Tunisia Brief History

For the traveler who wants to experience something other than Tunisia’s sun-drenched sandy beaches and the entertainment life of tourists, there is much interesting to discover in this small country.

It is easy to travel in Tunisia on your own and if you have access to a car, it is easy to get to the exciting places far beyond the tourist routes. The roads are pretty good and well signposted. However, the traffic is often hysterically chaotic, at least it feels that way in the larger cities. Driving in the capital Tunis is a bit like having a nightmare! For three weeks I made a nearly 3,000 kilometer long round trip by car in Tunisia.

The trip started in Tunis whose medina, ancient city, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and then continued along the east coast where I visited places like the city of Sousse whose medina, ancient city, is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Roman amphitheater Not Jem (included on the UNESCO World Heritage List), the mighty mosque in Cairouan (included on the UNESCO World Heritage List) and the island of Djerba. Then I continued to the hinterland where I visited the cave city of Matmata, various Berber villages, the city of Tataouine and the strange fortified villages, ksar, that exist around it. I continued to the cities of Douz, Touzeur and Nefta in the Sahara and drove across the great salt lake Chott el-Jerid and I visited the ruins of the ancient mighty Roman cities of Carthage (included in the UNESCO World Heritage List), Sbeitla and Dougga (included in UNESCO: s list of world cultural heritage) In addition, I visited the beautiful northern Tunisia with its mountain areas covered by large oak forests. I also climbed Tunisia’s highest mountain etc.

Traveling in Tunisia is very cheap if you, like me, live in smaller hotels and eat at local restaurants.

The downside of traveling in Tunisia is that most people, at least it felt that way, always try to trick tourists into paying as much as possible. For my part, it already started with the taxi driver charging five times as much for the journey from the airport to the hotel in Tunis as normal and ended with the police at the security check at the airport trying to confiscate my last Tunisian money!

Despite events like these, I would recommend travelers to visit Tunisia to experience this interesting country whose history and culture are shaped by Berbers, Phoenicians, Romans, Turks and Arabs.

Tunisia history in brief

According to Cheeroutdoor, the country we today call Tunisia has a long and rich, often dramatic history. Finds of simple stone tools show that the country was inhabited about 200,000 years ago. At that time, the country had a completely different climate and the Sahara may have been covered by forest due to regular rainfall.

The first culture that existed in Tunisia is called the Atari culture. It was followed by the capsien culture originating in western Asia. The Berber culture probably developed from these cultures. Then the culture came to be influenced by Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Arabs, Turks and French. In 1956, Tunisia became independent.

Some important years in Tunisia’s history

Tunisia history, older before Christ

40,000 – 10,000 Neanderthals live in the country

10,000 – 8,000

The first finds dating to homo sapiens, modern man, are dated around Gabes and Tell
9,000 – 4,000 Caspien culture, which is characterized by its use of flint tools and various art forms, comes to North Africa

1,100 Phoenician sailors found the first trading posts

1,000 – 1,100

The first Phoenician settlements are founded

975 – 942 The Phoenician economy flourishes under King Hiram I.

1,000 – 900 From this time period, the oldest Phoenician writings are preserved

842 The Phoenicians found, among other places, the city of Carthage

600 Phoenicians sail around Africa on behalf of the Egyptian pharaoh Necho

654 The first Punic colony is founded in Ibiza (Balearic Islands)

500 – 400 Carthage becomes an independent state

300 Carthage takes control of Numidia

263 – 241 The First Punic War takes place

218 – 202

The Second Punic War falls. During this, Hannibal crosses the Alps with his elephants. The Carthaginians are defeated

149 – 146 The Third Punic War takes place and Carthage is destroyed

146 The first Roman colony, Africa, is founded. The center of it will be the city of Utica

111 – 106 The Romans go to war against the Numidian king Jugurtha


Founded the colony Africa Proconsularis which covers most of present-day Tunisia (to the salt lake Chott el-Jerid, but not the Sahara)

History of Tunisia, older after Christ – 1955

69 – 96 The Flavian dynasty falls and the country flourishes

96 The period of the Antonines begins

193 – 235

Land expansion takes place during Severus’ reign. The borders are being strengthened and defensive walls are being built around many cities


Rebellion is taking place in Africa Proconsularis. They are led by Gordian I and Gordian II, father and son


The emperor Diocletian reforms and Africa Proconsularus becomes Dioecesis Africae instead

429 The Vandals come to Africa and begin to destroy much of what the Romans built

439 Carthage is conquered by the Vandals

533 Carthage is taken by the Byzantines


The Byzantine army is defeated by the Arabs at the city of Sufetula (present-day Sbeitla) and thus begins the Islamic period

670 The city of Kairouan, now Tunisia’s holiest city, is founded by Oqba ibn Nafi

698 Carthage is conquered by Arab forces

800 – 909 Islam spreads and the Aghlabid dynasty is founded. Kairouan becomes the capital

