1) Tunis during Antiquity
Arab Tunis was not created from scratch; it succeeded to a more ancient city which itself had Berber origins. Some historians, on the basis of Berber data, suggest that the place name ‘Tynes” or « Tunes », slightly modified to give Tunis, belonged to the Libyc civilisation, so that the three radicals T N S, also found in other North African place names, would in Berber mean « a stop » , « bivouac », « camp » and more precisely « to lie down » « sleepover », hence the idea of an overnight camp. The city seems to have been predestined to play an important economic and strategic role as a place of passage for caravans. This leads us to believe that the city was founded by the native population. But was Tunis more ancient than Carthage?
The existence of Tunis is attested in the early IVth century BC, for Diodorus of Sicily (Greek historian, 90-20BC) tells us that after the defeat of the Carthaginian army by Denis of Syracuse in 395 BC, the two hundred thousand Libyans who rebelled against Carthaginian power took Tunes. Thus the first evidence dates to a time when Punic Carthage was already a great city.
Greek and Latin historians, who related the history of Carthage, attest the name of the city. It was successively occupied by :
- Agathocles n 310
- Regulus in 256
- The Lybyans of Matho in 240
- Scipio the African in 203
- Scipio Aemilianus in 146
The latter expedition considered as the third Punic war put an end to the power of Carthage and the destruction of « Tunes » which was to be reborn under the rule of Rome
During this period and despite the fact that Roman historians showed no interest in Tunis, the existence of the city is again attested on the Peutinger table in the IVth century under the name of « THUMI » which could be a copying error and mistaken for «THUNIS»
But if the foundation of Tunes dates back to early Antiquity, and if the city was able to survive for centuries, it never played more than a modest role in the shadow of the great city of Carthage, capital of Punic Africa and Roman Africa.
What role did Tunes play with the arrival of the Arabs ?
2) Tunis: from the Arab conquest to the first half of the XIth century.
Arab historians date the birth of Tunis to 80H (699) and attribute its foundation to Hassan Ibn Al-Nooman who took Carthage.
At the behest of the Umayyad Caliph Abd Al Malik Ibn Marwan he built an arsenal, after having brought the sea to Tunis and dug a canal through the coastal strip separating the lake from the sea at a place called Halk Al-Wadi : Tunis was from then on to assume a military role, with the presence of hundreds of thousands of soldiers. More than one maritime expedition left from Tunis in the VIIIth century. But Tunis was still a secondary town compared to Al-Kayrawan, the capital where the rulers were established.
As soon as the Aghlabids were appointed governors of Ifriqiya, Tunis chose to oppose the dynasty: « it was without contest, the most turbulent city and the least well disposed towards the Aghlabids in the whole of Ifriqiya, its population often joined the cause of rebels”. The first rebellion broke out in 802, led by Huraysh, descendant of an important Arab family established in Ifriqiya well before the advent of the Abbasids and that remained faithful to the fallen Umayyad dynasty.
Twenty years later, Tunis was involved in another revolt led by Mansour Al Tamboudhi, an Arab lord, who possessed the castle of Tamboudha (the present Mohammadia, in the outskirts of the city) to keep an eye on this rebellious population and contain its slightest movements. Ibrahim Ibn Ahmed (874-902) settled in Tunis. It was the first time the seat of government was established in Tunis, but two years later (903) the court returned to Kairouan.
At the beginning of the Xth century a Shiite revolution brought the Fatimids to power and they settled in Mahdia, the new capital..
After leaving Ifriqiya for Egypt, the Fatimids entrusted government to their faithful Zirids, who in turn chose Al Mahdia and Al Kayrawan as their capital. At that time, Tunis continued to develop in different spheres amongst which the religious and economic. The Arab geographer, Al-Bakri gives us the first description « of one of the most illustrious cities of Ifriqiya ».
