The Medina Of Tunis: An Extra Ordinary Complex Range Of Neighborhood!

Old Arab Walled Town in Tunis
Old Arab Walled Town in Tunis:Photo credit/
Talking about the reworking/recycling of the older Architectural vocabularies, we have too many inventories, reflecting the shifting social mix of the expanding cities. The neighborhood of “Medina of Tunis” is a rich one to talk about.

As at the time of National Independences, some parts of North Africa such as the neighborhood of “Houma” of Tunisia were seen as restricted zones owing to its rather extensible fringes which proved not to be a mere rigid boundary, but a protective wall from the incertitude of the “new monster” the modern city.

Following an intensive study of this neighborhood over the years, it has been observed that the “Rue Du Pacha” of the Medina of Tunis and “Burb Menara” of its neighborhood especially after Tunisian Independence in 1956, has taken a completely different shape from what it used to be.

Medina Tunis and its surrounding neighborhood is said to be one of the poor districts in the history of North African cities today. It is said to have been highly marginalized and neglected in the Medina studies.

In the past, the neighborhood of “Rue Du Pacha” was the abode of many famous families, each, having its moral characteristics and its own economic vacation. Here, in the “Beldiya” (of Arabic Ballad origin), a man of the older generation carried himself with pride on the basis of the authenticity and the antiquity of his class. They practiced prayer and religious celebrations as daily routine.

Meanwhile, the “Beldi families”, despite their attachment to vast courtyard-homes were living a static lifestyle which was based on gender separation and extended family life.

Soon after this discovery, some families started leaving and the movement became a rush in the 1970s, starting with “Hajj Ahmed Lasram”, the first to leave “Beldi” to settle for a more comfortable life in a more comfortable apartment with modern facilities in “La Marsa.”

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Nonetheless, Medina experienced rising political consciousness in the mid-twentieth century, which is said to have sprang from Europeanization hence reflected in their desires, habits and various ways of life including dressing and grooming with persistent floating tunics, wide trousers and turban for the women, while the men wore more of European-style shoe with traditionalists considering narrow trousers and hats or caps obscene and outrageous against religion.

Is it by chance that the old aspect of things wears off and is supplanted  by a new look while the economic foundations and the city’s role are in the process of disintegration; and while language, tastes and desires are in the process of change?

As at when “Scholar Bergue” made this research, old buildings were very definitely out of favour ; I mean a building of the early eighteenth century such as the “Turba of Qara and  Mustapha in the Qasba” district, having been branded with dishonor fell into ruins to the despair of Archaeologists, but to the delight of the innovators.


Tunisian Medina
Tunisian Medina:photo credit/

By 1996, the wheel had come full circle. The old structures found in this neighborhood including “Othmana Hospital,” founded by a charitable “Hasfid Princess” was refurbished and restored among other works lying in ruins.

Could it be that these restoration projects in Medina of Tunis and its surrounding neighborhood is here to determine the issues of taste and authenticity at work behind the redevelopment of historic neighborhood?

It may well be that the Medina’s nascent cultural quarter is linked to wide changes in the Tunisian cultural identity. Recently, Scholars have argued that changes in urban form and function always involve questions of cultural identity and meaning, in addition to processes of urban conflicts. In the case of gentrification, these changes are in part the work of agents, initiating strategies from their position in the cultural mass.

Moreover, the society which produced the Medina has changed although it can still be seen in a fossilized form in a museum. It will be interesting to observe how conflicts over new heritage-related coding of the city are played out on the physical surfaces of the living Medina.

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Also, as a cycle of economic demand develops, linked to strategies of differentiation is the human question.

Mind you, policy makers will eventually be called upon to reflect on who will gain and who will lose out as historic neighborhoods are redeveloped.

It is obvious from the range of building styles found in the past for example in “Houma and in the Rue Mar district,” recent transformations, new needs in terms of space and light surfaced as of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, where practically all new buildings are done using Concrete Pillar, Beam and Slab Technology with Red-hollow brick for non-load bearing walls and other new building materials.

The beauty of the urban landscape may belong to all, but the question remains as to who is to decide what is beautiful. In the case of Medina of Tunis, this tradition centers on distinctive form of courtyard of housing, characteristic with much stylistic variation of other Mediterranean cities.

Glaring from the above, the Medina seems an immense agglomeration of hollow squares, comprising of beautiful features such as “Ouli or saint’s Shrine, Turkish bath and the Kuttab or Qur’an school.”

Taking a walk from the political-journalistic idiom that idolizes the Medina, it has been discovered that this neighborhood has highly distinctive features. The people who inhabited them create places without map localities of often-repeated or fleeting memories and movement.

The Modernized Old Arab Walls
The Modernized Old Arab Walls:Photo credit/

A lot of new buildings in Medina have little to distinguish it from new constructions in the sprawling new low-income suburbs of Tunis, although it has been argued that recent redevelopment projects in the Medina have led to a new appreciation of the early twentieth century architecture.

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On the other hand, the aesthetic values of preserved-historic streetscape, the particular feel of place necessary for gentrification may fail to emerge or prove incompatible to heavily-gendered users of public space.

Could this be a question of the Medina and its surrounding embracing new lifestyles in old neighborhood?

Apart from the Architectural redevelopment of the Medina of Tunis, there are lots of exciting moment and a whole lots of enjoyment owing to its cultural heritages.

Find out more facts about this beautiful city of Tunisia!



Adapted from Susan Slyomovics

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