909 – 972 The Fatimids seize power for a period of time before moving to Egypt

921 The city of Mahdia is founded and becomes the country’s capital

972 – 1152 The Zirid dynasty is founded and takes over power

1056 – 1147 The Almoravids have power in the land

1159 – 1230 The Almohads unite the area of ​​the Maghreb

1228 – 1574 Tunisia is ruled by the seas

1240 The first mattress, the Koranic school, is founded in Tunis

1270 Tunisia is hit by a crusade led by King Louis IX, who is defeated


The Spaniards for war against the Turks and Tunis are partially destroyed. The Spaniards leave the land occupied by the Ottomans (Turks). Turkish becomes the official language

1605 – 1691

The plague breaks out in the Maghreb region and returns every 6 to 12 years. Many die


The piracy is increasing in Tunisia mainly due to European defectors converting to Islam

1628 – 1702

The first sultan, of several coming, named Murad rules the country and gives it stability


The Husaynid dynasty was founded and came to rule the country until 1957 when the Republic of Tunisia was proclaimed.

1819 Tunisia bans piracy and thus loses a large source of income

1824 – 1825 Tribal uprisings take place in the Tunisian countryside

1836 France becomes guarantor of Tunisia’s ‘independence’

1855 – 1856 The Tunisian army suffers heavy losses in the Crimean War


France sends 30,000 troops to Tunisia. They quickly take control of the cities of Le Kef and Tunis

1881 – 1956

The French Protectorate is established on May 12, 1881 and will operate until March 19, 1956. Resistance movements are constantly fighting the French government

1890 – 1914 New schools, hospitals and railways are built to renovate the country

1892 French colonists take over 1/5 of the country’s olive groves

1914 – 1918 10,000 Tunisian soldiers are killed in the First World War

1920 The Destour nationalist movement is founded

1926 The French authorities stop Tunisian freedom of the press, meetings and associations

1932 Habib Bourgiba founds the daily newspaper “L´Action Tunisienne”

1934 The Neo-Destour nationalist movement is founded under the leadership of Habib Bourgiba

1942 Germany invades Tunisia

1943 Allied forces liberate the country

History of Tunisia, modern 1956 – 1999


Tunisia becomes independent on March 20 and the Republic of Tunisia is proclaimed


The Bey was deposed and Tunisia was proclaimed a republic. Habib Bourgiba becomes the country’s first head of state


The country will receive its constitution on 1 June. Habib Bourgiba becomes president. Neo-Destour gets all the seats in parliament. Women get the right to vote, polygamy is abolished, a ban on marriage for people under 17 is introduced and women get the same right as men in divorce


Introduces Destour socialism. Industries and banks etc. are nationalized A very large part of the European population emigrates


The last French troops leave the country via the city of Bizerte on October 15.
Neo-Destour becomes the only political party allowed


President Bourgiba nationalizes land formerly owned by the French. The Neo-Destour Party changes its name to the Socialist Destour Party (PSD)

1967 Religious education in schools is reformed


The strict state control of the economy is abandoned after large protests and a stagnant economy

1970s Tourism increased and gave Tunisia good economic growth

1975 The constitution is changed and Habib Bourgiba is elected president for life


Abolish bans on other political parties provided they renounce violence and religious fanaticism
At the end of the year, parliamentary elections were held and the PSD won all seats in parliament


When bread prices rose by more than 100%, the so-called “Bread Riots” erupted, fueled by the Islamists. State of emergency was announced and soldiers were called in to quell the demonstrations. After 89 people were killed and nearly 1,000 injured, the government reversed the decision on price increases

1985 New riots hit the country


As oil prices fell, Tunisia was forced to turn to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for help. The government responded to the popular protests with mass arrests of union leaders and Islamists


Habib Bourgiba was deposed as president at the age of 84 by his closest men. On October 2, Prime Minister Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali became the country’s president and military commander-in-chief


Prime Minister Ben Ali initially tried to approach the Islamists, but the largest Islamist party, al-Nahda, remained banned. Its supporters, however, were allowed to stand as independent candidates in the elections. When the candidates got 12 percent of the votes across the country and up to 30 percent in some constituencies, Ben Ali abandoned the consensus policy and switched to trying harder to stop the Islamists


46 religious leaders were sentenced to life in prison accused of conspiracy against the president


Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali was re-elected president. He was the only candidate for the post


In the autumn, Ben Ali indicated that he did not allow any criticism from the legal opposition. Muhammad Moada, the leader of the Social Democrats, MDS, who had sent a letter critical of the regime to the president, was arrested and charged with espionage. He was later sentenced to eleven years in prison


In December, Moada and his party comrade were released on parole following widespread international protests and pressure


At the end of the year, the President introduced a number of constitutional reforms aimed at “strengthening democracy”, at least on paper


Zayn al-Abidin Ben Ali was re-elected president. He got 99.4% of the vote! After the election, about 600 political prisoners were released, most of them members of al-Nahda

Tunisia Brief History