Towards the mid XIth century, the Zirid emir EL- Moez Ibn Bâdis, repudiated the strict doctrine and rejected the sovereignty of the Fatimid Caliph in Cairo. Ifriqiya was invaded by Arab tribes, the Banu Hilal and the Banu Sulaym and a multitude of local rulers took the place of the failing central government.
3) Tunis under the Banu Khorassan
Tunis fell into the hands of a chief of the Riyahs tribe named Ab-El-Ghaith (1054), but the population refused to submit to him. A delegation was then sent to the Beni Hammad, masters of a brilliant kingdom in the West of the country, asking for their protection. The Beni Hammad sent one of their valiant sons, Abdelhak Ibn Khorassan to the rescue. The latter soon restored order and almost as soon proclaimed Hamadite suzerainty.
Thus, one of the most famous XIth century principalities was born, with Tunis as its capital and the Benu Khorassen as its masters, who ensured contentment and prosperity for their subjects for a century to come.
In 554H/1159, the city of Tunis, like the whole of North Africa, fell into the hands of the Moroccan sovereign Abd Al- Mumin who had embraced the Almohad doctrine, and who before his return to Marrakech entrusted the administration to one of his sons who established himself in the Tunis Kasbah. The city now ranked as the capital of Ifriqiya and remained so without interruption until today.
4) Tunis under the Hafsids:
5) The expedition of Charles Vth of Spain in 1535
At the beginning of the XVIth century, the pirate Khair-Eddine became master of Algiers. Having paid allegiance to the Sultan of Constantinople, he wished to extend his domination to western Barbary and succeeded in taking Tunis in 1534.
The Hafsid Sultan, Mawlay Hassen, called upon Charles Vth to save his kingdom. The latter came to the rescue of the overturned sultan in the early summer of 1535 and headed for Tunis, chasing the Turks away and reinstating Mawlay Hassen on the throne, who then signed a treaty (on 6th August 1535) placing himself under the domination of the Spaniards who occupied la Goulette.
6) Tunis: Ottoman city:
In the autumn of 1573, Don Juan of Austria chased the Turks away from Tunis and left an army corps of eight thousand men who built a new fortress, Nova Arx, between the city walls and the shores of the lake. .
In 1574 the Turks laid siege to la Goulette and Tunis and forced their garrisons to surrender. After this conquest ordered by Sinan Pacha, Ifriqiya became a province of the Ottoman empire administered by a governor holding the title of Pasha with the help of a Turkish militia of three thousand men.
A few years were sufficient for power to pass from the pasha, representing the Sultan of Constantinople to the heads of the militia (1591) and from the heads of the militia to a dey who recognized Ottoman suzerainty, and governed the country as absolute master (1595). One of them, Murad Bey passed his office onto his son who left it to his descendants thus founding the dynasty of the Muradite Beys, whose princes succeeded, in the second half of the XVIIth century, in subordinating the deys and reign as sovereigns.
During the first years of the XVIIIth century, an officer of the militia who led the victorious defence of the country, invaded by the Algerians, Hussayn Ibn Ali, became ruler with the title of Bey and succeeded in transmitting the office to the princes of his line, thereby founding the Husseinid dynasty.
1) Plan of the city:
The Medina of Tunis formed an oval and was surrounded by a continuous wall and dominated by the Kasbah, seat of the Almohad-Hafsid government. It was built around the religious centre of the great Zitouna mosque, opening onto a large esplanade, serving both as a market, a public meeting space and a square for military parades around which the souks of tradesmen and artisans spread out. Then, around the souks lay the private houses with their narrow streets.
The network of streets is far from being rectilinear. More often than not they swerve to the right or left and branch out into a multitude of tiny alleys, dead-end streets and cul-de-sacs, giving the impression, when walking through the medina and its suburbs, that no particular regulations have ever presided over the alignment of streets or the building of houses since the conquest of Hassan Ibn Nomâne (698). In Fact Tunis developed without the slightest plan. Houses were aligned along the building line or what was taken to be the line and not on that of the public domain which is frequently ill-defined, hence the presence of tortuous streets very often ending in a cul-de-sac.
