HOME I. Introduction

Tunisia, republic of northern Africa, bounded on the north and east by the Mediterranean Sea, on the south by Libya, and on the west by Algeria. The total area is 164,418 sq km (63,482 sq mi).

II. Land and Resources

Tunisia's Mediterranean coast is indented by many harbors and inlets, notably the gulfs of Tunis, Hammamet, and Qabis. The Gulf of Gabès contains the islands of Jarbah (Djerba) and Qarqanah (Kerkennah). The total length of coastline is 1,150 km (713 mi).

A. Natural Regions

Tunisia may be divided, from north to south, into four main topographic regions. In the north, low-lying spurs of the Maritime Atlas Mountains traverse the country in a southwestern to northeastern direction. Peaks range in elevation from about 610 to 1,520 m (about 2,000 to 5,000 ft). Fertile valleys and plains are interspersed among the mountains of this region. The country's only major river, the Majardah, crosses the region from west to east, emptying into the Gulf of Tunis. To the south the mountains give way to a plateau that averages about 610 m (about 2,000 ft) in elevation. Farther south, the plateau descends gradually to a chain of low-lying salt lakes, known as shatts, or chotts, which extend east to west across the country. Several of these lakes lie below sea level. On the south the shatts adjoin the Sahara, which constitutes about 40 percent of Tunisia's land area.

B. Climate

In general, a mild Mediterranean climate prevails in the north of Tunisia; toward the south the climate becomes progressively hotter and drier. In the north, temperatures average 9°C (48°F) in January and 26°C (78°F) in July. The northern regions have a rainy season that lasts from October to May. Average annual rainfall is about 610 mm (about 24 in) but may vary greatly from year to year. Annual rainfall decreases to the south and is only about 200 mm (about 8 in) in the Sahara.

C. Vegetation and Animal Life

The plant life of Tunisia, particularly that found in the coastal region, is similar to that of southern Europe. The fertile, well-watered regions of the north are characterized by flourishing vineyards and by dense forests of cork oak, pine, and juniper trees. Farther south, the semiarid conditions support a steppe vegetation dominated by wild grasses, notably esparto grass, and a wide variety of shrubs. In the arid regions of the extreme south, date palms flourish in oases. Among the wildlife found in the country are hyena, wild boar, jackal, gazelle, and hare. Several varieties of poisonous snakes, including cobras and horned vipers, are also present.

D. Mineral Resources

Petroleum is Tunisia's principal mineral resource. Reserves exist both offshore and on land, particularly in the south, and important new deposits were discovered in the early 1980s. Other mineral resources include natural gas, phosphates, iron ore, lead, and zinc.