I wasn’t any more nervous in Tunisia than I was in Morocco, in Paris, in New York or in Bali. Certainly security was tight, and citizens and tourists alike seemed watchful. But everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, and even grateful that I had chosen to come to Tunisia after the terrorist attack.
There is risk in every country you go to. There is risk at home. This shouldn’t stop you from seeing and experiencing the world.
And Tunisia is a country that should not be missed.
If you’re a fan of history and of art, of food and culture, or even just of the beach, Tunisia will deliver. I spent only a week in the country, and was impressed with the highlights I was able to fit in. I know there is so much more to see on my next visit.
So, what are those highlights?
The Bardo Museum
The Bardo Museum is known as “Africa’s Louvre”, and the art it contains is ancient and incredible.
I paid my respects at the simple memorial near the entrance. But with all the marvels on display within the museum — intricate mosaics, statues of Greek goddesses and Roman emperors, an ostrich egg container from the 7th century BC, a delicate 5th century BC amphora — I soon forgot about recent history and focused on the ancient. The building itself, a former palace, is also incredible. In the west we don’t learn much about Islamic art, and now I want to devour every Islamic art history book I can get my hands on.
Ancient Carthage was founded by the Phoenicians in the 9th century BC, and then destroyed and then rebuilt by the Romans. Its remnants are evident all over modern Tunis.
Of course there are artefacts in the Bardo museum, and in other small museums in and around Tunis. But it is easy to see ruins in public parks, vacant lots, beside the highway, and even in people’s backyards. Active digs are everywhere, and piles of columns and carvings wait to be dated and identified.
At the Antonin Imperial Baths, enough of the ancient buildings still stand that you can easily picture where ancient Carthaginians swam, relaxed in the warm pools, and chatted in the rest areas. Built in the time of Hadrien and Antonin (145-162 AD) it is a marvel to wander amongst the arches and intricately carved columns, hearing the ocean waves crash nearby.
Sidi Bou Said
The next neighbourhood over from beachy La Marsa (where you can stay at the boutique hotel Dar El Marsa) is Sidi Bou Said (top photo). It is a pretty hillside area famous for its blue and white buildings and for the artists who have lived there and visited, like August Macke and Paul Klee. Wandering its streets, shops and cafes and admiring the sea views is an excellent way to spend an afternoon.
There are beaches in the capital of Tunis (above photo is of the beach at La Marsa, taken from the grounds of the Golden Tulip Carthage). But an even prettier beach is just an hour from Tunis in Hammamet, another former artist enclave. In its prime the area was frequented by Sophia Loren, Wallace Simpson and artists like Macke and Klee. Today Hammamet is a laid-back beach town where you can walk the long soft beaches, soak up the Mediterranean sun, and relax. And if you’ve always wanted to ride a horse down the beach, or even a dromedary, you can do that here too.
There is so much more to Tunisia than just these highlights. I hope to be back soon to experience more.
When are you going?