Located in North Africa, Tunisia enjoys a strategic emplacement with a direct connection to Europe by sea and the rest of the middle east by land, making her a transaction point to several civilizations. Medinas, fortresses, Roman remains… Unesco inscribes seven sites and monuments on the World Heritage List for their cultural value such as the sites of Carthage, Dougga, El Jem,  as well as the medinas of Tunis, Kairouan, and Sousse.

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Tunis Skyline_©Tunisia Tourism

Tunisia has achieved amazing miscegenation of multiple influences. Andalusian refugees, Italian craftsmen, and Turkish sponsors have all made their mark there. This is how the minarets of Testour are reminiscent of Spanish architecture, the ceramics of Kairouan take up Ottoman motifs, and the mausoleums of the beys – rulers of Tunis – are decorated with marble in the Italian style

Amphitheatre of El Jem

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Amphithetare El Jem _©Trip Advisor

At first glance, you think it’s in Rome, but that’s when you are wrong. No need for long trips to Rome and standing in busy long lines. You can have the amphitheater all to yourself In Tunisia.  The amphitheater was built around 238 AD and welcomes approximately 530,000 visitors each year.

The small village of El Jem in the east of Tunisia holds within it the ruins of the largest colosseum in North Africa.

Listed in the Unesco heritage list since 1979, the  3rd-century monument, illustrating the extent of Imperia Roma, l can hold up to 35.000 spectators.  It is built entirely of stone blocks. It’s free-standing without foundation.  Despite the time, the monument has conserved most of the supporting infrastructure for the tiered seating. 

Similar to all amphitheaters,  the facade comprises three levels of arcades of Corinthian or composite style. The wall of the podium, as well as the arena, and the underground passages, are practically intact. 

The great mosque of Kairouan

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Mosque of Kairouan _©Trésors du monde

The oldest Muslim place of worship in Africa, the mosque was founded in 670 under the Aghlabid dynasty specifically by the order Okba Ibn Nafaa, turning the city of Kairouan a capital of all the Maghreb at that time. 

The Grand Mosque of Kairouan is one of the greatest Islamic wonders in the world. 

Built on a rectangular plan same as all mosque typologies, the edifice consists of a courtyard and a pillared hall divided into 17 naves and 8 bays.

 The squared front of the Mihrab, which dates from the period of Abu Ibrahim Ahmed,  is the intersection of the central nave, the bay, and the Qiblah.

The use of Flore is common in the inscriptions of Islamic art and they are seen in scalloped and polyfoil rosette motifs inspired by the Umayyad repertoire. 

In the history of art, its three-story minaret capped with a flute dome,  is considered a masterpiece and a model among the most prestigious monuments of Muslim architecture, becoming more reminiscent of some Roman lighthouses or Syrian bell towers.

To keep seen from any distance, the municipality of Kairouan forbids buildings from going higher than two levels.  

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The Prayer Hall _©Flickr

The prayer hall with its large number of columns, along with the galleries around the courtyard, all of those elements from the largest collection of Roman and Byzantine capitals in any Muslim monument or museum. 

When you wander into the prayer hall, you observe the well-preserved beams of the wooden roof. They are decorated in the Greek manner with spear-shaped fruit wrapped in symmetrical palm leaves.

The niche has 28 panels of pierced or chased marble. It contrasts with the surround of the niche which is covered in a chequered work of luster ceramic tiles that are probably of Iraqi origin.

The minbar is the oldest Muslim preacher’s chair that we possess. It is made of more than 300 pieces of Indian teak. The wood carving combines Byzantine and Mesopotamian influences. To the right of the minbar, the measure, another precious wooden piece has rich calligraphy in flowery Kufic.

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The Dome _©https://imadhamouda.artstation.com/projects/9d0dR

When you are roaming in the vast courtyard, you’ll be amazed by the infinity of  galleries. Both extremities of the patio are centered with Islamic features. 

 At the center of the narthex, south-orientated rises the fluted dome right in the middle of the narthex. 

