Tunisia has a rich and varied history, and a number of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known have left their mark on the country, including the Phoenicians, the Roman Empire, and the Byzantines. Unsurprisingly, there are a number of locations around the country that have been designated as UNESCO world heritage sites for their cultural and historic significance, including elaborately designed mosques, imposing fortresses, and ancient mausoleums.
Before planning an itinerary to visit the Cultural Heritage sites in Tunisia, foreign citizens should first check if they require a visa for Tunisia. Travelers of a number of nationalities will soon be able to submit a Tunisia visa application online without having to visit an embassy or consulate, making it even easier to visit the country and explore the UNESCO sites in Tunisia.
How Many UNESCO World Heritage Sites Are in Tunisia?
There are 7 cultural UNESCO sites in Tunisia, all concentrated in the northeast of the country. The first 3 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage list in Tunisia, the Archaeological Site of Carthage, the Amphitheatre of El Jem, and the Medina of Tunis, were added in 1979. Both the Archaeological Site of Carthage and the Medina of Tunis are located within the Tunis Governorate, which contains the country’s capital city, and are among Tunisia’s main attractions for tourists.
The Amphitheatre of El Jem is the southernmost Cultural Heritage site in Tunisia and located close to two others, the Medina of Sousse, and Kairouan, an ancient settlement considered one of the holiest cities in the country. The sixth site, the Punic Town of Kerkuane and its Necropolis, is located on the east coast of the Sharīk Peninsula, around a two-hour drive from Tunis.
The last World Heritage site in Tunisia to be designated of cultural interest by UNESCO, the ruins of the Roman town Dougga, is located around 90 kilometers west of the capital city. It is possible to use the local transport options in Tunisia to get around most of the UNESCO sites in Tunisia, although travelers are advised to either rent a car or sign up for an organized tour, as some of the sites are located outside of public transport routes.
List of Cultural Heritage sites in Tunisia
The following 7 properties make up the list of cultural UNESCO world heritage sites in Tunisia:
Amphitheatre of El Jem – The ruins of the biggest colosseum outside of Italy, the Amphitheatre of El Jem is considered one of the best-preserved Roman stone ruins in the world. The amphitheater is the largest in North Africa and was built around 238 AD. It has a capacity for 35,000 spectators, making it one of the largest in the world. Visitors may recognize the amphitheater as a key location for the 1979 film Monty Python’s Life of Brian.
Archaeological Site of Carthage – Located on the eastern side of the Lake of Tunis, the city of Carthage was founded as a Phoenician colony in the 9th century BC and was once the capital of a great trading empire which stretched across the Mediterranean Sea. Carthage was destroyed by the Roman Republic during the Third Punic War in 146 BC, before being rebuilt as a Roman settlement and passing through a number of occupying forces. Archaeological excavations began at Carthage in the 1920s and visitors to the site can explore the open-air Carthage Paleo-Christian Museum, which exhibits the artifacts excavated under UNESCO designation from 1975 to 1984.
Dougga / Thugga – A Punic settlement that was later taken over by the Romans, the ruins of the town of Dougga were made a world heritage site in 1997 and are the most recent addition to the UNESCO list in Tunisia. Also known as Thugga, the site boasts a number of well-preserved features including a mausoleum, forum, theater, and Roman baths. The isolated nature of the ruins have ensured that its monuments have been well protected from the threat of modern urbanization that has impacted other UNESCO sites in Tunisia.
Kairouan – Founded in 670 AD, this ancient city in the center of Tunisia was previously the country’s capital until that function was transferred to Tunis in the 12th century. Nevertheless, it remained an important holy city and continues to attract religious pilgrims to this day. The city boasts a rich architectural heritage, most notably seen in the Great Mosque of Uqba, one of the largest Islamic monuments in all of North Africa. Muslims say that seven pilgrimages to this impressive mosque is considered the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Mecca.
Medina of Sousse – Medina quarters (a walled-in area with many maze-like streets) are found in cities across North Africa, and the Medina of Sousse is one the most impressive in Tunisia. Located in Tunisia’s third-largest city, Sousse, the Medina offers visitors a wealth of examples of early Islamic architecture to explore, including a kasbah, extensive fortifications, and a historic mosque dating back to 851.
Medina of Tunis – The Medina of Tunis was founded in 698 AD around the historic Zitouna Mosque and developed throughout the Middle Ages. It contains over 700 monuments dating back to both the Almohad (1121–1269) and the Hafsid (1229–1574) periods. The architecture of the Medina of Tunis combines a number of features from throughout the history of the city, and also includes Ifriqiya, Andalusian and Oriental influences. Notable buildings include the Dar Hammouda Pacha, one of the oldest and biggest palaces in Tunis, the Tourbet el Bey royal mausoleum, and a number of historic city gates.
Punic Town of Kerkuane and its Necropolis – The only example of a Phoenicio-Punic city to have survived the many wars and invading forces that have impacted Tunisia’s history, Kerkuane has become an important archeological site in the country. The city is thought to have been abandoned around 250 BC and, unlike most Punic settlements, was never rebuilt by the Romans. Therefore, it provides a unique viewpoint into the early civilizations who called Tunisia their home. Kerkuane also boasts an on-site archeological museum, and an extensive burial area, the necropolis, built on a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean.