into shops, look at views, stop for a coffee or anything else. Most usually end up in a carpet shop.