2) The ramparts and doors (Bab):
Tunis became a true crossroads. Road traffic needs also determined the orientation of the doors in the city walls. The inner city walls (around the central Medina) had seven doors while the outer walls (encompassing the suburbs) had ten doors (five for the Northern and five for the Southern suburb). Little by little, the Medina walls fell into ruin and disappeared completely between 1860 and 1890. As for the second wall, it is still visible running from Bab-el-Khadra to Bab Gorjani, passing through the Kasbah.
A ditch dug at a certain distance from the ramparts created a double fortification thereby making access to the city, in case of attack, much more difficult.
Amongst the doors are :
- Bab EL -Bahr: (door of the sea)
It takes its name from its position near the lake and the sea. The Europeans called this door «porte de France» (door of France) a name that started to spread in 1890.
This door certainly dates back to the early times of Moslem history. It has undergone constant remodelling throughout the centuries.
- Bab carthagena; (door of Carthage)
Named so because it opened the way to the road leading to Carthage. It disappeared well before 1881. During the Arab period, the road to Carthage was used principally to transport building materials that were removed from the ruins of the ancient Roman city.
- Bab Souika (door of the market)
A place where goods were bought and sold especially those coming from Bizerta, Beja and the Kef. .
- Bab EL Menara: (door of the lantern)
A name assigned by tradition and referring to a light that used to surmount the ancient Beni Khorassân palace. According to another hypothesis, it referred to a large oil lamp that was placed in a niche of one of the door pillars and was lit at night to guide caravans travelling on the road alongside the ramparts.
- Bab Al-Djazira: (door of the peninsula )
It was one of the oldest doors of Tunis, looking towards Cape Bon through which travellers going to Kairouan used to pass. It led to the rue des Teinturiers.
3) The arteries of the city :
Tunis rose on the land route passing through the narrow isthmus on which the city lies. Its role since the dawn of history as a stop-over, a place of passage and transit, a role reinforced by the emir Hassan Ben Noomane, seemed to have governed the orientation of certain transversal streets of the Medina linking the two suburbs, of Bab-Souika to the North and Bab El Djazira to the South.
Next to this axis, two main arteries connect the door of the sea, one to the Zitouna Mosque (now called street of the Great Mosque) and the other to the Kasbah.
The North-South axis is the main urban route between Bab Souika and Bab Al Djazira running along the streets of Sidi Mehrez, Souk-El Hoût, Souk -El Grana, Sidi Saber and la rue des Teinturiers, although the itinerary is by no means a fixed one in view of the entanglement of Arab streets.
An external itinerary along the path that used to run along the ramparts on the lake side, gave rise, in modern times, to the Bab Souika, Bab Carthagena , Maltais et Al Djazira streets.
A second external itinerary running westwards along the ramparts was less used because the obstacle of the Kasbah hill had to be circumvented.
These four main arteries each leading to a door opened in the ramparts thus divided the city into four large quarters.
4) The Kasbah:
When the Aghlabid sovereign, Ibrahim II, decided to leave Kairouan in 893 to establish himself in Tunis, the Kasbah became the central seat of power. Designed as an independent city, strongly fortified and separated from the Medina by a wall, it replaced the city itself in the political and military spheres.
The Kasbah is the oldest barracks of Tunis. Originally it was a citadel whose walls were back to back with those of the medina.
This complex outside the city was further strengthened in 1235 by the addition of a mosque, which was originally called Mosque of the Almohads (built by the founder of the Hafsid dynasty, Abou Zarkaria 1st).
The Streets : a history of mergers
From Bab Souika to Bab El Jazira
History of a city …
1) Rue du Pacha
The rue du Pacha, or the Pasha’s street, originally called Rue «Dar Al Bacha», because the Pasha’s house stood on this street, belongs to the quarter located close to the Kasbah.
During the first period of occupation, this is where the Turks established their important institution, which was both the Pasha’s residence and the administration headquarters responsible for paying the members of the Turkish administration.
