Tunisia History Facts and Timeline

(Tunisia, TN, North Africa)

Today, Tunisia is known in equal measure for its beautiful beaches and historic monuments. Situated on the northern coast of Africa, between Libya and Algeria, nearly half of its land area is covered by desert. However, its towns and cities clearly have many Mediterranean, as well as Berber, influences.

Tunisia history is dominated by the myriad of civilisations that have, over the centuries, come to dominate the country.

From the Phoenicians in ancient times to the French in the 20th century, many civilisations have left their own legacy on the country's culture, language and architecture. At the very centre of Tunisia's heritage is the ancient city of Carthage. Today, Carthage forms a suburb of Tunis, the capital. Once, though, it wielded extraordinary powers over the region in its own right.

Early History
Historical records show that Tunisia's coastline was first settled by Phoenicians, who went on to found the city of Carthage and other major settlements in the 8th and 9th centuries BC. Over the years, the sea power of Carthage grew until it finally came to rival that of another ancient power, the Roman Empire. It was at this stage of history, that Carthage and Rome came into conflict over control of the Mediterranean.

The outbreak of the Punic wars saw a tumultuous time in Tunisia. Eventually, in the 3rd century BC, these wars were to lead to the ultimate defeat of Carthage and the loss of its military and strategic strengths. In 202 BC, Carthage had to hand over its Mediterranean island territories, as well as part of Spain. Finally, in 146 BC, the country was conquered by the Romans. Roman occupation was to last until the 5th century AD.

The eventual fall of the Roman Empire had significant consequences for Tunisia, which fell into the hands of European tribes, including the Vandals, and then the Byzantines. By the 7th century AD, Arab occupiers had taken control. The Berber peoples who lived here converted to Islam and the country developed as a centre for Arab culture.

In the 16th century, the Tunisian coast became part of a pirate stronghold, known as the Barbary States. Indeed, Tunis was captured by Barbarossa II in 1534. In 1574, the pirate forces were ousted by the Ottoman Turks and Tunisia was ruled by the Ottoman Empire until the 19th century, bringing a degree of stability to the country at last.

From European Influence to Independence
During the 1800s, some European states became increasingly involved in the country's affairs, mainly because of the terrible state of its finances. A French invasion of Tunisia led to the signing of treaties in 1881 and 1883, and the setting up of a protectorate under a French resident general.

During the 20th century, Tunisia witnessed the development of fervent nationalism. Most notably, the Mouvement Constitutionnelle played an active role in moving towards greater independence.

In World War Two history, with the fall of France to German forces, Tunisia came under the rule of the Vichy government. During the war, the country found itself as the site of many major battles, which played out in and around its desert towns.

In 1950, Tunisia was granted a degree of autonomy. However, when further reforms were demanded by the country, a wave of violence ensued. Progress towards democratic government was slow moving. However, in 1955, Tunisia finally became self-governing, with full independence following a year later. A republic was declared in 1957, and Habib Bourguiba, the head of a major nationalist group, was made president. Nonetheless, violent French-Tunisian confrontations carried on into the 1960s and 1970s.

In late 2010, the Tunisian Revolution broke out. Following street demonstrations throughout the country, including the capital city of Tunis, President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down from power in January 2011 and national elections were duly staged.