In the center of the north side opposite the dome, the minaret rises to a height of 32 m. 

The stoned fence is just as strong, with many towers and bastions, held up with wide buttresses. There are several gates with porches.

 Given its size and the authenticity and diversity of its architectural and decorative elements, the Great Mosque at Kairouan serves as one of the most prestigious places of worship in Islam.

Saint vincent de paul cathedral

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Saint Vincent de Paul cathedral _©iStock

The Saint Vincent de Paul Cathedral in Tunis, located on Bourguiba Avenue, is in the neo-Romanesque style, like all the constructions of this period (Romanesque, Gothic or Byzantine). It bears the name of Saint Vincent de Paul, the famous founder of the Lazarists and the Daughters of Charity and who was – when he was a young priest – captured and then sold as a slave in Tunis at the very beginning of the 17th century.

It is built on the old Saint Antoine cemetery, which was donated in the 17th century by the Beys of Tunis to the Catholic community. The chapel is considered the oldest Christian monument in Tunis. 

Combining Byzantine and Roman styles, this building is distinguished by a very rich architecture imagined by the architect Bonnet-Labranche. Its stained glass windows are the work of master glassmaker Bessac. They represent saints and popes and take up historical scenes and events that took place. 

The facade is divided into three parts: a central bay, whose decoration evokes the Saint-Augustin church in Paris, and two towers. The towers are square in plan and crowned by tiara-shaped domes reminiscent of those of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre.

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The interior Saint Vincent de Paul cathedral _©LePetitJournal

The fresco above the choir is the work of the French painter George Lemaire. It was executed from 1928 to 1930 and represents three ideas within the same surface: on the left, the arrival of Father Jean Le Vacher in Tunisia to plead in favor of slaves with the Bey of Tunis during the 17th century; on the right, Tunisia at the beginning of the 20th century; in the center, the apotheosis of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul.

Under the cathedral is preserved a crypt that extends under the entire extent of the apse. The walls are covered with funerary plaques and ancient tombs still stand inside.

Lac Hotel 

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Hotel Du Lac _©Design Indaba

The Hotel du Lac is a former hotel located on Mohamed V Street in Tunis, designed by the Italian architect Raffaele Contigiani, this building was built between 1970 and 1973.

This icon of brutalist architecture was built on 190 reinforced concrete piles 60m deep, from exposed concrete (raw concrete) around a steel structure, creating a single block ten stories long.

The hotel contains protruding stairs at each end that creates an inverted pyramid shape.

The 416 rooms are mainly in the upper part, the decoration of the interior is quite retro giving an air of ‘seventies’, and the floor is covered with linoleum as for the choice of colors, it revolves around brown, orange, and red.

The striking design, deviating from traditional Arab and European architecture, has made the hotel a symbol of modernism and avant-garde in Tunisia. It remains an important example of brutality in North Africa. Its peculiar shape has led to comparisons with the tracked vehicle from the Star Wars films. The inverted pyramid hotel inspired the film producers who created the ‘Sandcrawler’ in the sci-fi movie ‘Star Wars’.

The Mosque of Zitouna 

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The mosque Patio _©Sud Tunisien

The Zitouna Mosque, or Mosque of the Olive Tree, is the second largest mosque in Tunisia after the Great Mosque of Kairouan, is located in the heart of the Medina of Tunis

The Great Mosque occupies the heart of the city from which radiate the main arteries leading to the famous gates of the Medina.

The foundation goes back to the governor Abdallah Ibn el-Habhab (732 of the Christian era) according to certain sources or Hassan Ibn Noomane according to others.

In any case, it was erected in the context of the Muslim conquest of the Maghreb, on the remains of a Christian basilica, which confirms the legend reported by Ibn Abi Dinar on the presence of the tomb of Saint Olive (martyred under Hadrian in 138 ) at the location of the mosque.

Of the mosque built under the reign of the Umayyads, almost nothing remains because the building was completely rebuilt in 864 under the reign of the Aghlabid emir Aboul Ibrahim and by order of the Abbasid Caliph of Baghdad Al-Musta`in.