This street was also important because of its proximity to several Ottoman institutions
2) Rue Sidi Ben Arous
This street was named after the learned doctor and ascetic, Abou El Abbès Ahmed Ben Arous, founder of the «Aroussiya» confraternity, which is a branch of the « Chadhiliya ».
Originally from Cape Bon, Sidi ben Arous died in Tunis in 1460 and was buried in the the Muradite Hamouda Pasha mosque, adjoining the Sid Ben Arous Zawiya.
3) Rue Tourbet El Bey
This street has taken the name of the largest mausoleum of princes of the Husseinid dynasty, built under the reign of Ali Pasha II (1758-1781)
It is one of the most important streets of the city, linking the southern suburb of Bab El Jazira, to the quarter of the Great Mosque.
Within the framework of a renovation campaign of the sector close to the Teinturiers, the founder of the Husseinid dynasty, Hussein Ben Ali, built the souks, houses and a religious complex composed essentially of a mosque, a madrasa and a mausoleum.
In the same sector, several stately houses were built such as Dar Ben Abdallah, Dar El Mokrani, Dar Ben Salem and Dar Lakhoua.
The souks : an ongoing history.
Most of the souks of Tunis were built from the XIIIth century onwards. But craft activity certainly existed well before this date that marked the advent of the Hafsid Sultans.
Only the « noble » souks that caused no nuisances, noise or smells were allowed in the vicinity of the Great Mosque (Zitouna mosque), which is at the heart of the Medina.
1) Souk El-attarine: (Perfumers souk)
This souk was created on the orders of the founder of the Hafsid dynasty, Abou Zakariya lst in 1240 AD.
Built alongside the northern facade of the Zitouna mosque, souk El-attarine has conserved its original function, which is to sell perfume essences, incense as well as the different ingredients (minerals and plants) used to prepare traditional beauty products that are still in use despite the invasion of industrial products.
Candles occupy an important place here, grouped in five branched candelabras. They constitute the preferred offering made to saints and they burn during the « henna » ceremony when henna is applied to the bride.
The baskets lined with pastel coloured satin are designed to contain the gifts made by the future groom to his future bride.
The sculpted wooden counters and shelves attest to the former wealth of this corporation. In the XVth century, Anselme Adorne noted that the “perfume shops sold their long decorated flasks to a wide clientele and they were the last to close each evening »
2) Souk El –koumach: (the cloth souk )
Located along the western side of the great mosque, souk el-Koumach was founded by the Sultan Abou Amr Othman in the IX/Xth century. It is made up of three alleys separated by two rows of columns. The central alley, designed for walking to and fro, is wider than the side alleys onto which give the shops selling typically Tunisian clothes and fabrics. .
Covered with longitudinal barrel vaults, the alleys are lit by skylights opened in the central vault. The same skylight system provided shops with natural lighting, before false ceilings and mezzanines became widespread and before the invasion of electric lamps.
Two doors give access to the souk, one, near Souk El Attarine has two columns with Hispano-Maghrebi capitals.
3) Souk Ech-chaouchiya: (Chechia or woollen cap souk)
The chronicler Al-Wazîr Al-Sarrâj stated that Muhamed Bey ordered the construction of the three « Chechia » souks in 1691-1692.
These souks occupy an area close to the government palace, between rue Sidi Ben Arous, rue de la Kasbah and Souk el Bey.
At the beginning of the XVIIth century, Morisco migrants gave new impetus to the Chechia craft so that over a long period of time, this production became the foremost industry of the country.
The headdress called«Chechia» is a sort of semi-spherical cap of red felted wool, with or without a black or dark blue tassel.
The «chaouachias» (Chechia makers) are all of Andalusian descent and brought their manufacturing process with them from Spain.
The manufacture of a Chechia from the knitting to the felting, dyeing and finishing requires at least two months’ work.
Knitting of the wool takes place in Ariana (suburb of Tunis), sewing at Bab Souika, washing and fulling in the bridge dam of El-Battan (near Tebourba), dyeing in Zaghouan, shaping, felting and finishing in the workshops of the three Chechia souks of Tunis.
