The Bardo Museum in Tunis, famous for its exceptional collection of mosaics / FETHI BELAID/AFP/GettyImages

At least seven tourists were killed in a shooting today

The Foreign Office is warning British travellers to avoid the area around the Bardo Museum in Tunis, following reports that at least seven tourists and one Tunisian had been killed by gunmen. There are unconfirmed reports that tourists from several European countries have been taken hostage.

The advice issued this afternoon urged tourists to “follow the instructions of the Tunisian security authorities”.

The museum is the capital’s leading tourist attraction, and on the itinerary of almost every cultural visitor to Tunisia. It re-opened to the public two years ago, after a long project to restore the palace and present the finest mosaics in the Mediterranean in a better light.

The name is a corruption of the Spanish word, prado, meaning "meadow". In the 19th century it was the official residence of the beys (rulers), but it is now Le Musée National du Bardo.

The location is in a normally quiet area of western Tunis, adjacent to the parliament building. Deputies were discussing anti-terror legislation at the time of the attack.

Tunisia was where the “Arab Spring” began four years ago, and from a tourist’s perspective it has remained largely safe since the January 2011 uprising that toppled President Ben Ali. British holidaymakers were initially airlifted out, but Foreign Office warnings were soon eased. It currently warns against travel to the area near the Libyan border and crossing points to Algeria, the rest of the country has been regarded as safe.

Whatever the motive for the attack, the timing means that it will prove immensely damaging to tourism in Tunisia, with many prospective visitors be deterred by the attack.

Last year 425,000 British travellers visited the country. Past experience suggests it is unlikely the Foreign Office will warn against travel to tourist areas on the basis of one attack, which means holidaymakers cannot cancel without penalty. But it is possible that tour operators may decide to pull out of Tunisia - as Thomson and First Choice did last year from Kenya.