Tunis, Tunisia, the nation's capital and largest city. It is in northeastern Tunisia on the Lake of Tunis, a shallow lagoon connected to the Gulf of Tunis, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea. Tunis is the commercial and industrial center of Tunisia; its modern port at La Goulette handles more than half of the nation's foreign trade. Industries include food processing and the making of such handicraft items as carpets and textiles, leather goods, jewelry, and perfume. The Tunis-Carthage International Airport is one of the busiest air terminals in North Africa.
Tunis has two distinct sections. The medina, or old Arab town, is a place of narrow, winding streets lined with small shops and stalls where handicraft items are sold. In this section are the Zitouna Mosque, built in the ninth century, and the former palace of the bey, the native ruler of Tunisia prior to independence.
Tunis's modern section, which is rapidly expanding between the medina and the lake, has European-style buildings, large squares, and boulevards. Here are the National Institute of Archeology, the National Library, and numerous government buildings. In adjoining suburbs are the University of Tunis and the Bardo Museum, which contains an excellent collection of Punic, Roman, and Muslim relics.
Tunis was founded in the ancient Carthaginian era. When the Muslims conquered North Africa in the late seventh century A.D., they abandoned Carthage as a seaport and built Tunis into their major trade center. In 1228 it became the capital city of the Hafsid dynasty, whose rulers made it a center of Muslim culture.
In 1533 Khair ed-Din (Barbarossa), a corsair who acknowledged Turkish sovereignty, seized Tunis. The deposed ruler appealed for help to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, whose army took the city with terrible slaughter and destruction in 1535. The city was held by Spain until 1569, and again in 1573–74. Retaken by the corsairs, it served as capital of a Barbary state and, after 1705, of the Husainid kingdom. When Tunisia became a French protectorate in 1881, a large Christian-European section was added to Tunis, and French culture prevailed in the city.
In World War II Tunis was occupied by Axis forces in 1942 and freed by the British army in 1943. When the Tunisian republic was founded in 1957, Tunis became its capital.