The culture of Tunisia is mixed due to their long established history of conquerors such as Phoenicians, Romans, Vandals, Byzantines, Arabs, Turks, Spaniards and the French who all left their mark on the country. The important elements of Tunisian culture are diverse and represent a unique, mixed heritage. This heritage can be experienced first-hand in: museums such as the Bardo Museum, the contrast and diversity of city architecture such as Sidi Bou Said or the medina of Tunis, cuisine such as cheeses and French croissants, music reflecting Andalusian and Ottoman influences, literature, cinema, religion, the arts, and sports and other areas of Tunisian culture.
The government and some wealthy benefactors support the arts. One way of doing so is through national and local festivals devoted to one form or another of music, poetry, or folklore. These festivals include competitions, with prizes for the winner.
In Tunisia, Islamic architecture is expressed in various facets. Through many buildings, Kairouan forms the epicentre of an architectural movement expressing the relationship between buildings and spirituality with the ornamental decoration of religious buildings in the holy city. In Djerba, the architecture such as the fortress of Kef reflects the military and spiritual destiny of a Sufi influence in the region.
The influential role of the various dynasties that ruled the country, particularly in building cities and princes of Raqqada Mahdia, illuminates the role of the geopolitical context in the architectural history of the country. Thus, many original fortresses that protected the coast from Byzantine invasions evolved into cities, like Monastir, Sousse or Lamta.
The medina of Tunis, is World Heritage Site of UNESCO, and is a typical example of Islamic architecture. However, in the areas between the ports of Bizerte and Ghar El Melh, settlements founded by the Moors fleeing Andalusia were reconquered by Catholic sovereigns and has more of a Christian influence.
Many buildings were designed by many different architects, artisans and entrepreneurs during the French protectorate. Among the most famous architects of that time were Victor Valensi, Guy Raphael, Henri Saladin, Joss Ellenon and Jean-Emile Resplandy. Five distinct architectural and decorative styles are particularly popular: those of the eclectic style (neo-classical, baroque, etc.). Between 1881 and 1900 and then again until 1920 the style was neo-Mauresque, between 1925 and 1940 it was in the Art Deco style and then the modernist style between 1943 and 1947.
In the south, the oasis of Gafsa, Tozeur or Nafta, and ksours and cave dwellings of Matmata are characterised by their response to the hostile environment arising from the heat and dryness of the desert or semi-desert.
See more information on the next page... (next)