In 990, the Zirid sovereign Mansour ibn Bologhine had the bichrome dome of the “bahou” built above the entrance to the prayer hall overlooking the courtyard.

Subsequently, in 1250, the Hafsid sultan Abû `Abd Allah Muhammad al-Mustansir added imposing cisterns.

The mosque will undergo major restorations in 1316 thanks to Abu Yahya Abu Bakr al-Mutawakkil: he had the beams replaced and the doors that close the prayer room and the outbuildings built.

A Turkish-style library was funded by the Ottoman sultan Murad II in 1450. After the Spanish occupation, the imam of a nearby mosque restored the monument, embellished the mihrab area, and built the eastern gallery in 1637.

Finally, an Almohad-style minaret, the work of the amines Tahar Ben Saber and Sliman Ennigrou, was added to the mosque in 1894 in place of the minaret built under Hammouda Pasha in 1652.

After independence in 1956, Presidents Habib Bourguiba and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ordered major restoration and rehabilitation works, particularly during the 1960s and 1990s.

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The Prayer Room _©Wikipidia

The Zitouna mosque takes up the typology of the mosques of Cordoba and Kairouan with its trapezoidal courtyard framed by a 10th-century gallery.

The gallery serving as the narthex rests on ancient columns and capitals, the other three galleries resting on columns with white marble capitals imported from Italy in the middle of the 19th century3. In the middle of the courtyard is a sundial that helped set the times for prayers.

The dome of the narthex located at the entrance to the prayer room, known as the” bahou”, is decorated in ocher stone and red brick. The numerous niches covering the square base and the octagonal drum link it to Fatimid art.

The rectangular hypostyle prayer hall (56 meters by 24) covers 1,344 m² while nearly 160 columns and ancient capitals delimit 15 naves and 6 bays. The middle nave and the transverse nave of the transept, wider than the others (4.80 meters instead of 3 meters), intersect in front of the mihrab which is itself preceded by a dome bearing an inscription attributing it to the caliph Abbasid Al-Musta`in.

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The Patio _©Carlton Hotel

The square minaret, at the northwest corner of the courtyard, 43 meters high, takes up the decoration of the Almohad minaret of the Kasbah mosque, made of limestone tracery on an ocher sandstone background.

The eastern facade was completed by a courtyard adorned with a colonnade in the Hafsid style.

Medina of Tunis 

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TheMedina’s souks _©LonelyPlanet

Tunis was considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Islamic world under the Hafsid and Almohads dynasties. 

The Medina of Tunis is an example of a human settlement that has preserved the integrity of its urban fabric with all its typo-morphological components. The effects of socio-economic changes make this traditional establishment vulnerable, which must be fully protected.

Listed in Unesco Heritage since 1979, it is located in a region of a fertile plain, in the northeast of Tunisia and a few kilometers from the sea, the Medina of Tunis is one of the first Arab-Muslim cities in the Maghreb (698 AD). Capital of several dynasties with universal influence, it represents a human establishment witnessing the interaction between architecture, town planning, and the socio-cultural and economic effects of previous cultures. Under the Almohads and the Hafsids, from the 12th to the 16th century, it was considered one of the most important and richest cities in the Arab world. There are many testimonies from this period and earlier periods. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the new powers gave it numerous palaces and residences, large mosques, zaouias, and medersas.

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TheMedina’s Gate_©iStock

The inscribed property covers an area of ​​approximately 280 ha and presents all the components of an Arab-Muslim town. It is made up of the central medina (8th century) and the northern and southern suburbs (13th century). There are 700 historical monuments, spread over seven areas, among which the most remarkable are the Zitouna mosque, the Kasbah mosque, the mosque of Youssef Dey, the door of Bab Jedid, the door of Bab Bhar, the Souk el-Attarine, the Dar el-Bey, the Souk ech-Chaouachia, the Tourbet (family cemetery) el Bey, the patrician residences such as Dar Hussein, Dar Ben Abdallah, Dar Lasram, the Medrasa Es-Slimanya and El-Mouradia, the barracks of El Attarine and the Zaouia of Sidi Mehrez.

