1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Tunis

TUNIS, capital of Tunisia, the largest city in North Africa outside Egypt, in 36° 48′ N., 10° 12′ E. Tunis is situated on an isthmus between two salt lakes, the marshy Sebkha-el-Sejumi to the south-west, and the shallow el-Bahira (little sea), or Lake of Tunis, to the north-east. An artificially deepened channel through the Bahira into the Gulf of Tunis has converted the city into a seaport (see below). North-west and south-west the city is commanded by hills, on which are forts, that on Sidi bel Hassan to the south dating from the middle ages. The city, which was formerly strongly fortified, is built in the shape of an amphitheatre, with the kasbah, or citadel, at its highest point. The old town (Medina), the walls of which have in great part disappeared, lies between two suburbs, the Ribat-el-Sowika on the north and the Ribat Bab-el-Jezira on the south. These suburbs were also surrounded by a wall, now pulled down, leaving the gates of the city isolated. An outer wall, however, encloses the Medina and its suburbs. Beyond the Bab-el-Bahar (sea-gate), now called Porte de France, on the level ground by the Bahira, is the marine town, or Quartier Franc, built since the French occupation in 1881. No attempt has been made by the French to modernize the ancient city.

The European Quarter.—From the landing stage a short street leads into the broad Avenue Jules Ferry or de la Marine running east to west and ending in the Place de la Residence, on the north side of which is the Roman Catholic cathedral and on the south side the palace of the French resident-general, with a large garden. The main thoroughfare is continued westwards by the Avenue de France, which leads to the Porte de France. Beyond the gate is the small Place de la Bourse, in which is the British consulate. From the Porte electric trams run to the harbour and also in a circle round the native city. From the Place de la Résidence cross-roads run north and south. The northern road, the Rue de Rome, led to the Gare du Nord, the station for Carthage, Goletta and La Marsa. This line was replaced in 1908 by an electric tramway built along the northern bank of the canal connecting Tunis and Goletta. The southern road, the Rue-es-Sadikia, leads to the Gare du Sud, the station for Susa, Kairawan, &c., and also for Algiers. The Avenue Jules Ferry is intersected by a north-to-south street running in a straight line over two miles. The northern section is called the Avenue de Paris; the southern Avenue de Carthage. By these avenues, served by electric trams, access is gained to the suburbs of the city. In the Avenue de France or Avenue Jules Ferry are the chief hotels and cafés, the casino-theatre, the principal banks and the finest shops. In the Rue d'Italie, running south from the Avenue de France, are the post office, market buildings, and French Protestant church. There is an English church in the Rue d'Espagne. Behind the cathedral is a disused cemetery with a chapel, where the Christian slaves are supposed to have worshipped. The coffins in the vaults have been removed to the Chapel of St Louis at Carthage. Among them was that of M. de Lesseps, French consul general (d. 1832), father of the maker of the Suez Canal. Next to the cemetery is the old Greek church. North of the Avenue de France is a district, inhabited chiefly by Maltese, which has obtained the name of Malta-es-Segheira (Little Malta).

