Resting along the Mediterranean Sea and adjacent to Algeria and Libya is the North African country of Tunisia. With over 800 miles of coastline, the country has particularly fertile soil and is bordered in the south by the Sahara Desert.
Because of its location in North Africaand proximity to vital shipping routes, Tunisia has long been an important player in the Mediterranean. In each of their time, the Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French all have realized the strategic significance of the country. French colonial rule ended in 1956, and Tunisia was then led for three decades by Habib Bourguiba.
Tunisia has pursued strong trade links with Europe and the country has been more prosperous than its neighbors. There is a strong agricultural component to the work force with dates and olive productions continuing to rise. Tunisia has been in a state of transition since President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled the country in January 2011 following widespread unrest. The unrest has led to a noticeable decrease in the tourism trade for the country the past year.
My trip to Tunisia took place in 2010 before the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt. I began my trip to Tunisia in the north visiting the oldest city, Bizerte an important commercial port where the marina is very popular and white and blue colonial houses line the harbor.It was founded around 1000 BC by Phoenicians from Tyre.It is also known as the last town to remain under French control after the rest of the country won its independence from France. Bizerte is known for its beautiful beaches and large yacht marina.
Roman Ruins of Utica
From Bizerte I traveled south to Utica (Utique) which was founded as a port because of its location on the trade route heading to the Atlantic.The ruins of Utica are set on a low hill, composed of several Roman villas. Their walls still preserve decorative floor mosaics; the best known mosaic entitled” waterfall” with green, yellow, blue, and red tiles creating a colorful look.Today, the remains of Utica that were once on the coast have moved further inland because of erosion and deforestation which caused the mouth of the river to be covered in silt.Phoenician skeletal remains have been discovered in Utica but most of the ruins are Roman as the Roman people built on top of the ancient Phoenician homes.
About 40 km from Utica lay the ancient ruins of Carthage, which date back to 800 BC. The first civilization that developed within the city is referred to as Punic another name for Phoenician. The city of Carthage is located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis across from Tunis. It became a large and rich city and therefore a major power in the Mediterranean. Old Carthage had massive walls, 23 miles (37 kilometers) in length, a huge necropolis or burial ground, religious area, market places, council house, towers and a theatre. Among the highlights to be seen nowadays are the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre and thermal AntonineBaths(once the largest baths built by the Romans). You can get a great view of Carthage by climbing the nearby Byrsa Hill, where you can visit the Carthage Museum. The museum has exhibits of mosaics, sculptures and artifacts from the period up to 146 BC when Carthage was destroyed by the Romans.
Within the modern city of Carthage lies the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorialwhere 2,841 United States military casualties are buried. Most lost their lives during World War IIin North Africa. The cemetery is easily accessible to anyone interested in viewing the graves of those Americans that gave their life for our freedom.
As the capital city of the country, Tunis is the center of Tunisian political and administrative life as well as commercial activity. The capital city has a population of over 700,000 people with over 2 million living in the metropolitan area. The expansion of the Tunisian economy in recent decades is noticed in the extensive development of the outer city where rapid modernization in Tunisia has created some social challenges. The Medina or center of Tunis contains some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, and fountains. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. Some of the highlights of the medina include the Great Mosque (including the Muslim University and library),Al-Zaytuna Mosque (“Mosque of the Olive”) built in 723 to celebrate the new capital, and Dar-al-Bey, or Bey’s Palace, which combines architecture from many different styles and periods.
Within the city of Tunis lie Souks, shopping areas of covered streets where tourists and locals can” negotiate” the price of various goods:carpets, jewelry, silks souvenirsand many other items. Tunis is a great spot for shopping so remember to bring along some extra cash and take advantage of it. Remember… ALWAYS BARTER! For sure they will ask you if you are an American, meaning their initial price will be way too much.
Located outside of the city are many different olive tree farms. KsarEzzit Domain, a beautiful organic farm in the Jougar region in the high hills of north central Tunisia, is made up of over 75,000 trees and proudly produces organic olive oil that is shipped throughout the world. Olives are an important product for Tunisia and the country has the right soil and climate for their success. I enjoyed visiting the region and learning about how olives are pressed into oil. I learned that a lot of Olive Oil that we are eating and thinking that it is coming from Italy or Greece, is really from Tunisia- it just has a different country’s label.
Hammamet is one of Tunisia’s main tourist areas with a convenient location less than an hour from Tunis airport and gorgeous sandy beaches. Despite being one of the first hot spots of Tunisian tourism, Hammamet has managed to remain relatively unchangedas noted by the surrounding lush vegetation and agriculture including fruit, vegetables and grain.
Hammamet is considered the resort city and would be the city you would find the most tourists. Besides the beach, Hammamet has several highlights such as the Kasbah and the International Cultural Centre found in a spectacular villa. American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, once described the villa as “the most beautiful house I know” so it is definitely worth a look.