Workers and apprentices work in these workshops on wooden benches leaning against the walls. The boss, behind the counter, receives the customers (sign of the nobility of this profession)
The workshops produce about 40.000 dozen caps sold throughout the Mediterranean countries. The Tunisians formed a company in Istambul where they controlled the trade.
4) Souk EL Berka (Slave market)
Built at the heart of the city’s commercial centre Souk El Berka is perpendicular to the Souk of the Turks at the level of Souk El Bey, near the government palace.
It was built (under the Turks) by Yussef Dey in 1612 to sell slaves (slavery was abolished in 1841) and booty.
At present it is where gold and silver jewellery is sold at auction.
The Souk lies at the crossroads of four streets and forms a small square divided into three alleys, separated by four rows of columns supporting a ribbed vault ceiling with shops opening all around.
5) Souk Es-Sabaghine: (dyers market)
Located in the street of the same name that leads onto Bab El Jazira, in the south-eastern quarter of the central Medina, Souk Es-Sabaghine was known for its concentration of dyers.
This craft consists mainly in dyeing cotton and skeins in navy blue. Souk Es-Sabaghine and its artisans, although their craft is not as common now, still exists at the same place.
6) Souk En-nessa: (women’s market)
This Souk lies south of the Zitouna mosque, perpendicular to the wool souk.
It gets its name from the fact that women came there to buy and sell wares from domestic production : lace and women’s clothing, veils etc.
This specialization no longer exists and many old items of clothing have fallen out of use (for example black veils)
7) Souk Blaghjïa
This souk dates to the times of the Hafsid Sultan Abou Zakaria (XIIIth century).
Because the Madrassa Ech-chammaïya was located in this souk, it was known under the name of «Souk Ech -chammïyn» (candlemakers).
With the Mouradites, the Souk became a market for the makers and sellers of «Balgha» (yellow leather slippers worn by men) and «Chebrella» (women’s slippers made of goat leather with a yellow border).
In 1890, there were 8000 «Balgha» craftsmen in 150 shops, assisted by 175 master craftsmen.
8) Souk El-Leffa (Wollen cloth market)
It is also known as the « Djerbians’ market » (i.e tradesmen from the island of Jerba) who sold woollen garments and blankets woven in Jerba or from other places, especially from the Jerid (Tozeur) and Gafsa.
Also present are the makers of «Safsari», the veil women wrap around themselves.
The Mosques: La force de la religion
1) The Great Zitouna mosque
The Great Zitouna Mosque is universally known under the name of Jamâa Ez-Zitouna «Mosque of the Olive tree. It is the largest and the most venerable sanctuary of Tunis.
Situated in the heart of the city, its foundation, inside a Byzantine fort, dates to that of the city itself (78H/698AD) by the Umayyad governor Hassan Ibn Noomane,
Major construction work was carried out in 114H/732 AD, by the governor Abdallah Ibn EL Habhab. Under the Aghlabid Emir (prince) Abou Ibrahim Ahmed (241-249H/856-864AD) the initial building was demolished in order to extend the mosque and in fact, most of the present monument is owed to him.
The «Mihrab» cupola dates to this period whereas the one in the courtyard known as Qubbat El-Bahou dates to the Sanhajian period (381h/991AD).
As for the present minaret, it was built at the end of the XIXth century (1896).
2) The Yussef Dey Mosque :
A historical inscription surmounting the central entrance of the prayer room gives the date on which building work on the mosque began: 13 Nov 1614 and the date the work was completed, on 14 Oct 1615.
Situated in the quarter next to the Kasbah, in rue Sidi Ben Ziyad, it is bordered on the North by shops belonging to the Bashamkiya souk (selling leather slippers).
From the architectural point of view, this mosque displays an oriental Ottoman influence. It even constituted a prototype for a series of mosques built in the capital, with a surrounding courtyard on three sides and a tall octagonal minaret.
On the same plot of land Yussef Dey founded a Madrasa devoted to teaching the Hanefite doctrine.
Two years after Yussef Dey’s death in 1639, his son built a mausoleum as part of the architectural complex, which is an oriental characteristic.
Because of its association with religious buildings, the mausoleum is in the form of a pavilion with a cupola covered with green tiles in the manner of the Alhambra pavilions. Indeed, it was built by an architect of Spanish origin.
3) The Hamouda Pasha mosque :
The Hamouda Pasha mosque is not very far from his house and from the Bey’s palace. It was built in January 1664.
It is one of the finest mosques of Tunis and is part of a surrounding architectural complex.
It is bordered on the West by rue Sidi Ben Arous, and to the South by rue de la Kasbah.
From the point of view of its layout and architecture the mosque has many similarities with the Yussef Dey mosque. The differences lie in the size of the building, which is larger, and in the decoration which is more elaborate.
Hamouda Pasha had planned two burial areas in his foundation.
- A first area known as the « lower Tourba » behind the southern side of the mosque, reserved for women and children;
- The second is a monumental «Tourba” occupying the south-east of the mosque courtyard where he buried his father after in 1666, and where he was later buried.
4) Masjid EL-Koubba:
This building comprises a clerestory cupola presently used as the entrance to this small mosque. .
Supported by a hexagonal drum, it is typical of Xth and XIth century funerary cupolas.
Inside, two columns with Corinthian capitals divide the room into three aisles and two bays and support the ceiling made up of four ribbed vaults.
This monument is particularly interesting for its history. Over a period of four years the great Abderrahmâne Ibn Khaldoun taught there.
This historian-philosopher born in 1332 (whose family originally from Seville arrived in Tunis during the first wave of Andalusian emigration) was the most authentic and the most famous in the Moslem world. In advance of his times by five centuries, he laid the foundations of modern history and sociology.
Stately houses and palaces
Some houses of the Medina, dating to past centuries, are now open to the public.
In Arabic, they are called « Dyar ». In the past, jealously guarded by their rich owners, these fine houses are now the headquarters of associations and public institutions.
1) Dar Hussein
Most of the building was built by Ismaïl Kahia, minister and son in law of Ali Bey (1758-1781).
At the beginning of the XIXth century Yussef Sahib Et-Tabaa, Hamouda Pasha’s favourite minister, undertook to extend and embellish this palace in view of his marriage to princess Fatma, Hamouda Pasha’s sister) . His assassination by rivals put an end to this project (1815).
The place was chosen as the seat of the municipality created in Tunis in 1858. Thus, General Hussein, first president of the new municipal council, was authorized to live in part of the palace that bears his name.
In 1882, when general Forgemol, commander of the French troupes in Tunisia, entered Tunis, he decided to establish himself and his staff in the building, symbol of authority over the capital.
Dar Hussein is now the headquarters of the National Heritage Institute (Ministry of culture and heritage conservation).
2) Dar Lasram
Hamouda Lasram, rich landowner and high-ranking military officer, had a palace built in the XIXth century, in which his descendants lived until 1964.
In 1968, after the heirs of the Lasram family had put the building up for sale, the town council bought it.
The palace is made up of three stories, a ground floor occupied by outbuildings, a raised ground floor with the main living quarters and a floor designed as guest apartments.
The entrance, formed by a series of staggered halls, protecting the courtyard of the house from the eyes of outsiders, opens on vestibules leading to the various rooms. A first vestibule with masonry benches served to receive visitors and settle business. To the right of the entrance, a room called “the evening sitting room » was reserved for the men of the house and their closest friends. To the left of the entrance, stairs lead to the guest apartments, organized independently around a courtyard.
The second vestibule leads to the service quarters : kitchen and servants quarters, that are organized around a courtyard, where the simple materials contrast with the richness of the masters’ courtyard.
This courtyard opens on to the storeroom, the stables and the coach-house.
Two enclosed gardens protect this space that opens directly onto the street through a door.