The Native Town.—To the visitor from Europe the attraction of Tunis lies in the native city, where, in the Rue al Jezira, along which runs electric trams, he can see hundreds of camels in the morning bearing charcoal to market; Where he may witness the motley life of the bazaars, or, by the Bab-Jedid, watch the snake-charmers and listen to the Moorish storytellers. Christians are forbidden to enter the mosques. From various points the traveller can look over the city, with its great citadel, its many minarets and its flat-topped houses. Many of the dwellings of the richer residents are adorned with arcades, the marble columns of which were taken from the ruins of Carthage. The Porte de France is the threshold of the ancient city. Two narrow streets climb the hill towards the citadel. That to the right, the Rue de la Kasbah, opens into a small square (Suk-el-Islam or Place de la Kasbah), on the left of which is the Dar-el-Bey (palace of the bey), while beyond it rise the walls of the citadel. That to the left leads to the chief mosque of the city, the Jamaa-al-Zeituna (mosque of the Olive Tree), founded in A.D. 698. It has many domes and a spacious cloister, and its central court can be seen from the neighbouring streets. Attached to the mosque is a college attended by several hundreds of Moslem youths. The Dar-el-Bey contains numerous rooms beautifully decorated in the Moorish style of the 18th century; and the judgment hall has a domed roof adorned with the delicate arabesque plaster-work known as Nuksh hadida. The kasbah, which forms the western side of the Suk-el-Islam, includes within the circuit of its walls a mosque built about A.D. 1232 by Abu Zakariya the Hafsite. Of the ancient kasbah nothing but the walls remain, the old buildings having been demolished to make way for barracks for the French troops. Besides being a fortress the kasbah formerly contained a palace of the beys, barracks for janissaries and bagnios for the Christian slaves. When in July 1535 the Spaniards under Charles V. attacked Tunis, the Christians in the kasbah, said to number 10,000, rose against their keepers and helped to secure the victory of the emperor. The Spaniards during their occupancy of Tunis strengthened the kasbah and built an aqueduct to supply it with water. Immediately north of the kasbah are the buildings of the Sadiki College, and north of the college is the Palais de Justice, a building completed in 1901. It stands between the line of the ancient wall and the enceinte. Its walls are decorated with faience taken from an ancient Tunisian palace. North-east of the Palais de Justice, which like the Sadiki College is built in the Moorish style, rises the great dome, surrounded by smaller cupolas, of the largest mosque in the city, that named after Sidi Mahrez, a renowned saint of the 5th century of the Mahommedan era, whose tomb makes it a sanctuary for debtors. East of the mosque, which dates from the 17th century, and just without the inner city walls, here demolished, is the Protestant cemetery of St George, used during the 17th, 18th and the greater part of the 10th centuries. Here are buried several British consuls. Here also was the grave of John Howard Payne, author of “ Home, Sweet Home ” and consul for the United States, who died at Tunis in 1852. In 1883 the body was disinterred and removed to America, but a monument has been placed on the spot similar to that erected over the new tomb at Washington.

The Bazaars.—The native city to the north of the Rue de la Kasbah includes the Jewish quarter and the synagogue. The Jews of Tunis adopt a special costume, the women wearing gaily coloured vests and close-fitting white trousers. Beyond the Jewish quarter, in the Ribat-el-Soweika, is the Place el Halfa-Ouine, a favourite rendezvous of the poorer Moslem population, wherein are many native cafés. South of the Rue de la Kasbah is the bazaar quarter. . Here the streets are very narrow and tortuous, some being vaulted and many covered in with planking. They are known as suks (markets), and each sul-1 is devoted to one particular trade. Beyond paving the streets the French have made no alteration in the suks, which retain their original character unimpaired. The shops consist of small cubes, open in the front, in which the trader squats cross-legged amidst his wares. The principal suks are el-Attarin (market of the perfumers), el-Farashin (carpets and cloths), el-Serajin (saddlery) and el-Birka (jewelry). The suk el-Birka was formerly the slave market. Near b are the green tiled domes and walls enriched with rose-coloured, marbles of the mausoleum of the beys.

Public Institutions, &c.—Tunis is furnished with well-equipped hospitals and a large asylum for aged people kept by the Little Sisters of the Poor. The princi al educational establishments, besides that of the mosque of the Olive Tree, are the Sadiki College, founded in 1875, for free instruction in Arabic and European subjects, the Lycée Carnot in the Avenue de Paris, formerly the College of St Charles (founded by Cardinal Lavigerie), open to Christians and Moslems alike, and the normal school, founded in 1884 by the reigning bey, for the training of teachers in the French language and European ideas. The Dames de Sion have a large establishment for the teaching of small children of both sexes, and there is a secondary school for girls. All the schools are well attended. About a mile and a half north of the centre of the European quarter, on the slopes of a hill rising 270 ft., is the Parc du Belvedere covering some 240 acres and commanding extensive views. Water is supplied to the city, with its numerous fountains, from jebel Zaghwan (vide infra) by the Roman aqueduct repaired, at a cost of half a million sterling, by the bey Mahommed al-Sadik (d. 1882).

