views updated May 08 2018


Capital of the Republic of Tunisia.

Tunis is the largest city in Tunisia. The population of the greater Tunis urban area is estimated at 2,083,000 (2001), more than one-quarter of the country's total population of 9,673,000. (In 1984 the population of the city itself was estimated at about 600,000.)

In 1160, Tunis became the provincial capital of the Moroccon-based Almohad dynasty. The Almohads built the qasba (citadel) that remained the seat of political power in the city until France's protectorate (1881). In the thirteenth century, under the Hafsid dynasty, Tunis became the national capital, a distinction it has retained ever since.

Tunis had only one congregational mosque, that of al-Zaytuna, until 1252, when the mosque of al-Tawfiq was constructed. Subsequently congregational mosques were built throughout the city. Following their seizure of Tunis in 1574, the Ottomans converted the mosques of the qasba and al-Qasr to follow the Hanafi usage, the school of Islamic law to which they adhered. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Tunis skyline was altered by construction of new mosques, including those of Yusuf Dey (1612), Hammuda Pasha (1655), and Sidi Mahriz (1692), and the New Mosque of Husayn (1726).

Corsair wealth of the deys and beys transformed Tunis into a cosmopolitan complex dominated by mosques, madrasas (Islamic secondary schools), zawiyas (Islamic mystic centers), palaces, and elegant homes. The Turks also constructed a maristan (hospital) in the seventeenth century.

Prior to 1858, Tunis was organized into a quarter system centered on major mosques. The gates between quarters were locked at night and whenever public disturbances occurred. Each quarter was self-sufficient, with its own bread ovens, markets, bath-houses, wells, cisterns, Qurʾanic schools (kuttab), and prayer mosques (masjid). Daytime security was provided by the dawlatli (a position directly descended from the dey). The shaykh al-madina (chief guild leader, akin to city mayor) controlled nighttime security patrols.

This loose administration ended in 1858, when Muhammad Bey established the City Council (almajlis al-baladi). He appointed the shaykh al-madina to head this council of fifteen members. Today the shaykh al-madina is president of the City Council and is appointed by the country's president.

France's protectorate (18811956) brought changes to Tunis. A deep-water channel was constructed that made it possible for oceangoing vessels to dock in the port of Tunis, near the modern city's downtown area. A causeway beside this channel connects Tunis and its suburbs of La Goulette (now Halq al-Wadi), Carthage, Sidi Bou Said, and La Marsa. France also drained the swamp that separated the walled old city from the Lake of Tunis and built there a new European-style city with parks, broad avenues, cathedrals, an embassy, and modern housing.

In the twentieth century, Tunis became the major destination of rural-to-urban migration because of its being the political, social, educational, economic, and entertainment center of Tunisia. It is the seat of the national government and the national headquarters of the government party, the Constitutional Democratic Rally (Ralliement Constitutionel Démocratique; RCD), and the site of the national university.

larry a. barrie


views updated May 21 2018

Tunis Capital and largest city of Tunisia, n Africa. Tunis became the capital in the 13th century under the Hafsid dynasty. Seized by Barbarossa in 1534 and controlled by Turkey, it attained infamy as a haven for pirates. The French assumed control in 1881. Tunis' port facilities were greatly improved after independence in 1956. Products include olive oil, carpets, textiles and handicrafts. The ruins of Carthage are nearby. Pop. (2002 est.) 940,300.