It is a well-known fact that culture is a top priority in Tunisia. The traces of 3,000 years of cultural history can be discovered in the numerous archaeological sites such as the legendary Carthage, the world’s third largest Roman amphitheatre of El Jem, the Mosque of Uqba in Kairouan, a masterpiece of Arab architecture, or the traditional Berber construction of the country’s south, the antique cities in the north such as Dougga, Bulla Regia, Thuburbo Majus or the impressive archaeological sites of Sbeitla and Haïdra, bearing Roman, Vandal and Byzantine traces.
Seven historical sites belong to the UNESCO World Heritage and contemporary art has been booming since the revolution. Cultural tourism in Tunisia is a strategic focus of the Tunisian Ministry of Tourism to promote the country as a year-round destination.
The following Tunisian cultural sites belong to the UNESCO World Heritage: the Amphitheatre of El Jem (1979), the ruins of Carthage (1979), the Medina of Tunis (1979), the Punic Town of Kerkuane and its necropolis (1985), the Medina of Sousse (1988), the Medina of Kairouan (1988) and the ruins of the antique city of Dougga (Thugga) (1997).
In order to make the numerous archaeological sites, museums and monuments more accessible to visitors and to adapt them to the European standards and needs of visitors, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and the diverse cultural and tourism partners, is pursuing a master plan for the maintenance of the Tunisian cultural heritage, the modernisation of museums and creation of new cultural tourist routes.
In recent years, a number of state museums have been fully renovated, including the museums of Djerba and Sousse. Particular emphasis was put on the Bardo Museum in Tunis, which contains the world’s largest collection of Roman mosaics. Along with a full renovation, the museum was extended with a modern annex. The visitor is surrounded by approximately 6,000 square metres of this wonderful testimony of a past era. The Roman Tunisia was rich in large-scale mosaics. They decorated elegant villas, patios or building façades. The mosaics reflect the everyday life and document the life of the large estates, the hunting or the games in the coliseum in innumerable colour nuances. Furthermore, they present mythological topics that were very popular at that time, such as Neptune’s Triumph, the Nereids or Dionysus’ wagon. When taking a closer look at these works, they sometimes reveal scenes with hidden irony. (www.bardomuseum.tn)
Various cultural festivals are held throughout the year in Tunisia. The best known is probably the International Sahara Festival of Douz which attracts many fans of camel race, dizzying dances or exotic Fantasia games at the end of the year. However, the international classical music festival in the Amphitheatre of El Jem or the falconry festival in El Haouaria also make the hearts leap.
In this context, the street art festival “Dream City” is of great interest and is a perfect platform for the promotion of cultural urban tourism. After 2007 and 2010, this remarkable Medina art biennial took place for the third time in October 2012. Under the motto “The Artist and Freedom or Paradise Now”, the organisers let the Tunisian artists revitalise the Medina of Tunis and Sfax and provided sufficient room for the art in public space. People of all ages gathered behind tall doors, on terraces and squares of this stunning historic district of Tunis. Concerts, performances and exhibitions invited to dance and marvel.
In general, Tunis and its picturesque suburb of Sidi Bou Said have evolved into an insiders’ tip in terms of contemporary art. The blue and white village of artists already attained worldwide fame thanks to August Macke and Paul Klee. They perpetuated the beguiling light and the architectural features of the village in their works. Thus, it is not surprising that still today the artists gather here while important Tunisian galleries have turned the town into a hot spot for the arts.
When we talk about cultural tourism, we have to recognise that it also encompasses alternative tourism or sustainable tourism. Private commitment and the openness to innovation allowed creation of wonderful structures. Alternative tourism is an important part of the Tunisian tourism policy. Apart from showing the beauty of noble houses, it brings the tourism to regions located far away from the coast, but which are surrounded by special cultural or natural features. The human, the citizen is of paramount importance. The visitors experience the Tunisian diversity and culture very closely.
Thus, for example, new concepts for geological exploration tours to various caves in the region of Zaghouan, Bizerte and El Kef, in the north of the country, are being developed. Different international cooperation projects have been launched to provide sufficient space for historically important regions in the interior of the country such as El Kef, Bulla Regia or Kasserine.
Hôtels de Charme or Maisons d’hôtes deserve special attention – a true eldorado for individualists. Today there are more than 150 hotels throughout the country, reaching from the coast to the desert. The offer ranges from fabulous palace hotels over ecologically oriented design hotels and cosy guesthouses to luxury camping in a Berber village. These comfortable and luxurious flair hotels, where the guests not only sleep in a wonderful atmosphere, but where they are also welcomed as family members, thus gaining insights into the authentic life of Tunisians, exist throughout the country. A high degree of privacy is always guaranteed.
Each house tells its personal story. The people that created these special accommodations are poets, dancers, architects, artists, in short: individualists who preserve the past and give the guest the understanding of the culture of the country.
Der Autor ist Direktor des Tourismusbüros Tunesiens in der Bundesrepublik Deutschland.