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Tunisia is located on the northernmost tip of Africa. It borders the Mediterranean Sea and is flanked by Algeria and Libya. It has a total area of 163,610 sq km which equates to an area slightly lager than Georgia. Tunisia has a Mediterranean climate. It is temperate along the coast, and becomes hotter as you move southward toward the Sahara Desert. The country is mountainous to the north along the Atlas Mountains. The rest of the country is low-lying, with tells, plains and lush valleys. Tunisia is especially arable in the Sahil region, along its eastern coast. Some of the environmental issues the country faces include water pollution, limited natural fresh water resources, deforestation, desertification and soil erosion.
Interactive Map – an interactive map of Tunisia that allows user to view images of popular cities.
History and Government:
Located at the northernmost point of the African continent on the Mediterranean coast, Tunisia has been considered a great strategic location through the centuries. After the Berbers, the great seafaring Phoenicians took hold of the region in the 9th century BC. According to legend, Queen Dido established the capital in Carthage in 814 BC. She is most famous for her romance with Aeneas in Virgil’s Aeneid.
As Carthage rose to power, it gained its independence from other Phoenician settlements. Starting in the 3rd century BC, it led a series of wars against the Roman Empire called the Punic Wars. The Second Punic War was led by Hannibal and was particularly bloody. This war was marked by Hannibal’s incredible crossing of the Alps with 80,000 men and a number of war elephants. Nonetheless, Rome eventually conquered and annexed Carthage.
The region was subsequently conquered by the Vandals in the 5th century, the Byzantines in the 6th century and finally the Arabs in the 7th-8th century. Several Islamic dynasties successively ruled over Tunisia. It became part of the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century until the French seized control of the area in 1881. The number of French colonists increased dramatically under the French protectorate.
In 1957, Tunisia was granted independence and became a republic. Habib Bourguiba became the first president and led the country for exactly three decades. He enacted many liberal and pro-Western reforms including compulsory free education and women’s rights. He also made the historical Jericho Speech in 1965 supporting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
On November 7, 1987, Bourguiba was judged to be medically incapable of running the country and was replaced by his Prime Minister Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who ruled for twenty-four years. Recently, violent protests have shaken the country in response to growing unemployment, food inflation and lack of political freedom, in what has been called the Jasmine Revolution. President Ben Ali was forced to go into exile in January 2011, leaving his Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi at the head of an interim government.
Tunisia – a brief history of Tunisia from the 10th c. BC to the present
People and Language:
The population of Tunisia is approximately 10.5 million with an average life expectancy of 76 years. Most of the population is of Berber or Arab descent and speak Arabic. French is commonly used in the major cities and in business settings. According to the CIA Fact Book, 67% of the population lives in urban area, growing at a rate of 1.7% per year. Though most of the population is of Arab or Berber descent, there is a small Jewish and European community.
As we have seen, the education system is Tunisia has been a high priority. It is compulsory for children between the ages of 6 and 16. The Tunisian education system is based off the French system with three cycles: primary, college and lycée. There are many universities for students to attend including the Ecole Polytechnique de Tunisie, the International University of Tunis, and the Université des Sciences de Tunis. They are mostly located in the capital. In 2005-2006, there were 178 public institutions of higher education, all almost free. According to the CIA Fact Book, the literacy rate is 74.3%, which is quite high compared to other countries in the region.
Health conditions have steadily improved over the years and free health services are available to approximately 70% of the population. As of 1999, there were 0.7 physicians per 1,000 people and this number has gradually increased over the years. The government supports family planning, which has led to a decrease in fertility rates.
98% of Tunisia’s population is Muslim. The remaining 2% are a mix of Christians, Jews and other religions. Tunisia has a secular and tolerant culture. One third of the Jewish population lives in Tunis while the remaining reside in Djerba, an island off of the eastern coast of Tunisia.
In spite of its small size, Tunisia is an extremely diverse country. As we have seen, it was subsequently conquered by the Phoenicians, Romans and Arabs and is home to many ethnicities and religions.
Tunisia has a rich artistic culture and hosts a great number of festivals every year. It is known for many of its crafts products such as pottery, carpets and jewelry. It is especially famous for its mosaics of varying colors and shapes. This tradition was inherited from the ancient kingdoms that ruled the country. The Bardo Museum, located in Tunis, holds one of the greatest collections of mosaics from the Greek, Roman and Islamic periods.
Bardo Museum – This Tourism Tunisia website provides a profile of the Bardo Museum and its collection.
Tunisia is home to some of the most impressive Punic and Roman sites. The amphitheatre in El Jem is the third largest amphitheatre in the Roman world (after the Colosseum in Rome and the amphitheatre in Capua). Dougga, in northern Tunisia, is considered one of the most well preserved Roman towns in North Africa. You can also visit the old city of Carthage, though most of the ruins are from the Roman period.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan is one of the most important mosques in Tunisia. It was built in several stages during the 7th and 8th centuries during the Aghlabid period. It served as the prototype for other North African mosques.
Many movies were filmed in Tunisia including parts of George Lucas’ Star Wars movies. Many of the sets can still be seen including Tataouine and Matmata where you can visit the famous troglodyte caves.
Architecture of Tunisia – Tour ArchNet’s digital library offering images and information on significant sites in Tunisia.
El Jem – Images and description of El Jem, one of the largest and best-preserved Roman amphitheatre.
Carthage – Timeline, images, articles and book recommendations about the ancient city of Carthage
Tunisia is best known for ma’louf, a kind of Andalusian music imported by Arabs and Jews during the 15th century. It is played by small musical ensembles consisting of violins, lutes (ouds), and zithers. Ma’louf is highly influenced by Ottoman and Berber music. Today, it is mostly played at weddings and other events.
Soccer is the most popular sport in Tunisia. Tunisians have participated in several African and World Cup competitions. Tourism has helped develop and popularize many other sports such as golf, volleyball and tennis. Water sports such as sailing and scuba diving are also very popular.