Only two hours from Paris by plane, Tunis is a city of ancient Roman ruins, chaotic Middle Eastern markets and grand French boulevards. At times, Tunis can feel like any other large European city, with modern technology companies sprouting out of new developments on the outskirts, with freeways and trolly lines criss crossing the city. Yet sometimes, between the last call to prayer and the sip of a hot mint tea in an ancient cafe, it feels distinctly North African. Tunis is not only compelling for visitors with of its assault on the senses, it is also the scene of some of the most important moments in 21st century politics and history.
Tunisia was the first and, so far, only successful democratic revolution to come out of the Arab Spring. After decades of dictatorship, young Tunisians brought down the regime and are now in the process of building a new, democratic Tunisia. However the direction of the country is yet to be determined. In the dusty coffee shops and cafes of the medieval medina, locals argue over the pros and cons of democracy, dictatorship and Islam. Did the stability of the dictatorship help keep unemployment low? Did the revolution give power to Islamist groups? And if so, what does that mean for Tunisia’s liberal and secular youth? One would be hard pressed to find another city in the world where these different world views are being so openly discussed.
By Walker Dawson
Sunset over the medina of Tunis, a vast district of winding lanes, shops, mosques and mausoleums.
Street musicians performing on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, named after the country’s first president after independence from France in the 1950s.
Lined with open air coffee shops and restaurants, Avenue Habib Bourguiba is considered the Champs-Elysées of Tunis. The avenue was the epicenter of mass protests in 2011 when the Arab Spring began.
Weeks of sustained protests finally led to the downfall of the dictatorship, ushering in a new area of democracy.
A local resident on one of the medinas back alleys.
The front steps of the Al-Zaytuna Mosque, the heart of the medina quarter.
The Al-Zaytuna Mosque, which was built in 732 using pieces from the ruins of Carthage.
Typical Tunisian door fronts. The tradition of nail-decorated doors was originally introduced to North Africa by the Andalusians of Spain. The Tunisians mastered this art and now these painted doors became one of the characteristics of North African homes.
Café du Souk, located in the heart of the medieval quarter, attracts young folks looking for a place to watch soccer games, smoke shisha and drink tea or coffee.
Traditional North African bath houses are an integral part of the regions culture. Bath houses in Tunisia go as far back as 145 AD during the Roman period in Carthage.
El-Kachachine Hammam has been around for over 400 years, a holdout from the Ottoman era when Turkish bathhouses peppered the medina quarter.
However, the bathhouse has fallen on hard times since the Arab Spring. Foreign tourism is down in Tunisia. For more on the situation of traditional Tunisian bathhouses, check out this article by Simon Speakman Cordall: http://www.tunisia-live.net/2014/01/19/a-tale-of-two-hammams/
On the outskirts of Tunis, the expansive Bardo National Museum houses one of the largest art collections in the Middle East.
Housed in a 15th century palace, the museum contains one of the finest and most extensive collection of Roman mosaics in the world. Tunisia was once an integral part of the Roman Empire.
Barbed wire surrounding the French embassy in downtown Tunis.
Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Paul de Tunis, built in 1897. Tunis is a city of mosques, catholic cathedrals and even a Jewish synagogue.
Théâtre municipal de Tunis, built in 1902.