New Day in North Africa
Photograph by Lindsay Mackenzie, Redux
Byrsa Hill, in Tunis’s upmarket suburb of Carthage, makes a dizzying aerie to watch the sun set into the bay. The vantage point might be the Light Bar at the decidedly 21st-century Villa Didon, but Phoenician streets lay deep beneath and, down on the waters’ edge, the scalloped foreshore traces a Roman naval port. Inland, the coils of the ancient medina and the colonial grid of the early 20th century French city tell other chapters of Tunis’s story of conquest, resistance, flux, and assimilation, from mythic Dido to the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.
The city’s layered charms are something that many pre-revolution visitors missed entirely, on their way to the Sahara or the Mediterranean beach resorts of Hammamet and Sousse. These sun-holiday tribes all but abandoned Tunisia after 2011, but with a relaxation of most travel warnings to the country, a new breed of traveler has replaced them. They come to discover Tunis’s past, yes, and now also its cultural energy, what Ahmed Loubiri, the organizer of international electronic music festival Ephemere, sees as a widespread “urge to be creative.” Loubiri says this ranges from “random jam sessions in garages and coffee shops to humongous festivals.” Galleries such as Selma Feriani and Hope Contemporary continue to thrive in the neighborhoods of La Marsa and Sidi Bou Said, and Tunis’s antiquities museum, the Bardo, has reopened with an ambitious new wing.
“It’s a Tunisian habit to know how to receive guests. We get back as much as we give,” says Marouane ben Miled, who runs La Chambre Bleue, a medina B&B, suggesting that this fresh popularity might also mark the beginning of a fertile conversation. —Donna Wheeler
When to Go: April-October (summer) for beach vacations; November-March for golf and spa vacations
See complete article at National Geographic Traveler