Independent as the republic of Tunisia since 1956 the cultural influences in Tunisia include French, Arabic, Berber, Vandal, Ottoman, Roman and Punic though the Arabic and French are the biggest influencers on modern Tunisian culture and society.
Under the Carthaginians, a republic that grew out of a Phoenician settlement at Carthage, the area became a major Mediterranean trading centre before rising to control much of North Africa as well as parts of Spain, Scilly and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica.
The Punic wars between Carthage and Rome almost saw an end to the burgeoning civilisation in the area that is modern Tunisia but a few centuries after the Romans had destroyed Carthage and Tunis, following their victory at the end of the third Punic war, both cities were rebuilt and became important Roman cities. Other major modern Tunisian cities such as Tozeur were established by the Romans as well, Tozeur having been an important Roman Outpost on the edge of the desert.
The area around Lake Tunis remained important after the Romans had gone and Tunis and Carthage remained important trading ports but then things changed when Muslim invaders took over the area: destroying Carthage and making Tunis their capital.
Later Tunisian history
Tunisia was later ruled by the Ottomans and following their fall became an imperial protectorate of France, which it remained until 1956. Since 1956 Tunisia has remained virtually a one party state, up until 2011 when President Ben Ali abdicated, in December 2011 free and fair elections confirmed Tunisia as a true democracy.
The Tunisian Culture
Tunisian culture has many influences and the country still has close relations with France, at the same time its culture is unique and as you will find if you visit the country there is a lot of it to take in.
Food and Drink
Tunisian food is fantastic with staple dishes often including lamb, potatoes and cous cous. Other popular dishes may include camel and traditional Tunisian pastries are a must have,
Few in Tunisia drink alcohol but in the larger tourist focused cities there are some bars, you are likely to have more luck in hotel bars finding alcoholic drinks though. Non-alcoholic beers are surprisingly popular but tea is the drink of choice though primarily mint and fruit teas.
Art and architecture
Art and Architecture are things that Tunisia is famous for and are important to the culture; these can be found together and interwoven into the fabric of the Medinas in Tunisian cities where architecture incorporating Tunisian art is everywhere: in arches, walls and buildings and of course in the country’s many old and often remarkable Mosques.
Religion is of course important in Tunisia with Islam being the main religion and the one that defines daily life and what holidays are celebrated. Family, as in many Islamic cultures, is hugely important in Tunisia including extended family.
Historic Sites of interest in Tunisia
Tunisia though small compared to some of its neighbouring North African nations has more historic and archaeological sites than almost any of them or any other country in Africa in fact..
Cities such as Tunis, Tozeur and Kairouan have fantastic old city areas with many narrow alleys, joining on to open squares with a huge variety of businesses and homes fitted into the old buildings and walls that have built up over centuries. Many of the most beautiful mosques are within the medinas; the mosques often have an outer wall with shops and other buildings against it with the main mosque in the centre of a courtyard. Where this is the case you may get the best view from one of the surrounding shops who often invite tourists in to view, and hope you will spot something you’d like to buy. In other case mosques will be hidden amongst stores with entrances that could easily be missed but which have stunning interiors.
The ancient city of Carthage is across Lake Tunis from Tunis and is part of the wider metropolitan area of the capital. Carthage though is one of the most famous and important cities of the ancient Mediterranean world and was founded some 3000 years ago. You can still see remains of Punic Carthage but there is more to see of the Roman city including the massive Antonius Bath House. There is also a Roman Amphitheatre at Carthage though an even better example can be visited at El Jem that rivals the coliseum in Rome.
Monastir & Sousse
Along the coast you can visit Monastir, another ancient city and home to a Ribat or fortified Monastery; there is also great museum about the history and cultural history of Tunisia. In nearby Sousse there is also a Ribat though not as impressive as that in Monastir you will though find a well preserved Medina and a fantastic Kasbah itself holding a fantastic Mosaic museum.