12 Fun Facts About Tunisia You Probably Didn’t Know
By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer
Tunisia is known by many people as the country that started the Arab Spring or its ancient Roman ruins, but there’s so much more to the country than that. The beautiful Tunisian coast attracts a lot of tourists, in addition to its beautiful buildings and museums. Beyond that, Tunisia is traditionally ahead of other countries in terms of women’s rights, although there is still progress to be made. There are many things that make Tunisia special, and this list is just a few of those facts.
1. Kebili, Tunisia has remnants from the Stone Age.
In Kebili, people have found animal bones and tools from the Stone Age. They believe that the artifacts are from around 200,000 years ago. The bones found at the site suggest that Tunisia’s wildlife at the time looked much different than it does today, with much more biodiversity in the past. Part of this is because Tunisia’s landscape used to be green and much more wet, meaning it was more conducive to many different species of animals. This is no longer the case today.
2. Kairouan, Tunisia is the fourth most important city in Islam after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem.
Kairouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city was founded in 670 CE, making it the oldest Muslim-Arab base in the Maghreb. It was the capital city of Ifriqiya (the name for all of North Africa), but the capital was moved to Tunis. After that, though, Kairouan remained an important center for Islam in North Africa. In the city, there is the Great Mosque of Kairouan and the Mosque of the Three Doors, both remarkable in their own right.
3. Many parts of the Star Wars movies have been filmed in Tunisia.
With the exception of “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, the other Star Wars films used parts of Tunisia for filming. The movies had scenes filmed in Djerba, Matmata, Tataouine, Medenine, and more parts of Tunisia. You can visit the film locations, but you will have to rent a car.
4. The Bardo National Museum is the second largest museum in Africa.
Second only to the Grand Egyptian Museum, the Bardo National Museum is the largest museum in Africa. It is located in Tunis, Tunisia’s capital and follows the history of Tunisia through the millennia. The museum has quite a few archaeological artifacts, such as the Stone Age tools found in Kebili, which are from 200,000 years ago. It is also in the former palace of Tunisia’s rulers.
5. The Great Mosque of Kairouan is thought to be the oldest mosque in the Maghreb.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan (also known as the Uqba Mosque) was built in 670 CE, but has been rebuilt multiple times since then. One of those times was in the 9th century, when Prince Ziyadat Allah II, an Aghlabid governor, demolished the mosque and rebuilt it on the same site. However, it is still considered the oldest because of Kairouan’s significance. Technically, because it has been rebuilt, you could consider the Al-Zaytuna Mosque in Tunis to be the oldest (built in 698 CE).
6. In Tunisia, women can inherit land from their families and can pass their nationalities and names to their children.
Women’s right to inherit land is from a very recent law, which had been decades in the making. This law was introduced by the former president, Beji Caid Essebsi, in 2018, and saw a lot of backlash specifically from the country’s Muslim political party, Ennahda. The bill passed, although women still struggle to gain equal inheritance to their family’s land. As for the right to pass nationality, this law was enacted in 1956 but had yet to be fully enacted. A major reform was passed in 2010 guaranteeing the right of a mother to pass her Tunisian nationality to her children, although many are still skeptical that it will be enforced.
7. Around 2/3 of the country’s land is used for agriculture.
In total, 64.84% of Tunisia’s land was used for agriculture in 2016. Tunisia grows olives, dates, fruit, tomatoes, potatoes, and raises chicken, sheep and cattle for meat. The country’s biggest agricultural export is olive oil, which it mainly exports to Europe. Agriculture makes up a little less than 13% of Tunisia’s GDP.
8. Tunisia spends a little over 6% of its GDP on education.
According to UNESCO, Tunisia spent 6.2% of its GDP in 2010 on education. Education is a high priority, and the country’s government has worked to improve on its education system. Their improvements are reflected in the literacy numbers for the younger generation vs. the older generation, where 16-25-year-olds have a literacy rate of 96.1% and the generation that is 65+ has a literacy rate of 39.77%.
9. The first female Arab mayor in Tunisia was elected in 2018.
Elected on July 3, 2018, Souad Abderrahim became the first female mayor of Tunis. Another difference between her and previous mayors is that she is a self-made businesswoman, unlike all of the former mayors of Tunis, who came from wealthy and influential families. She is a part of the Ennahda party, but does not wear the hijab, unlike many of the other women in the party.
10. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015.
Two years after the revolution in Tunisia in 2011, the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet was created when the process of democratization was in jeopardy. Their purpose was to keep the peace in the transition of power, especially after the assassination of political leaders. The Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet worked hard to ensure that all of the new measures were approved by the Tunisians (as opposed to the elites) and create a peaceful dialogue when the country was heavily divided. For that reason, they earned the Nobel Peace Prize.
11. The national flower of Tunisia is jasmine.
Although jasmine was not native to Tunisia (it was brought by the Andalusians in the 16th century), it became Tunisia’s national flower. The foreign media coined the name for Tunisia’s 2011 revolution specifically is the Jasmine Revolution, after Tunisia’s national flower.
12. Tunisia’s national anthem was written in the 1930s by an Egyptian.
Tunisia’s national anthem, “Humat al Hima” or “Defenders of the Homeland”, was written by an Egyptian. At the time, it was only one verse, but a Tunisian poet, Aboul-Qacem Echebbi, added two more verses when it was officially adopted as the national anthem in 1957. It was originally an interim anthem, so it was replaced in 1958. Then, in 1987, it was re-named Tunisia’s national anthem after Habib Bourguiba’s government was deposed.
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