The heart of the old city, the enchanting Medina was one of the first Arabo-Muslim towns of the Maghreb. Preferred to Carthage, because of the latter’s exposure to attack, the old city began to boom in the 7th century when Tunis was seen as a wealthy and significant city in the Arab world. The heart of the medina is the ninth-century Jemaa Zitouna (Great Mosque), so named because it was founded on the site of the olive tree (zitouna) where the founder of the mosque had taught.
Like many Arab towns, the streets surrounding the mosque became the souq (market) where still today in the covered passages the scents and sounds of a 7th century market can still be experienced – even if some of the goods on offer are decidedly modern. To experience history of a different era, the Bardo National Museum has a stunning collection of Roman mosaics in fantastic condition, beautifully laid out in a former palace that’s a museum piece itself. Further back in history across the city centre to the northeast are the remains of the city of Carthage, once a significant and thriving Phoenician colony, said to be settled by colonists from Tyre in southern Lebanon.
While those ruins can be difficult to re-imagine, back in the centre of the city the landmarks of the French protectorate era are very present. Along Ave Habib Bourguiba, there is a slice of Paris that makes a lovely change from the chaos of the souq. The Ville Nouvelle (New Town) was the work of the French after they took control in 1881 and its cafes, restaurants and boutiques today are still some of the best in the city.