The main living quarters contain the apartments of the different branches occupying the palace within the context of the patriarchal family.
Amongst the main rooms, two have kept their classical T shaped layout, whereas the reception room has a cruciform floor plan.
All these rooms are laid out around the main courtyard (or patio) as is the case in all the houses of the Medina.
3) Dar Romdhane Bey:
This is a rich home, situated on the junction of the Ben Nejma and Sidi Mefrej streets, at the end of rue Sidi Ben Arous.
Its door, opening onto rue Ben Nejma, has a double frame of «Kaddhal» and «Harsh» stone with a horseshoe arch above the stone block lintel.
Access to the courtyard is through a driba, providing isolation from outside noise and prying eyes.
Inside, rooms are organized around a courtyard (patio) with a portico on the Western side rising in front of the reception room, with two other simple rooms giving onto the patio.
The rest of the house is made up of a small rectangular courtyard with two porticoes at right angles, leading to three rooms; the kitchen, the storeroom and the ablutions room with latrines.
The cellars under the two side rooms were used for keeping the year’s provisions.
Madrasas : knowledge
1) The Al-Chammaiya Madrasa : (of candlemakers)
2) The Muradia Madrasa
3) The Slimania Madrasa
Its architecture is distinguished by a monumental porch crowned by a cornice of green tiles, its arches resting on marble columns with neo-Corinthian capitals. The porch precedes an arched door with two-coloured arch stones.
4) La Médersa El-Bachiya
Selon l’inscription qui surmonte la porte de l’entrée principale, l’édifice est construit en 1752 par le fondateur de la Bachiya, Ali Pacha.
Elle reproduit le plan classique d’une Médersa. Des chambres individuelles pour le logement des étudiants s’ouvrent sur les trois côtés de la cour centrale, alors que le quatrième côté est occupé par un Masjed: salle de prière, mais aussi salle de cours et bibliothèque pour dispenser un enseignement selon le rite Hanafite.
Tourba and Zawiya : the myth
A Zawiya is usually placed under the protection of a holy person, who in most cases is buried on the premises.
It can also have been built in honour of the founder of a foreign Moslem confraternity by the members of the brotherhood, and it then becomes their meeting place. The Zawiya always comprises an oratory and a room for the poor. It sometimes houses a Koranic school and can also be a meeting place for Koran readers..
1) The Sidi Ben Arous Zawiya
Known for his saintliness, Sidi Ben Arous came from a village on Cape Bon. He left his family early for Tunis where he exercised several trades (baker, carpenter…)
2) The Sidi Al-Klaii Zawiya:
According to an inscription surmounting the front door, this Zawiya, situated in rue Sidi Ben-Arous, it was founded by the Hafisd CaliphAbû Yahia Zakaria:
This blessed Zawiya was built on the orders of the Caliph, the Imam, of the government of Islam , Abû Yahiâ Zakarya (may god sustain him and grant him victory !) son of our lord and masters the orthodox Caliphs in the year 896, carried out by Caîd Abderrahman Al-Misrî
(may God almighty be kind to him)
From the architectural point of view, the building obeys a square plan and its floor level is higher than that of Sidi Ben Arous street..
Stairs lead up to it, opening into a vestibule with a wooden ceiling. From here one enters directly into a courtyard bordered on the North by a gallery covered with a wooden ceiling, surmounted by a green rounded tile cornice and supported by two columns and three semi-circular arches.
A door in the middle of the gallery gives into a large room.
Two rooms occupy the western and southern sides, each with a door framed in limestone that differs from the other, more recent doors
2) The Sidi Brahim Riahi Zawiya
This monument dates to the second half of the XIXth century, as it was founded by Ahmed Bey 1stin 1850.
The building houses the tomb of Abou Ishak Ibrahim Ben Abdelkader Riahi, born in Testour at the XVIIIth century and who arrived in Tunis at the beginning of the XIXth century. He studied in the «Hwanit Achour», then in the «Bir-Al-Ahjar» madrasas and became the leader of the «Tijaniaà» confraternity, and a magistrate of the city of Tunis during Hamouda Pasha’s reign.
