Country Profiles:
Tunisia

Tunisia is the smallest country in North Africa by land, and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya in the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east.Tunisia’s accessible Mediterranean Sea coastline and strategic location have attracted conquerors and visitors throughout the ages, and its ready access to the Sahara, according the Encyclopedia Britannica. Tunisia’s people are renowned for their conviviality and easygoing approach to daily life, qualities that Albert Memmi captured in his 1955 autobiographical novel Pillar of Salt.

Geographically, both the Sahara desert and Atlas mountains played a large role in ancients times. According to Greek legendDido, a princess of Tyre, was the first outsider to settle among the native tribes of what is now Tunisia when she founded the city of Carthage in the 9th century. Also, Tunisia was a Roman province. Vandals occupied the region during the 5th century, with Byzantines taking over during the 6th century, and Arabs following in the 8th century. In 1534, under the command of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, the first Ottoman conquest of Tunis took place. Permanent acquisition of Tunisia occurred in 1574, under Kapudan Pasha Uluc Ali Reis, and the Ottomans retained the region until French occupation in 1881.

UNESCO Heritage sites in Tunisia include:

1. Amphitheatre of El Jem

Is an oval amphitheatre in the Roman city of Thysdrus (actual El DjemTunisia). It is listed by UNESCO since 1979 as a World Heritage Site. The amphitheatre was built around 238 AD in Thysdrus, located in the Roman province of Africa Proconsulare in present-day El Djem, Tunisia. It is one of the best preserved Roman stone ruins in the world, and is unique in Africa. As other amphitheatres in the Roman Empire, it was built for spectator events, and it is one of the biggest amphitheatres in the world. The estimated capacity is nearly 35,000, and the sizes of the big and the small axes are respectively 148 metres (486 ft) and 122 metres (400 ft). The amphitheatre is built of stone blocks, located on a flat ground, and is exceptionally well conserved.

The amphitheatre of El Jem is the third amphitheatre built on the same place. The belief is that it was constructed by the local proconsul Gordian, who became the emperor as Gordian III. The local Romanized population sought here shelter during the attacks of Vandals in 430 AD and Arabs in 647 AD. In the Middle Ages, it served as a fortress.

2. Archaeological Site of Carthage

was the centre or capital city of the ancient Carthaginian civilization, on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis in what is now the Tunis Governorate in Tunisia. The city developed from a Phoenician colony into the capital of an empire dominating the Mediterranean during the first millennium BC. The legendary Queen Dido is regarded as the founder of the city, though her historicity has been questioned. According to accounts by Timaeus of Tauromenium, she purchased from a local tribe the amount of land that could be covered by an oxhide. Cutting the skin into strips, she laid out her claim and founded an empire that would become, through the Punic Wars, the only existential threat to the Roman Empire until the coming of the Vandals several centuries later.

3. Dougga / Thugga

The site features the ruins of Dougga, a former capital of a LibyanPunic state, which flourished under Ancient Rome and the Byzantine Empire, but declined in the Islamic period.

4. Ichkeul National Park

Ichkeul Lake and the surrounding wetlands is a destination for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, including ducks, geese, storks and pink flamingos. It was once part of a chain that extended across North Africa.

5. Kairouan

The former capital was founded in 670 and flourished in the 9th century. Its heritage includes the Mosque of Uqba and the Mosque of the Three Gates.

6. Medina of Sousse

A prime example of a town from the early Islamic period, the city was an important port during the 9th century.

7. Medina of Tunis

The medina holds 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasah and fourtains, testifying to Tunis’ golden age from the 12th to the 16th century.

8. Punic Town of Kerkuane and its Necropolis

The city was abandoned in 250 BCE during the First Punic War, and is the only surviving example of a PhoenicioPunic settlement.

Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881, and the creation of a protectorate.

In 1534, under the command of Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, the first Ottoman conquest of Tunis took place. Permanent acquisition of Tunisia occurred in 1574, under Kapudan Pasha Uluc Ali Reis, and the Ottomans retained the region until French occupation in 1881. Rivalry between French and Italian interests in Tunisia culminated in a French invasion in 1881, and the creation of a protectorate. Tunisia became an independent state in 1956. The country’s first president, Habib Bourguiba, established a strict one-party state, and dominated the country for 31 years, repressing Islamic fundamentalism and establishing rights for women unmatched by any other Arab nation. In 1987, Bourguiba was declared medically unfit to continue as president and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was his successor. He has won every election since 1987, including his fifth term at the 2009 elections.

On December 17, 2010, a 26-year old street vendor set himself on fire in protest of the confiscation of his wares and the humiliation that was inflicted on him by a municipal official. This act ultimately jump started the Tunisian revolution. Anger and violence culminated into mass protests of the social and political issues in the country. On January 14, 2011, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down, after 23 years in power, and the government was dissolved. Protests continued on through the remainder of 2011, and on December 12th veteran human rights activist, Moncef Marzouki, was elected president, and a new government was issued thereafter. In December 2014, Beji Caid Essebsi came to office after winning the first free presidential election. Youssef Chahed became the seventh prime minister taking office in August 2016.

Tunisia has few mineral resources and its principal mineral resource was phosphate prior to the discovery of oil. Oil was  discovered in 1964 at El Borma oil field near its frontier with Algeria. One-third of its oil is exported, and the remainder is used by domestic chemical industries. Tunisia is the 14th biggest oil producing nations in Africa and the 61st largest oil producer in the world with a daily production capacity of 59,000 barrels. Exporting is the main source of income for the country. It is ranked as the most competitive economy in Africa and has attracted international companies such as Airbus and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Agriculture employs a large part of the workforce.

Tunisia’s culture is highly diverse, in part because of long periods of Ottoman and then French rule but also because populations of Jews and Christians have lived among a Muslim majority for centuries. Similarly, the capital, Tunis, blends ancient Arab souks and mosques and modern-style office buildings into one of the most handsome and lively cities in the region. Majority of the population is Arab Berber. The Ottoman influence has been particularly significant in forming the Turco-Tunisian community. Arabic is the official language. French came into wider use after independence for the purpose of education. English and Italian are used on a smaller scale.

Cuisine in Tunisia is a combination of French, Arabic, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Like all countries in the Mediterranean basin, Tunisia offers a “sun cuisine,” based mainly on olive oil, spices, tomatoes, seafood (a wide range of fish) and meat from rearing (lamb). harissa is a staple side to every Tunisian meal. Popular dishes includes: Tunisian harissa, Fettuccine with fresh seafood and a green harissa dressing, Chicken meatballs with preserved lemon and harissa relish, Grilled red mullet with lemon and celery salad, Fricassee salad with grilled cedar plank salmon, Pasta with bharat-spiced chicken and vegetables, Grilled peaches, apricots and figs with scented yogurt, couscous.

The country is best-known for Malouf, a kind of music imported from Andalusia after the Spanish conquest in the 15th century. The roots of Malouf traditional Tunisian music date back to a Muslim musician composer and poet named Ziryab from Bagdad in Iraq. The term Malouf means “familiar” or “customary”. In Libya also have Malouf music with lyrics dialect differences from the Tunisian one. In Morocco it’s known as Andalusi or Ala music, in Algeria is called Gharnata. Between these countries the Malouf music differs in the melody and rhythmic articulation. Malouf is based on the Qasidah classical Arabic poetry form and also include muwashshah, a post classical more free form. The most important part of the Malouf composition is the Nuba. Modern music festivals in Tunisia include Tabarka Jazz Festival, Testour’s Arab Andalusian Music Festival and the Sahara Festival in Douz.

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