Tunis, Tunisia

photo: A beautiful, domed ceiling covered in raised-relief star shapes and connecting patterns, each shape filled with a different mix of colour. In the centre of the ceiling is a gold-coloured light fitting, sculpted into an unusual shape.
One of the elaborate ceilings on show in the Bardo Museum.

Tunis was the only place in Tunisia that really felt like a city rather than a provincial town. It's bigger, busier, and brighter than any of the other places we'd visited. The Avenue Habib Bourguiba offers a cathedral, a department store, a cinema, and many other stores that you'd be unlikely to find in the smaller cities of Tunisia. At the same time, Tunis has a lively medina full of traders offering the things you would expect to find in other medinas across Tunisia.

Our accommodation was the Hotel Maison Dorée, relative luxury compared to the hotels we'd been staying in. Its continental breakfast was an excellent way to start the day. For an evening meal, we found La Mamma to be a great place for food, though the live entertainment would not have been my first choice.

It was in Tunis that we finally found an official shop for souvenirs and rugs. The official shop guarantees the quality of its rugs, but the prices reflect this. My friend instead opted to go shopping for a rug in the medina. Once he'd located a shop that sold the sort of rug he was after, the serious selling began. The shop owner did everything he could to show my friend a selection that would guarantee interest, and then a stubborn haggling match began. The whole process must have lasted thirty minutes.

The Bardo Museum in the west of the city houses hundreds of historical artefacts: statues, mosaics, the ruins of a shipwrecked trade ship, weapons of war, and more. Another historical site can be found at the remains of the Roman aqueduct, which we didn't have time to visit.


photo: Outlines of old walls poke up out of the dust, while in the background larger ruins can be seen.
The ruins at Byrsa Hill in Carthage.

On the coast an hour to the east of Tunis is Carthage, the source of some of the items exhibited in the Bardo Museum. Carthage was once the trading capital of the world, but the jealousy of the Romans led to its almost total destruction. Very little of the original Carthage remains, but what does remain can be seen at Byrsa Hill, overlooking the Gulf of Tunis.

There are several Roman ruin sites to see in Carthage, but many of the sites are hidden away, poorly maintained, or have been renovated or built over. And visiting all of the sites requires quite a lot of walking from one site to another. Those with stamina or an interest in ancient history should find it worthwhile.

Sidi Bou Said

photo: A sunset view from the hilltop out over the seafront.
The view from the top of the hill at Sidi Bou Said.

A little way north of Carthage is Sidi Bou Said. This was the most affluent area we saw in Tunisia, and we didn't encounter pressure tactics once. The top of a steep hill dotted with shops and cafés offers a nice view out over the bay, but know that if you choose to take the dirt track down to the beach you'll be walking along what is known in the area as lovers' lane. Young Tunisian couples will stare at you for a few seconds, then get back to the business at hand. The beach at the bottom was pleasant, but the large number of umbrellas and sun loungers suggested that it is very popular with tourists in the peak season.