ABOUT TUNIS AND TUNISIA
The Humanities Conference 2006 is to be held in Tunis, capital of Tunisia in central North Africa. For several years now, Humanities Conference participants have been suggesting that the conference be held in a setting other than Europe or the Anglophone world. Tunisia is an Arab state with a remarkable mix of historical, cultural and political influences. Contemporary connections into the Arab world and Africa are layered over the legacies of the Roman empire and French colonialism. Not only is Tunisia an place of considerable interest for people who work in the humanities. We also have the warm support of humanities colleagues at the University, keen to build international academic relationships.
The city of Tunis is located on the Lake of Tunis, the port of Tunis being connected with the Mediterranean Sea by a ship canal. The outer suburban areas of Tunis are on the Mediterranean itself, including the resort towns of La Marsa, Gammarth and Carthage.
Tunis consists of two parts—the old, walled Medina dating from 700, and the modern city built since the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1881. The medieval Medina of Tunis is listed by UNESCO as a world heritage site. Dating back to the seventh century, it was the commercial centre of the Tunis until the late nineteenth century. The narrow allies are still today a thriving scene of bazaars and coffee shops.
The modern city of Tunis, which today surrounds the Medina, was built during the period of French rule from 1881 to 1956. Its wide boulevards were modelled on Haussman’s rebuilt Paris. Fifty years after independence, the sidewalks and open-air cafes remain reminiscent of Paris.
Carthage is one of the northern suburbs of Tunis. The ruins of the ancient city are today preserved in a number of important archaeological sites. Founded as a Phoenician settlement in the 9th century BC, Carthage was involved in three wars with Rome between 264BC and 146BC, including Hannibal's elephant-mounted expedition across the Alps in 218-202BC. The city finally fell to the Romans in 146BC.
Carthage was to become the third largest city in the Roman Empire, and remained a Roman Colony until 439AD when it was over-run by the Vandals. In 533, it was taken over by the Byzantines, then by the Arabs in 698 and the Ottoman Empire in 1574.
Tunisia lies on the coast of North Africa at one of the Mediterranean Sea’s narrowest point. The northernmost point of Tunisia is just 140kms or 90 miles from the southernmost point of Italy.
A country of ten million people, Tunisia population is mostly Arab, with Christian and Jewish minorities. Its history reflects changes common to most parts of the Mediterranean over the past few thousand years—Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks and French have all made their presence felt at various times before present-day Tunisia became independent in 1956. Modern Tunisia sees itself as a crossroad between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, and a connecting link between the major civilisations of the Mediterranean. In fact, the ancient name of the country, 'Ifriqua', was later to become the name to the whole continent, 'Africa'.
The north and east of the country are bordered by a 1,300km (800 mile) Mediterranean coastline, now dotted with beachside resorts. To the south is the Sahara. The result is a landscape of enormous variety, from forests in the north to deserts and oases in the south.
The official language is Arabic. French and English are widely spoken.
Economic growth and progressive social policies have helped raise living conditions in Tunisia over recent decades, with growth topping 5% in 2003 and 2004. With its significant agriculture, tourism, mining and manufacturing sectors, Tunisia is becoming more and more integrated into the economies of the European Union, particularly France. In 1995, Tunisia became the first country south of the Mediterranean to enter into a free trade agreement with the European Union.
Life expectancy has risen from 67 years in 1984 to 72 years in 1999. Per capita income almost tripled between the mid 1980s and 2000. Eighty per cent of Tunisians own their own home, and three quarters of the population is considered middle class. The poverty rate has dropped in recent years to 6%.
The past two decades have also been a period of political and social stability. The country has invested particularly heavily in public education at the school, technical education and university levels. Schooling is compulsory until the age of sixteen. Education at all levels is free.
Women are formally equal to men, enjoying identical rights. They are able to pursue careers on an equal footing with men. There are four women ministers in the cabinet of the national government. The 1956 Code of Personal Status, created at the time of Independence from France, abolished polygamy and guaranteed the equal rights of both spouses to request and be granted divorce.
The government is headed by President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, elected in 2004 for another five year term. A unicameral Chamber of Deputies consists of 189 members, elected by popular vote to serve five year terms. The President is head of the RCD party. Tunisia’s foreign affairs stance is moderate and non-aligned. Tunisia plays a constructive role in peace-keeping processes in the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. Human rights are guaranteed in the revised Constitution of 2002, including the gender equality, freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Travelling to Tunisia
Passport and Visas: Valid passports and entry visas are required to visit Tunisia. Visas may not be required for visitors from certain countries, and conference participants are advised to consult their nearest Tunisian Diplomatic Mission for details.
Arrival in Tunis: Tunis can be reached by air, or by sea via numerous Mediterranean ports.
Local Transportation: Tunis is well served by relatively inexpensive buses, Metro-trains, taxis and rental cars.
Images: The village of Sidi Bou Said the Northern outskirts of Tunis, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.