Tunis (ancient Tynes) started as a small Berber straggling village (oppidum tunicense), situated on top of a hill.
At first it developed along the hillside and went on to become, in the 8th and 9th century, an Arab garrison town concentrated around its arsenal and mosque.
During the Khorassan rule (1059-1160) Tunis became the capital of this principality. The Khorassan emirs built a princely palace and were responsible for the development of the medina, 2 suburbs and the construction of the fortified wall with its 5 entrance gates. Later on, the Almohads constructed a citadel (the Kasbah) in the city. It was built in the image of the citadel of Marrakech and reflected the supremacy of the ruling class.
Together with Sicily, only separated from the Isle by a 150 km wide channel, Tunis controlled all traffic between the eastern and western Mediterranean. This situation offered the town a unique position in international trading.
Whilst it was rather well protected by its ramparts and its Kasbah, Tunis grew even bigger due to its status of capital and the continuing arrival of Andalousians (Muslim and Jewish refugees as a consequence of the recapture of Spain by the Christians). Outside the walls, Christian mercenaries (members of the Praetorian Guard of the Hafsid sultans) were stationed at the Rabad an Nassara (suburb of the Christians at Bab Menara). Other Christians, installed in the Fondouks, controlled all sea-born trade, under the protection of their consuls.
Spain’s eagerness to occupy the city, as well as the plundering of the town in 1535 and 1537, provoked the downfall of Tunis. Its population decreased to about 25.000 heads. Only by the 16th century the city would develop some kind of prosperity again.
Today, Tunis is a modern and lively city with highways, subway stations and cloverleaf intersections. Beautiful beaches are nearby and the city has many good hotels and restaurants, as well as modern stadiums, excellent museums and a zoo. It has over one million inhabitants and a university that is even older than the Sorbonne or Oxford. It also houses the headquarters of the Arab League. The city has however kept its mediaeval centre with its typical alleys, its mosques, its souks, its zawiyas and its ornate porches : elements belonging to a different civilisation.