The monument is located in the street bearing the same name as the Zawiya, not far from rue du Pacha.
A staggered entrance leads into a small square open-air courtyard, surrounded on the north and west by two rooms for use by visitors and the faithful of the Zawiya.
To the East of this courtyard is the oratory covered with a large cupola bearing a fine carved plaster decoration. The cupola covered with half round green tiles dominates the building, which was restored by Sadok Bey in 1878. A door in the oratory opens into a little room containing Sidi Brahim’s tomb.
The Hanafite Turks had introduced the tradition of building splendid monuments to the dead, known as Turbes or Tourba..
Tourbet El Bey (or the Beys’ tourba), the mausoleum of Husseinid princes, built under the reign of Ali Pasha II (1758-1782) is the largest monument of its kind in Tunis. It contains the tombs of the Husseinid ruling family.
Its imposing façade of ochre sandstone is ornamented with stone pilasters and entablatures sculpted in low relief with floral motifs in an Italianate style.
Tourbet El Bey is composed of a complicated succession of rooms organized around two patios.
The organisation is explained by the successive extensions made at the expense of buildings adjoining the central core, as the need arose, in order to accommodate all the tombs of sovereigns and their families as well as those of some of their ministers and privileged faithful servants.
The large square room contains the tombs of the Beys who effectively reigned. The room is outstanding because it is in fact a replica in miniature of an Ottoman mosque.
Four large pillars support a central cupola flanked by semi cupolas on the four sides. The corners of the room are covered by four small cupolas. The interior decoration is a perfect combination of Italianate marble polychrome marquetry and sculpted stuccowork.
The tombs dug into the earth are covered by marble coffers abundantly ornamented with motifs in low-relief, above which stand prismatic columns, engraved with epitaphs and surmounted by a headdress, in the case of deceased men. These are in the shape of a turban or a « tarbouch » sculpted of stone and reflecting the change of fashion in the official outfit. .
Women’s tombs are marked by two marble plaques, the one above the head is engraved with an epitaph.
Ibn Khaldoun, born in Tunis in 1332, has been remembered by history for his unquestionable contribution to philosophy and to history.
He was a Moslem of Andalusian origin who studied at the Zitouna University where in turn he later dispensed his immense knowledge.
Already at the age of twenty, he embarked on a brilliant career as a public servant that led him successively to the court of the Hafsid Sultan Ishaq Ibrahim, where he held the office of Keeper of the Seals before becoming, a year later, Private secretary to prince Abou Imam. He was then appointed ambassador to the king of Granada and finally moved to Egypt where he was offered a chair at the prestigious Al Azhar University.
Yet, he owed his renown to his scientific work rather than to his political career .
In 1372, he withdrew from power for a time in the Algerian town of Frenda, where he devoted four years to writing several works, starting with the «Muqaddima» (the prolegomenon), an introduction of a universal history of the Arabs, Persians and Berbers entitled «Kitab ali bar» : two major pieces of writing in which he develops his historical analysis of economic and social exchange, making him the precursor of sociology.
His research work led him to turn history into a science in its own right, with its methods and its laws, lending overall coherency to historical facts. .
Similarly, his study of geography was not restricted to simple physical observations of places, but was accompanied by economic and climatological analyses.
As for his social vision, it was not restricted to the human community, hitherto considered solely in terms of war, struggle or palace revolts. For Ibn Khaldoun, society was the real object of History.
This necessarily led to the study of the laws governing economic and political structures of each community. In this respect, he demonstrated the determining role of social cohesion, the « asabiyya », supported, amongst other forces, by religion. .
Three of the seven manuscript volumes of Ibn Khaldoun’s history are now to be found in the Qaraouyyin library in Fez.
In Tunis, a statue erected on avenue Habib Bouguiba (in the heart of town) pays tribute to his enormous contribution to the various spheres of knowledge.
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