Medina (Old Town) of Tunis, Tunisia

In the medina of Tunis, the historical center of the Tunisian capital, about 700 magnificent monuments of different cultures were built in a period of almost 1,500 years.

Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, is one of the oldest cities on the Mediterranean. The medina (historic center) of Tunis was built in the 7th century and is home to 700 magnificent palaces, mosques, madrasas (Koranic schools) and mausoleums. In 1979, the Medina of Tunis was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.


History of Tunis in a nutshell

Tunis was founded by Phoenicians as early as the 9th century B.C., but for centuries it stood in the shadow of mighty Carthage, which became the most important city in North Africa, first under the Punic and then under the Romans. It was not until the end of the 7th century, when Carthage was destroyed by the Arabs, that the golden age of Tunis began. Under the subsequent rule of the Aghlabids, today's Medina (Old City) of Tunis was built.

Tunis was subject to many different rulers in the following centuries. After the Aghlabids came the Almohads, then the Turks, the Spanish and again the Turks, under whom Tunis became an important trading center.

+In the early 17th century, refugees from Andalusia settled in Tunis and helped the city to further economic and cultural growth. Next to the historic medina, a European-influenced new town emerged. When Tunisia became independent in 1956, many Europeans emigrated from Tunis to their original homeland, but many locals from the rural area moved to the city and Tunis continued to expand.

Sights of the Medina of Tunis

The medina of Tunis houses about one tenth of the population of Tunis on an area of 270 hectares. The medina was not built in a structured way, such as a checkerboard pattern, but has grown naturally. And so there is a residential quarter with houses and palaces, an official quarter with libraries and administrative buildings, and a religious quarter with mosques and zaouias (places of worship). Streets were not built as thoroughfares, but to connect the houses.

The entire medina of Tunis is a unique melting pot of centuries of Arab, Berber, Andalusian, Turkish, Roman and Byzantine architectural influences that is one of the best preserved historic city centers in the Arab world. Enclosed by imposing historical gates, the visitor is immersed in a fascinating world from the Arabian Nights. In addition to medieval buildings, the medina of Tunis also has architectural jewels from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

It is hardly possible to explore the medina of Tunis in a structured way due to the infinite number of winding alleys. Instead, just let yourself be carried away by the colorful hustle and bustle and enjoy the mass impressions of a foreign world from a seemingly bygone era.

Zitouna Mosque

The Zitouna Mosque ("Olive Mosque") is located in the heart of Tunis and is probably the most important sight of the Medina of Tunis, Tunisia - © amidala76 / Shutterstock
© amidala76 / Shutterstock

The Zitouna Mosque ("Olive Mosque") is located in the heart of the medina and is arguably the most significant sight in the medina of Tunis. The imposing mosque was built in 723 by the Aghlabid ruler Obeid Allah Ibn-al-Habhab to celebrate Tunis after the conquest as his new capital.


The ancient and Byzantine columns used in the mosque come from the previously destroyed Carthage. The Zitouna Mosque also contains the Muslim University with an extensive library.

Dar-al-Bey Palace

The Dar-al-Bey Palace, or just Bey Palace for short, is an attractive blend of several architectural and decorative styles. It dates from the early 19th century and is believed to have been built on the remains of a Roman amphitheater and a 10th century Aghlabid palace.

Noble houses

The medina of Tunis houses magnificent residences of the upper class of Tunis, including the Dar Ben Abdallah, the Dar el-Bey or the Dar Soulaimania, which once hosted the admissions to the Zaitouna University.

Souks (markets) of Tunis

Around the large buildings of the medina of Tunis spreads on about 1.5km length and 800m width a real jumble of alleys, which were conquered by the souks (markets) of Tunis. In the narrow maze of streets, people loudly haggle with the merchants over the price of exotic spices, precious carpets, handmade jewelry and pretty souvenirs.

Tip: Visit also the side streets of the souk of Tunis. On the main streets, the merchants are geared up for the tourist trains, but away from the noisy stalls, you're sure to find one or two interesting workshops, neat stores and friendly people.