The Port.—The canal which traverses the shallow Bahira, and connects Tunis with the Mediterranean, is nearly seven miles long. By means of breakwaters it is continued beyond the coast-line and is at its mouth 328 ft. wide. It has a uniform depth of 21% ft., but its width within the lake is reduced to 98 ft. In the centre, however, the canal is widened to,147 ft. to allow vessels to pass. There is a harbour at the entrance (see Goletta). That at the Tunis end of the canal is 1312 ft. long by 984 ft. broad, and is of the same depth as the canal. The canal was begun in 1885 and was opened to navigation in June 1893. An additional basin, south-east of the main harbour, was opened in 1905 and is used for the exportation of phosphates. Of the ships using the harbour more than half are French, and one-third Italian, British vessels coming next. British goods, however, are largely carried in French bottoms, and next to France the United Kingdom and Malta take most of the trade of the port. The exports are chiefly phosphates and other minerals, cereals, olive oil, cattle, hides, Sponges and wax. The imports are cotton goods, flour, hardware, coal, sugar, tea, coffee, &c. The figures of trade and shipping are included in those of the trade of the regency (see Tunisia), of which Tunis and Goletta take about a third.

Population.—The population of the city at the census of 1906 was returned at 227,519. The “natives”—Arabs, Berbers, “Moors,” Turks and negroes-were estimated at 100,000, Tunisian Jews at 50,000, French 18,000, Italians 52,000, Maltese 6000. Greeks 500 and Levantines 1000. The French language is predominant in the European quarter.

Environs: The Bardo Palace, Zaghwan, &c.—The environs of Tunis are picturesque and afford many beautiful views, the finest being from the hill on the south-east, 'crowned by a French fort, and from the Belvedere already mentioned. About a mile and a quarter from the Bab Bu Saadun, the north-west gate of the city, is the ancient palace called the Bardo, remarkable for the “lion court, " a terrace to which access is gained by a flight of steps guarded by marble lions, and for some apartments in the Moorish style. The finest of these apartments, containing beautiful arabesque plaster work, formed the old Harem, and-are nowtpart of the Musée Alaoui, which occupies a considerable portion o the Bardo. In this museum M. Paul Gauckler, the director of the department of art and antiquities in the Tunisian government, has formed a magnificent collection of Carthaginian and Roman antiquities, especially Roman mosaics. In the Musée Arabe, which occupies an adjacent small palace built about 1830, are treasures illustrative of the Arab-Berber or Saracenlc art of Tunisia.

South-east of the city, along the valley, of the Wadi Melain, are hundreds of large stone arches, magnificent remains of the Roman aqueduct from Zaghwan to Carthage. At Zaghwan (38 m., by rail from Tunis), over the spot whence the spring which supplies the aqueduct issues from the hill, are the ruins of a beautiful Temple of the Waters. The spring is now diverted direct into the aqueduct and is not visible at the surface. Between Zaghwan and Tunis, and accessible by the same railway, is Wadna, the Roman Uthina, where, besides numerous other ruins, are the fairly preserved arches of a large amphitheatre. The ruins of Carthage (q.v.) lie a few miles north of Goletta.

History.—Tunis is probably of greater antiquity than Carthage, of which city however it became a dependency, being repeatedly mentioned in the history of the Punic Wars. Strabo speaks of its hot baths and quarries. The importance of Tunis dates from the Arab conquest, when, as Carthage sank, Tunis took its place commercially and politically. It became the usual port for those going from the sacred city of Kairawan to Spain, and was one of the residences of the Aghlabite dynasty (800-909). In the 10th century it suffered severely, being repeatedly pillaged in the wars of the Fatimite caliphs Al-Qaim and Abu Tahir Isma'il el Mansur with the Sunnite leader Abu Yazid and the Zenata Berbers.

For its later fortunes, see Tunisia, of which regency, since the accession of the Hafsites, Tunis has been the capital.