northern tunisian seaport situated between a large inland lake and the mediterranean sea.
Although a settlement had existed on the site of Bizerte since Phoenician times, the town first attained significance in the sixteenth century when an influx of Moorish and Jewish refugees from Roman Catholic Andalusia (Spain) spurred both agricultural and artisanal development. Like other North African seaports, Bizerte served as a base for Barbary corsairs of the Barbary states and their raids against European ships. In retaliation, Spanish forces seized and fortified the city in 1535. Troops of the Ottoman Empire recaptured it briefly in 1572, but definitively only in 1574 when its garrison was sent to defend the more important Spanish positions at Tunis. Throughout the seventeenth century, Bizerte's economy continued to depend almost exclusively on the raiding of its corsairs.
France set up a trading post at Bizerte in 1738 as one of a string of such establishments along the Algerian and Tunisian coasts. Although poor relations between French merchants and the Tunisian government led to the post's temporary closing in 1741 and 1742, it operated until Ali Bey evicted the French in 1770. This, plus French anger over corsair forays staged from Bizerte, led to a naval bombardment that badly damaged the city. A similar attack by a Venetian fleet in 1785 all but destroyed Bizerte. Despite these hostilities, Marseilles merchants continued to import wheat from Bizerte, especially during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. In 1789, a French consulate opened there.
The Tunisian government's renunciation of corsair activity in 1819 hurt Bizerte, but the silting up of the port was an even more serious problem, causing a steady decline in commercial activity in the first half of the nineteenth century. At the same time, however, Tunisia was being drawn into a more extensive relationship with Europe. A telegraph line linking Tunisia with Algeria and France passed through Bizerte in the 1850s, and the city was the starting point for a submarine cable that opened communications with Italy in 1864.
Following the Treaty of Bardo (1881), which established a strong French presence in Tunisia, the canal connecting the lake with the sea was improved. This, and other extensive French public-works projects in Bizerte in the 1880s and 1890s, made its harbor and port facilities among the finest in the Mediterranean. Much of this work revolved around the creation of a French naval base and arsenal, which, by the turn of the twentieth century, were widely regarded as among the largest and most powerful in the Mediterranean. During World War II, this base, and its proximity to the narrow channel between Sicily and Africa joining the eastern and western Mediterranean basins, gave Bizerte great strategic importance. The city was occupied by the Axis immediately following the Anglo–American landings in Morocco and Algeria in 1942. Allied air raids destroyed 70 percent of Bizerte prior to its liberation in the following year, but the canal remained intact and the base became a jumping-off point for the successful Allied invasion of Sicily.
France retained control of the naval facilities at Bizerte after Tunisian independence (1955–1956) and refused to accede to demands for their evacuation in 1961. France's attempts to break a blockade of the base led to violent confrontations with hastily mobilized Tunisian civilians and paramilitary units. Tunisia appealed to the United Nations, which called for negotiations on the base's future. Only after lengthy delays did France agree to abandon the installation in late 1963.
In the years since Tunisian independence, Bizerte and other cities around its lake have become major industrial centers, while the port remains the country's primary import–export terminal. The 2002 population was estimated at 527,400.
Kenneth J. Perkins
"Bizerte." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bizerte
"Bizerte." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Retrieved April 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bizerte
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Bizerte (bēzĕrt´), Arab. Banzart, city (1994 pop. 98,900), N Tunisia, on the Mediterranean Sea. It is an important port, strategically situated near the narrowest part of the Mediterranean. The city also has processing industries. Bizerte was founded by Phoenicians. While the French ruled Tunisia, they improved and fortified the outer harbor and deepened the channel to the Lake of Bizerte, where there are naval works and the town of Menzel Bourgiba. The White Russian fleet (1920) and the Spanish republican fleet (1939) were interned at Bizerte. It was a German base in World War II and was heavily bombed (1943) by the Allies. Tunisian insistence that France evacuate its naval installations at Bizerte led to violent confrontations in 1961; the base was turned over to Tunisia in 1963.
"Bizerte." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 26, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bizerte
"Bizerte." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 26, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/bizerte