Tunisians mourn the passing of President Beji
Newspapers on Friday paid tribute to "the father of consensus", while festivals were canceled and the government declared seven days of mourning.
"Our pain is great, our sorrow is immense," read an editorial in French-language daily Le Temps.
The funeral ceremony is to take place on Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas in attendance before Essebsi is buried in his family's plot in central Tunis.
Algeria, Libya, and Mauritania, as well as Egypt and Jordan all, declared three days of mourning, while US President Donald Trump in a White House statement paid tribute to Essebsi's "tremendous leadership".
Hundreds of people -- some in tears, others singing the national anthem -- gathered outside a military hospital in Tunis on Friday as Essebsi's body was taken to the presidential palace in nearby Carthage.
“Today we lost a father to all Tunisians,” said a woman named Salma Habibi.
“There are no tanks in the streets, no curfew, no statements from the army,” she added. “Today we have gained a democratic state through a quiet and wonderful transition ...”
“It was a sad day with the loss of our President Essebsi,” said Moncef Marzouki, a former president and one of Essebsi’s most determined rivals.
Within hours of Essebsi's death, parliament speaker Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president, who under the constitution has 90 days to organize a presidential election.
The electoral commission said the poll would "probably" be held on September 15, two months earlier than planned.
Foreign governments including that of former colonial power France have hailed Essebsi's role in Tunisia's democratic transition.
Essebsi died Thursday at the age of 92, triggering fears of political unrest in a country.
Following the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after popular protests in 2011, Essebsi founded the secularist Nidaa Tounes (Call of Tunis) party, which he led to victory at the polls in 2014.
Political progress has not been matched by economic advances. Unemployment stands at about 15%, up from 12% in 2010, due to weak growth and low investment.
Near Carthage palace, a young man named Nabil said: “We are deeply saddened, but I hope Tunisia will remain as consistent and cohesive as Essebsi wanted.”
“Will miss you, Bajbouj,” he said, using Essebsi’s nickname.