Situated on a large Mediterranean gulf, behind the Lake of Tunis and the port of La Goulette, the capital of Tunisia extends along the coastal plain and the hills that surround it. Tunis is divided into three parts, the old city, called Medina; the French, which now is the centre; and the newer and larger regions built in the south and the north of the city. Beyond this section lie the suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa, and Sidi Bou Said.
The Medina boasts of ancient palaces, mosques and centers of trade and learning, a living museum. Dar Ben Abdullah, Dar Hussein, Dar El Bey, Dar El Jeld, Dar El Haddad, Dar Othman, once residences of wealthy traders or ministers now house cultural centers, restaurants or government agencies. Souvenirs, antiques, Berber jewelry, carpets and pottery compete for any visitor’s attention. The Mosque of the Olive Tree, Ez Zitouna, as old as the town itself is the heart of the old town. Rebuilt in the 9th century, the Ez Zitouna was for centuries the focal point of life in the Arab city as urban planning decreed the order in which the different trades were placed, and the most noble, booksellers, perfumeries, dried fruits sellers and cloth merchants held the privilege of proximity to the Mosque. Today one can still see marks of this tradition: the Souk of the Perfumes, traditional clothing shops and spice sellers are still located along its walls.
The modern government quarters are the place where the prime minister has his office in the Dar al Bay, House of the Bey. It was used as a royal guest house formerly. At certain times of the day, the nearby streets are full of government officials in traditional Tunisian costumes.
The Bardo Museum was originally a 13th century Hafsid palace. It contains a major collection of Roman empires and other antiquities of interest from Ancient Greece, Tunisia, and from the Arab period. The collection of Roman mosaics is considered to be one of the best in the world. Ancient Carthage is easily accessed from the capital.