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Tunis, colonial past and modernity

Haussmann in Tunis

Wander in the street of Paris or the street of Marseille or pop in the old Cafés of the Barcelone square. Have a look at the Mediterranian white Haussmanian buildings.

Several old colonial buildings are collapsing but some of them are being restored. At the 22nd of the street of Liberty, take notice of the stunning facade of the Majestic hotel.

Even if the heart of economic life has moved to new business quarters, the old colonial city retains the charms of its cosmopolitan history.

Skyscraper and old building


For centuries Tunis was bounded by the walls of the medina.

Before the French Protectorate, the city stretched over the surrounding hills and towards the lake, around the Avenue Habib Bourguiba (avenue Jules Ferry at that time), the Tunisian Champs Elysées.

The French, Italians, British, Jewish and Maltese left the crowded quarters of the medina to settle in brand new houses.

With the French Protectorate (1881), theatres, operas, churches, shopping malls appeared next to the mosques blending arts and influences.

Colonial quarter of Tunis

During nearly a century, Tunis was a cosmopolitan town. In the end of the thirties, there were 100 000 Muslims and 115 000 Christians ( 40 000 Italians and 22 000 French).

For a long time, about 20 000 Jews lived in the capital. After the second world war, it swelled to even 65 000, whereas they are just 1000 today.

The great majority of Christians and Jews left the town after independence in 1956. But Tunis continues its developement as it attracts people from the countryside.

Tunis abounds with tourists who come for a cultural break before heading to the beach or the desert.

Transport in Tunis

In the town center, you should either walk or take a taxi. In the latter case, check that the meter is on.

Bus lines are numerous, but hours and lines are not always reliable.

Try the so-called metro: 5 modern and comfortable tram lines. The terminal is in Barcelone square, near the train station. The 4th line leads to the Bardo museum.

In the outskirts of Tunis, trafic jam could hamper your plans.

Take the TGM, a suburban train calling at Carthage, La Marsa, Sidi Bou Said and La Goulette. Departure at the end of the Avenue Bourguiba next to the lake.

Fishing in La Goulette

La Goulette, Tunis harbour

If you reach Tunis by boat, you arrive at La Goulette. The main interest of this sea town lies in its history.

It was once a Spanish town, a Christian jail, the place for migrants'arrival... La Goulette is a cultural blend. A century ago, the Italians chose this Tunisian port rather than America.

Sicilia is only 150 km away! Hence, the "little Sicilia" quarter of La Goulette.


Now that the Italians and other migrants are gone, la Goulette is a seaside resort, a shopping quarter and a very popular place for Tunisians to come out.

It is not of much interest during the day, but wakes at night. Around the fishing port, have a meal at the seafood restaurant 'la petite étoile'. Or else, wander around while savouring a brick or a sandwich like many Tunisians.

Fabio Benedetti-Valentini © 


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