THE PLACE WHERE AFRICA AND MEDITERRANEAN MEET: TUNISIA

THE CAPITAL OF TUNISIA WHERE THE GREATEST EMPIRES OF HISTORY HAVE LEFT THEIR MARKS, TUNIS MAKES POSSIBLE BREATHING BOTH AFRICAN AND MEDITERRANEAN AIR AT THE SAME TIME.

The capital of the African country Tunisia, Tunis welcomes you with contrast scenes at first: merchants who make fez at medina that is from the 9th century; right out of it, cars with European tags that pass by Habib Bourguiba Boulevard; traditional straw hats and the latest fashion sunglasses next to them… The capital Tunis is where the heart of commerce, politics, and banking beats. The capital city doesn’t evoke the feeling of being in an African country. Habib Bourguiba Boulevard is to blame for that. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this wide street from the French colonization resembles famous Champs-Elysee Boulevard of France. The boulevard where boardwalk café-restaurants, high rise buildings, and starred hotels lineup is especially lively at nights.

The traditional face of Tunis: medina
If the modern face of the city is Habib Bourgiba Boulevard, then ‘medina,’ which is located at the other end of the city, established in the 9th century and also known as the old city that expanded in time, is the traditional face of the city. The important mosques and madrasahs of the capital remain within the borders of medina. Although, fabric merchants, perfume sellers, antique shops, fez makers, and slipper makers take place in separate sections but still together, you can feel the guild system on the streets of medina that survived until today from the medieval times.

What are you supposed to include into your list?
The National Library at door number 73, Café Ez-Zitouna through the hookah smell, Ez-Zitouna Mosque, a traditional Turkish coffee house M’Rabet, Booksellers Bazaar Souq des Libraries from the 13th century, Rue des Teinturiers -in other words Tanner Street, the Museum of Dar Ben Abdallah, Iron Craftsmen‘s Bazaar, Granada Restaurant, M’sed El-Kobba Mosque where the famous historian İbn-i Haldun had received education before he went to Cairo, Café Dar Mnouchi located at Souq el Leffa, slave market Souq el-Berka, Place du Gouvernement (Government Square), the palace guesthouse of the old times and now the residence of the prime minister Dar el-Bey, Kasbah Square that was destroyed by French in 1883 and Kasbah Mosque, Dar Hamouda Pasha Restaurant where you can find good coffee and hookah should be in your list.

Hats made from red felt
Souq des Chechias is the place where the red felt hats that are worn by Tunisian men are made. Café Chaoechin, which is among the old coffeehouses of medina, is also located in here. Making of these hats called ‘chechia’ was among the large industries of Tunisia in the 17th century. 15 thousand artisans make 1 million chechias in a year, exporting them around the world.

The legendary city of Hannibal
The ruins of the three thousand year old city Carthage, which is identified with the legendary hero Hannibal and among the greatest cities of the ancient world, are in the World Heritage List of the UNESCO. According to the legend, the Phoenicians established the city in 814 B.C. and later it was accepted as one of the important cities of the Roman Empire. The ruins are impressive. If you don’t have much time, you should see Antonine Pius Baths first. At first, you can only see the base along the shore; however, you can still get an idea about the largeness of the structure. The shore stretches for 15 km.

Blue-white and famous
Blue-white architecture that you can see in many regions of the country welcomes you in its most striking state in Sidi Bou Said, a historical town that is settled over a hill. The narrow streets of the town dominate Tunis Bay. Red geraniums and pink bougainvilleas hang down the white walls, decorating yards. Buildings are structured around the square and Zaouia Mosque, in the name of Sufi saint Sidi Bou Said who had lived in the 13th century. The town hosted many painters and writers such as Paul Klee, Andre Gide, and Michel Foucault. Cafes, bakeries, and souvenir shops lineup along the sides of the cobblestoned street. This place has an irresistible liveliness, despite its touristic appearance. Today, the palace, which was built by the order of Baron Rodolphe d’Erlanger for his wife Elizabeth in the beginning of the 19th century, is the Arab and Mediterranean Music Center  -Dar Nejma Ezzahra. Each house in the town still keeps a musical instrument collection.

The favorite shores of the European jet set
The prettiest beaches of Tunisia are the ones that stretch to north and south of the capital. Hammamet located in a bay 65 km southwest of the capital used to be frequented by the European jet set during the 1920s. George Sebastian’s magnificent villa, which attracted the European jet set in here, is open to visitors as the Hammamet International Center of Culture today and its beautiful yard is worth seeing. At the end where medina unites with the sea, the  Kasbah (citadel) of Hammamet takes place, which is from the 15th century. You can watch the medina, houses, Hammamet Bay, and anglers from the city walls. You can breathe in this nice atmosphere while you are sitting at the café located at the shore right under the citadel and medina.

Oases are rich in dates
Tozeur, which is where the Tunisia’s second largest palm forest that is fed on hot underwater springs is located, is an oasis settlement. This is an excellent base for the ones who would like to explore oasis villages that are close to the Algerian border such as Nefta, Tamerza, Chebika, and Mides by a four-wheel drive. The narrow line known as Jerid between the two large salt lakes of the region, Chott El Jerid and Chott El Gharsa, is the most important cultivated area of Tunisia. The oases that surround it are famous with their good quality dates and they are the clearest examples to oasis cultivation. There are palm forests in this region of Tunisia. Tozeur has approximately 200 thousand palm trees. You can walk or ride a rental bike among the palm trees or try a phaeton.

Popular for Star Wars fans
Matmata and especially Hotel Sidi Driss are must visit locations for the fans of the cult movie ‘Star Wars’. You can still see some pieces of decoration used in the movie at the hotel in Matmata, which its surroundings were used as background for the movie. The barren and rough land where Matmata is located on the way to the desert really resembles the moon’s surface because of its numerous craters and cracks. Matmata is actually the name of a clan. Barbary people of Matmata found shelter underground from the summer’s heat centuries ago. Although, the town, which is still populated by Barbary people, is surrounded with modern buildings, most of the settlements consist of houses called ‘troglodit’ that are holes carved to rocks. Some large holes located in the town away from the main roads and caravan roads to ensure safety are wheat and grain silos. Locals call these houses ‘life under dead’. These houses with courtyards in the middle shelter them from the hard conditions of winter and summer. White washed rooms surrounding the courtyard open to the sides as in tunnels.

Tunis, where the greatest empires of history have left their marks, makes possible breathing both African and Mediterranean air at the same time and has the beauties of the two continents meet. It is a small city with big commitments.

PHOTO SPOT
It is great to watch the panorama of medina from the rooftops of the shops located at Souq el-Leffa.

TASTE STOP
Drinking mint tea with pine nuts at Café des Nattes in Sidi Bou Said is traditional.

DON’T MISS
Bardo Museum, which is accepted as the world’s largest mosaic museum, exhibits numerous art works in an environment surrounded with 4 thousand 700 square meters of mosaics.

ACCOMMODATION
Hotel Sidi Driss, which was the set of Star Wars, consists of five courtyards compounded with underground tunnels.