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Tunis, A Tale of Two Eras: One of the Past and Another of the Future.

Tunis has been the capital of Tunisia since the 13th century and was originally a Berber settlement. Situated on the North West of Tunisia, Tunis serves as an important crossroad between North Africa and the Middle East. The city’s geographical location coupled with the influence of foreign powers has allowed Tunis to flourish as a culturally diverse city that is home to various populations. With approximately 50 percent of the Tunisian population under the age of 25 and more than 35 percent of that age group being unemployed, the youth have turned to entrepreneurship as a means of making a living159. The diversity of the Tunisian population along with the rise of innovation and entrepreneurship have both heavily contributed to the cultural vibrancy of Tunis.

As the largest city in Tunisia, in terms of population, Tunis is home to approximately one million inhabitants and has a total of 33 cultural infrastructure points. One of the main “sites and landmarks” in Tunis is the Medina, which “is one of the first Arab-Muslim towns of the Maghreb” dating back to 698 A.D. Located only 140 kilometers away from Europe and physically connected to Africa, Tunis’s geographical location allowed for it to become a multiethnic city as it is home to Arabs, Berbers, Muslims, Jews and Christians. Although there are only seven “sites and landmarks”, the Medina is home to about 700 historical monuments and sites ranging from mosques to streets, illustrating the effect that the city’s diverse population and history have had on the cultural landscape of the city. One of the mosques in the Medina, Al Zaytouna Mosque, was built around the eighth century during the Muslim conquest of the city. Various other foreign powers have also had an influence on the cultural vibrancy of Tunis, as the four “museums” are housed in structures that were built during either the era of the Ottoman Empire or the French mandate.

The city is home to only one “gallery” as most of the “galleries” are located outside the city’s borders in Carthage, which is known as the city of antiquity due to its rich history. Although the Roman empire had a significant impact on Carthage, Italy’s more recent history has had an effect on the city of Tunis. Located in proximity to Sicily, there was a large migration of Italians over the past century and in 1910 Tunis was home to about 105,000 Italians. Today, that number decreased to about 3,000 but the effect of Italians is still evident as one of the three “cinemas” in Tunis, Cinéma Le Palace Tunis, was established to serve the Italian community.

In terms of innovation clusters, Tunis has a total of 16. The city has 11 “co-working spaces” and five “incubators and accelerators”. With a few foreign companies based in Tunis and with the rise in unemployment the city is “seeing a growing culture of entrepreneurialism, SMEs and startups – and it’s these businesses that are now trying to help lift young people out of unemployment and poverty.” The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI) in 2017 published an index that ranks Tunisia as the first in Africa and sixth in the MENA region in terms of the quality and dynamics of its entrepreneurship ecosystem. The rise in innovation can be attributed to various factors ranging from the active involvement of the government to the post-2011 revolution climate. Between Tunis’s diverse population and rich history, as well as the rise of entrepreneurship and innovation, the city’s cultural vibrancy is a tale of two eras: one of the past and another of the future.

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Researched and written by Yasmena AlMulla, Azza Elhassan & Wakim Zeidan

The research was concluded in December 2019



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