Tunisia is located on the much-travelled Sicilian Channel between the Eastern and Western Mediterranean. It has an extraordinary patrimony built upon numerous invasions by diverse peoples, including Phoenicians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Turks. From earliest Prehistory there are Dinosaur footprints, fossils, cave paintings and a dig site for fossilised dinosaur bones run by the Association des Amis de la Mémoire de la Terre de Tataouine.
From classical antiquity there are ancient Carthage, Roman Tunis, the well-preserved city of Dougga and El Djem’s huge UNESCO World Heritage listed Roman amphitheatre. Museums like Tunis’ Bardo hold magnificent antique mosaics.
In the 7th century, Muslim armies took North Africa. Inland, Kairouan’s magnificent early mosque played a key role in the Islamisation of this region. Muslim Tunis grew on the ruins of its ancient predecessors. The city’s bustling souq owes much to Iberian émigrés who developed Tunisia’s wool trade after their expulsion from Spain. This city also has fine mosques, tombs and madrasas in the style of North Africa’s later Ottoman conquerors. On the Mediterranean coast the fascinating ribats (Islamic fortress monasteries) of Sousse and Monastir were built to defend Islamic Ifriqiyya from European incursions. The extraordinary port city of Mahdia was constructed to launch the Shi’a Fatimids’ 10th-century invasion of Egypt. Located on Tunisia’s north coast is the Port of Bizerte, with a picturesque old harbour, medina and kasbah.
Far to the south, the Mediterranean littoral’s great wheat fields which made this Rome’s ‘bread bin’, give way to the edge of the Sahara Desert. Here are Roman frontier fortresses designed to control the movements of the desert peoples. Here also are fascinating Berber villages with mud brick granaries, built to protect the precious harvest from Arab raiders. The edge of the Sahara also has remote oases approached by four-wheel drive and by camel, where you may watch the crimson sunrise over the golden desert.