Through its souks, its urban fabric, its residential districts, its monuments, and its gates, this ensemble constitutes a prototype among the best preserved in the Islamic world.


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Houmet Souk in Djerba_©MyRoadTrip

Jerba also spelled Jarbah or Djerba, is an island situated in the Gulf of Gabes on the Mediterranean Sea, located off the Tunisian mainland, to which it is connected by a causeway almost 4 miles (6 km) long. It was originally settled by Romans and was historically known as the land of the lotus eaters. 

Djerba also known as the Island of dreams is one of 32 cities in the world Heritage according to UNESCO.  

One of the known places in Djerba is Djerbahood where all the walls are painted with drawings of international artists on its walls 

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In a country that’s 98 percent Muslim, Djerba is home to around 1,300 Jews, and El Ghriba is an important feature of Jewish life on the island.

 As one of the oldest synagogues in the world, the temple of “Ghriba” is a focal point for Jews for Pilgrimage for over two millennia. 

People believe that it was built around 500 B.C. by Jews who had fled after the Roman destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem. 

The synagogue from the outside is painted in white to match the island and also reflect better the constant sun. Although the interior is darker in light level and painted mostly in blue as that color symbolizes God’s glory, purity, and severity.

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Ghriba Synagogue_©Espace Manager

The great period of Islam specifically two rites: Maliki and Ibadi have great impacts on the style of living of Djerbies and their architecture.  Djerba has more than 360 Mosques for different purposes; praying, teaching, controlling, or hiding from the enemy.

Mosquée Fadhloun_©Trouve ta Mosquée

Djerba has also a unique house toplogy called El Menzel.

It is a self-sufficient house: on the same private property of every djerbians you’ll find el houch which is the main house for living, serval agricultural activities, a weaving workshop, and a well for collecting the water

A modular rectangular shape was generated to create el houch, which is the heart of the Menzel. A center with a hollow cube with a sober façade for intimacy.  

We enter from the Skifah (north-orientated chamber)  which is a transition space between the interior and the exterior. 

The suites are called the Dar and divided into spaces: el Ghorfa where we sleep and under it, we have the bathroom, and the Dokkana for sitting

The Empire of Carthage

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The Port of Carthage_©Pinterest

Carthage was a Phoenician city-state founded in 814 BCE by Queen Elissa as the legend says, on the coast of North Africa (the site of modern-day Tunis). 

It was the largest, and most powerful political entity in the Mediterranean. 

The city developed significantly following Alexander’s destruction obliging Phoenician refugees to flee from their homes to Carthage. They arrived with whatever wealth they had and which established Carthage as the new center of the Phoenician trade.

Carthage’s main port contained two linked harbors, with a 21 m wide entrance from the sea  that could be closed with iron chains: a circular one for harboring the city’s massive navy of 220 warships, and a rectangular one for mercantile trade.

The Carthaginian trading ships sailed daily to ports all around the Mediterranean Sea while their navy, supreme in the region, kept them safe, and opened new territories for trade and resources through conquest as the Carthaginians built their empire.

Still traumatized by the past events, the central island rose above sea level, allowing Carthaginian commanders to observe what was going on at sea.

The city responds to everybody’s needs: a huge Necropolis, religious area, marketplaces, council houses, towers, and a theatre, and was divided into four equally-sized residential areas with the same layout. 

The center of Punic Carthage was at the present Byrsa hill, a hilltop from where there are great views of the Gulf of Tunis. 

The Byrsa is a citadel located on a low hill in the middle of the city overlooking the sea. 

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The remains of Carthage_©Wondermondo

All these different projects represent a snippet of the historic architecture in Tunisia.

Each city holds within it a trace of the various civilizations that Tunisia witnessed. 

It is amazing how a small country can hold so much history in it. 


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