The culture of Tunisia is a product of more than three thousand years of history and an important multi-ethnic influx. Ancient Tunisia was a major civilization crossing through history; different cultures, civilizations and multiple successive dynasties contributed to the culture of the country over centuries with a varying degrees of influence. Among these cultures were the Carthaginian – their native civilization, Roman, Vandal, Jewish, Christian, Arab, Islamic, Turkish, and French, in addition to native Berbers. This unique mixture of cultures made Tunisia, with its strategic geographical location in the Mediterranean, the core of some great civilizations of Mare Nostrum.
Most of the country’s older art came from the influences of China, Spain, Persia and the Near East forming the style known as Arabesque. Tunisian artists are known for their mosaics and pottery. Their mosaics use a variety of colors in repetitive patterns to adorn walls and floors by depicting a story or person. Mosaics are often used in architecture by implementing the use of geometric shapes and accenting with gold. Though, the displays of some artwork can be seen on buildings and architecture, one could find many sources of art in one place in the Bardo Museum in Tunis.
Tunisian music is the result of a cultural mix. According to Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Tunisian music has also been influenced by old Andalusian songs injected with Turkish, Persian and Greek influences. He believes that the Tunisian music has undergone three phases of outside influences: the first from the East and whose center was in Mecca and Medina, the second coming from Muslim Spain which was the center of Andalusia and the last coming from the Ottoman Empire and whose center was Istanbul. The legacy of its three phases are illustrated respectively in the creation of Tunisian traditional music, the Malouf the introduction of the Nuba in Tunisian music, and finally the use of forms such as Turkish, Samai and Bashraf. Also influenced by Western culture, it is relatively diversified.
Tunisian music often reflects the state of the country, touching on various political subjects. Modern music is often used as a “voice” to spread messages around the country and worldwide to bring awareness to the country.
The rural areas, the jebba is considered a ceremonial garment. White in summer and gray in winter, it is a sleeveless tunic that a man wears over a shirt, vest and baggy trousers (called seroual). On ordinary days, the men merely simple trousers and shirts, or/and a woolen tunic of a more slimmer fit than the jebba and fitted with long sleeves. In winter, they wear a heavy wool cloak which is often hooded, or in the north a kachabiya, which differs from the latter by its brown and white stripes.
In urban areas, the ceremonial dress consists of a linen shirt with collar and long sleeves. The seroual is adorned at the bottom of the legs with decorative pockets. A wide belt, cut from the same material keeps the seroual in shape. A jebba, a wool and silk full dress is worn in winter. The shoes, leather slippers, leave the heel exposed. Finally, the headdress is a chechia, a red felt hat which is sometimes adorned with a tassel of black thread. For a casual ceremony, during leisure hours, often just a jebba is worn.
Traditional Tunisian cuisine reflects local agriculture. It stresses wheat, in the form of bread or couscous, olives and olive oil, meat (above all, mutton), fruit, and vegetables. Couscous (semolina wheat prepared with a stew of meat and vegetables) is the national dish, and most people eat it daily in simple forms, and in more complex forms for celebrations. Bread with stew is a growing alternative. Tunisians near the coast eat a lot of seafood, and eggs are also common. Tunisians tend to eat in family groups at home, and restaurants are common in tourist areas and for travelers. In the countryside, tea is served in preference to the urban coffee. Tunisians also fast from dawn to dark during the month of Ramadan.
Tunisia is, in terms of language, the most homogeneous of the Maghreb states. This is because almost the entire population speaks Tunisian Arabic (also called Darija) natively. Most are also literate in Literary Arabic, which is the country’s official language, and French. The Tunisian Darija is considered a variety of Arabic – or more accurately a set of dialects – therefore, there is no official standardisation body for Tunisian Arabic and it is spoken mainly in the context of a daily dialogue within the family. According to linguistic studies, it is a close relative to Maltese. Berber languages are spoken by a minority, especially in the south.
Tunisian literature exists in two forms: in French and in Arabic. Arabic literature in Tunisia dates to the 7th century, with the arrival of Arab civilization in the region. Arabic literature is more important than French-language literature—which followed the introduction of the French protectorate in 1881—both in volume and value. The national bibliography lists 1,249 non-academic books published in 2002 in Tunisia, of which 885 titles are in Arabic. Nearly a third of these books are intended for children.
Islamic architecture is expressed in various facets in Tunisia. Through many buildings, Kairouan forms the epicenter 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.
Given the cosmopolitan nature of cities in Tunisia, they have retained a diversity and juxtaposition of styles. Many buildings were designed by many different architects, artisans and entrepreneurs during the French protectorate. 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 characterized by their response to the hostile environment arising from the heat and dryness of the desert or semi-desert.
Football is the most popular sport in Tunisia. The most watched sports in Tunisia are football, handball, volleyball, basketball, tennis, and rugby union.
Sport is encouraged in school, and local sports clubs receive financial support from the local governments.
The national holidays are all evocations of the recent past of the country, and celebrate the markers of the nationalist history. They include independence from France (20 March 1956), the proclamation of the republic (25 July 1957), the adoption of the first constitution of the republic (1 June 1959), the final evacuation of the French military from Tunisia (15 October 1963), and the “change-over” when President Ben Ali was sworn in to replace Bourguiba (7 November 1987). These days are generally holidays from work.