Official name: Republic of Tunisia
Area: 163, 610 square kilometers (63,170 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Ash-Sha′nabī (1,544 meters/5,065 feet)
Lowest point on land: Chott el Gharsa (17 meters/56 feet) below sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 1 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: 350 kilometers (217 miles) from east to west; 792 kilometers (492 miles) from north to south
Land boundaries: 1,424 kilometers (884 miles) total boundary length; Algeria 965 kilometers (600 miles); Libya 459 kilometers (285 miles)
Coastline: 1,148 kilometers (713 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)
Tunisia juts into the Mediterranean Sea on the northern coast of the African continent. Along with Algeria, Morocco, and the northwestern portion of Libya, Tunisia is situated in the Maghreb, a region in which fertile coastal lands give way to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa and then to the expanses of the Sahara Desert. Tunisia has a total area of 163,610 square kilometers (63,170 square miles), or slightly more than the state of Georgia.
Tunisia has no territories or dependencies.
Along the Mediterranean coast, temperatures are moderate—the average temperature is 18°C (64°F). Temperatures in the southern interior, which forms part of the Sahara Desert, are very hot. The summer season in the north (May–September) is hot and dry. In the winter months (October–April), the climate is mild with frequent rains. Temperatures at the capital city of Tunis range from 6°C (43°F) to 14°C (57°F) in January, and 21°C (70°F) to 33°C (91°F) in August. Rainfall reaches a high of 150 centimeters (59 inches) in the northern part of the country, while in the extreme south, yearly rainfall averages less than 20 centimeters (8 inches).
Tunisia can be divided into northern, southern, and central regions, determined in part by topography and quality of the soil and in part by the incidence of rainfall, which decreases progressively from north to south. The Mediterranean Sea influences the climate in the north, and the Sahara Desert influences the weather in the south.
The Mediterranean Sea forms Tunisia's northern and eastern borders.
In the north, the shoreline is indented by the Gulf of Tunis. Immediately to the south of Cape Bon is the Gulf of Hammamet. Farther to the south is the largest of Tunisia's gulfs, the Gulf of Gabès.
Jerba and Qarqannah Islands are located in the Gulf of Gabès.
The eastern shoreline is smooth and sandy, and the northern shoreline is rocky. Lagoons and salt flats fringe the narrow, gravelly coast of southern Tunisia. Cape Bon forms the southeastern shore of the Gulf of Tunis, with the coast curving sharply to the south.
Two large chotts or shatts (salt lakes) are located in Tunisia's southern region: the Chott el Djerid (the largest lake in the country) and the Chott el Gharsa (the nation's lowest point). The Chott el Djerid is dry during half the year, but it floods to form a shallow salt lake during the winter months.
The most important river system in Tunisia, the Medjerda, rises in Algeria and drains into the Gulf of Tunis. It is the only river that flows perennially; Tunisia's other watercourses fill only seasonally. In the central Tunisian steppes, occasional waterways flow southward out of the Dorsale after heavy rains, but they evaporate in salt flats without reaching the sea.
Southern Tunisia is part of the Sahara Desert. The interior of the desert is almost totally barren and uninhabited except for oases that occur along a line of springs. The Grand Erg Oriental, at the edge of the Saharan dunes, is interrupted by the flat-topped Monts des Ksour.
The western part of central Tunisia along the border with Algeria is moderately elevated and known as the High Steppes. There are many hills in the desert region of the south.
The Atlas Mountains, which begin in southwestern Morocco, terminate in northeastern Tunisia. The principal sub-mountain chain within the Atlas, the Dorsale, slants northeastward across the country from the Algerian border to Cape Bon. The country's highest point, Mount Ash-Sha′nabī—which reaches 1,544 meters (5,065 feet) near the Algerian border—is part of this range; most of the peaks, however, average less than 300 meters (984 feet) and rarely exceed 1,000 meters (3,280 feet). The Dorsale is cut by several transverse depressions, among them the Kasserine (Al Qasrayn) Pass.
Tunisia's famous Roman Caves, west of ElHaouaria on the Cape Bon peninsula, are actually ancient, eroded sandstone mines that date to the sixth century B.C. The oasis of Mides is known for the canyons that border it on two sides. The canyons that form the Selja Gorge have walls as high as 200 meters (656 feet).
Northern Tunisia, a generally mountainous region that comprises about 25 percent of the country, is sometimes referred to as the Tell. It is a heavily populated area of high ground located close to the Mediterranean Sea. The region is bisected from east to west by the Medjerda River and is divided into subregions made up of the Medjerda Valley and the several portions of the Tell.
The western part of central Tunisia, along the border with Algeria, is moderately elevated and known as the High Steppes. The Tunisian portion of the Sahara Desert consists of plateaus, tablelands, and eroded hills.
Roman ruins can be found throughout the country.
El-Jem, an ancient colosseum almost as large as the one in Rome, is located on a plateau south of the capital city, Tunis. It could seat an estimated thirty thousand people.
Brown, Roslind Varghese. Tunisia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1988.
Darke, Diana. Passport's Illustrated Travel Guide to Tunisia. Chicago: Passport Books, 1996.
Wilkinson, Stephan. "North Africa: Looking for an Oasis." Conde Nast Traveler . March 1995, p.72.
ArabNet: Tunisia Geography. http://www.arab.net/tunisia/geography/tunisia_geography.html (accessed April 17, 2003).
Lonely Planet: Tunisia. http://www.lonelyplanet.com/destinations/africa/tunisia/index.htm (accessed April 17, 2003).