Tunisia: A North African & Arabian Beauty

by Mohammed Awni
2005

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Tunisia is a small country jutting into the Mediterranean and almost touching the Southern tip of Italy. It enjoys a slightly cool weather in the winter 'temperature around 16 c' and not exceeding 32 c in the mid. summer (July, August), and some rain in the months of Oct., Nov., Dec., Jan and Feb. Tunisia can be divided into two major areas, the coastline and the Sahara which covers the interior of the country. Its sandy beaches stretch hundreds of miles north and east. While the desert and the unspoiled sand dunes cover most of the Western and Southern borders.

The country is green in the north and east with olive, citrus and other fruit trees in abundance. It was a French colony for a long time. France claimed Tunis in 1878 at the Berlin Congress which divided the Ottoman Empire, and actually invaded the country in 1883 and declared Tunisia as French Protectorate. Independence was gained in 1956 and in 1957 Tunisia became a Republic headed by the late Habib Bourguiba. This long association with France, and knowing the cruel French policies with its colonies had its influences on many facets of life particularly on the language!

Although Tunisia is populated by majority Arabs, and Islam is the dominant Religion (98%), Christian and Jewish minorities do exist. Arabic is the official language but with the French accent, actually it would be easier to get along speaking French rather than Arabic. Other spoken languages are Italian, German and English.

Majority of tourists are Italian and German. English speaking tourists are on the increase. The country has a long history and was across road for Berbers from the south of the Sahara and Phoenician traders from the east (from Today's Lebanon) who established the city of Carthage, which was rebuilt by Julius Caeser. It prospered for over 400 years to become the third largest city in the Roman Empire. It was destroyed again by the vandals 'Germanic Tribes' and restored again by the Byzantines. The Arab Army arrived in 647 CE and Islam was introduced. Various Arab clans established dynasties until the Ottomans took over in 1574 CE

Having a holiday in Tunisia is fulfilling in the winter, spring, summer or autumn. For a sun-and-fun-seeking visitor there is every faculty. For cultural tourists there is an immense opportunity to see the history on a large scale. The Roman, Phoenician, Byzantine and Arabic historical sights are everywhere along the coastline. In some distant inland in Bardo Museum in Tunis (the Capital), you will find the largest collection of Mosaic in the world, in 'El Jem' you find the third largest Amphitheater in the world after the ones in Rome and Verona in Italy. It was in this area that both films, the 'Gladiator' and the 'Star Wars,' were shot.

Although the touring company organizes several day tours to various parts and attractions, it is better to do it on your own and spend the time enjoying what you like most. For me, historical sites were of importance, and I managed to see a good deal. In Carthage you can go round the site for hours and could be days before one can see all the accomplishments of those great people. The baths, the monuments, the dwellings and the Amphitheaters are astonishing. The mosaic decorations on the ceilings, walls and even the floor make one wonder of the richness of the people who live and maintain them there.

A Two-day trip by coach took us South and South West deep into the desert passing by El Jem, Sfax, Gabes, Matmata to Douz at the edge of huge salt like 'Chott Djerid' where we spent the night. Before we got to the hotel we had a taste of the desert life. Camel rides, sunset behind the dunes with the ghostly shadows of camels on the far horizon engulfed us all.

Kairauan

Next morning we crossed the salt lake and continued in the Northeastern direction passing by the gorge of Mides and on to Kairauan, which is the oldest city the Arabs established in Tunisia. It is among the holiest cities in the Islamic world (after Mecca, Medina, Jerusalem, Karbalaa' and Najaf) The grand Mosque where Sidi Oqba Bin Nafea is buried dates back to 863 CE. The mosque's main prayer hall with its marble pillars, the Mihrab have been decorated with mosaic brought from Baghdad during the Abbaside Dynasty's Caliph Harun Ar-Rashid.

After the Kairauan, we headed back to our hotel at Port El Kantaoui. I was not satisfied with this short visit to Kairauan, so I visited it again on my own and spent a whole day roaming around this wonderful historic place.

Dougga

Dougga is Tunisia's best preserved and spectacular Roman ruins. This site has a dramatic setting on a hillside with wide views of the surrounding beautiful and green countryside. It was built on the original ancient settlement of Thugga, which became the site of the Namidian King Massinissa in the 2nd century BCE. This site is huge and they are still digging; 30% of it is still uncovered. One needs a whole week to be able to see it thoroughly. I decided to go there next time I am in Tunisia and stay in a hotel near the site.

I have traveled to many parts of the world, but I don't understand how I missed Tunisia. Now I have been there, I would like to go again and again. There is so much to see and enjoy, the people are kind and helpful, the country is clean, and the transportation and food are cheap by any standard. The package holiday makes the visit hassle free, and you have all the time to do the things you would like to do.

It was wonderful to be in Tunisia!

© Copyright by Mohammed Awni and INEAS, 2005

Mohammed Awni was born in Mosul (IRAQ), finished high school in Baghdad, was sent to U.K. to qualify in Aeronautical Engineering. He returned to Baghdad and joined the IRAQI Airways. Five years later, he joined the Kuwaiti Airways and worked in Kuwait for 7 years before returning back to Iraq. With his British wife, he had three daughters and one son. In the 1980s, he became the director of quality control, and later Director of Engineering. Due to political pressure, he had to leave to the U.K. with his family in July 1990.