Tunis, formerly small Berber village, (oppidum tunicense), laying over the hill coming down gently up to the banks of the lake (Bhira), is of these privileged sites which the geography facilitated and which the history elected. Nothing at first predestined it to become the capital of Ifriqiya, former Africa.
Neighbour of the powerful punic then Roman Carthage, it rarely made speak about her during all the antiquity, except when it inhabitants, for the most part of Berber origin, lifted up themselves against their Punic or Roman colonizers. Archetupal rebellious city, it is left by the Arabic conquest, when it was transformed from the beginning of the VIIIè century into a fortified town, a place of gathering of the Moslem troops and the point of departure of the conquerors for the big Mediterranean islands.
Relegated to the hinterland of Carthage between the lake and the lagoon ( sebkha ), it controlled during all the antiquity the ground way of passage connecting the capital with the rest of the country; the other lakeside way passing by Radès allowed, too, to communicate with Carthage but by raft (per-spleens).
However, this deducted position which was hardly for its advantage during the antiquity, gave it after the Arabic conquest, the excellent defensive and strategic position. Tunis inherited in fact, the advantages of Carthage without having the inconveniences of its position : neither too much away from the sea nor too much exposed to its dangers.
It inherited the favorable geographical and economic environment from it: agricultural wealth, industrial activities, communications and a certain maritime vocation which strengthened Hassan Ibn Noâman, the famous Arabic leader who destroyed Byzantine Carthage and annihilates the Berber resistance crystallized by Kahéna.
He made build towards 704 J.C., on the piece of waste ground separating the city of the lake, an arsenal for which he made, from Egypt, one thousand Copts come specialized in the manufacturing of ships. At the same time, a mosque, Ezzitouna (of the olive tree), took place in the center inside an old Christian basilica or on its rubble. Both: arsenal and mosque are going to seal the fate of the medina of Tunis and to dedicate for long centuries, its double vocation both maritime and religious.
It was not less left a city of secondary importance, compared with Kairouan, the capital of Aghlabides (IXè century), or with Mahdia based by Fatimides then occupied, after their departure for Egypt (970 j. C.), by the Berbers Zirides.