The Medina of Tunis. The medieval Islamic quarter of Tunis, the medina, is located in the center of what has become

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1 Christina Hawkes The Medina of Tunis The medieval Islamic quarter of Tunis, the medina, is located in the center of what has become a growing modern city. The inhabitants of the last century have made numerous additions, modifications, and restorations to the medina as the social, economic, and cultural shifts have carried the city from colonialism to independence to today. These architectural features illuminate some of the ways that modernity and traditionalism have struggled, fell in and out of favor, and fed back into each other during such times. Prior to Tunisia's colonial occupation by France, most of the large residential buildings were occupied by the beldiya: well-to-do, longstanding families of great reputation and historical pride. The buildings they lived in were well-suited for their lifestyle, with gender-segregated living quarters, space for housing extended family, and walled courtyards for public celebrations. In spite of this, families began to leave the medina for the surrounding European-style neighborhoods with modern plumbing and schools (McGuinness, p.99). Additionally, the colonial forces constantly increased the importance of other areas of the city and moved economic focus there. This process accelerated immensely following Tunisia's independence, spurred by the sudden availability of European-style houses left behind by colonists. In turn, rural migrants began to move into the city and take up residence in the empty medina houses, crowding one family into each room (Stambouli, p. 58). Crowding rose tremendously, and at the same time, the medina fell into a state of urban decay. These changes didn't happen in a vacuum. At the same time, the urge to progress by emulating the west was gaining more and more ground; habits, dress, and attitudes were also taking a less traditional tone. Initially, the medina was viewed from this progress-oriented outlook as an impedance,

2 a reminder of a time when the city was not properly modern. As a result of this outlook, building projects following Tunisia's independence mostly attempted to avoid the medina altogether (Micaud, p.436), and the neglect continued. Eventually, concerns about the poverty and crowding in the inner city led to further investigation of the medina by urban planners. Around the late 1960's, the level of tourist interest in the medina spurred the city to evaluate ways of revitalizing the medina on a grand scale for tourism's sake, but these plans were never undertaken. Instead, more modest restoration, targeting buildings on a case-by-case basis, have occurred in the time since then. Efforts to restore the medina raise interesting questions due to the intersection of societal change and architectural desires the medina's functionality as a residential neighborhood relied on an economic system and mode of life that are almost certainly gone from Tunis for good. Because of this, any plans for a returning to the medina by the upper class are highly questionable without large social and economic changes in the city. One viable alternative for larger houses has been to repurpose them as cultural centers: libraries, art exhibition spaces, concert venues. The rue du Tribunal medina area took this approach most enthusiastically in the 1990's (McGuinness, p.101). The practice of simultaneously modernizing the city and restoring it raises other questions about the way the city handles its past. What are the dangers associated with restoring an area mainly for the appreciation of western tourists? Is the medina moving more towards a more vibrant version of itself with echoes of the past, or is it becoming a museum? Micaud posits that construction that seeks to mimic the form of the past medina without taking into account the changes in the underlying socioeconomic forces fail to add life to the city the way that construction might if planners could apply lessons from a reading of the past state of the medina to the reality of the modern city. A description of a television show given by McGuinness underscores the difference between restoring the medina for use and restoring the medina for show: [I]n 1996, Tunisian television, during the second half of Ramadhan, screened a home-grown miniseries featuring the everyday dramas of a beldi family, filmed on location in a restored house just off the

3 picturesque place Romdhane Bay. The beldi way of life, beldi attitudes, [...] were broadcast for the whole Tunisian nation to consume as it settled into digestive contemplation after breaking the fast. To what extent should work done on the medina focus on recalling the past in an exciting way for the leisurely enjoyment of the modern eye, and to what extent should it focus on providing a lively community for those who choose to reside there? Ideally, the two would be accomplished simultaneously by the right constructions and policies, but there are already discrepancies between displays of authenticity with respect to the precolonial past and displays of the current taste, and those are sure only to widen. The beldi moral system had a very narrow range of acceptable behaviors and tastes. But now, a kind of melting-pot aesthetic permeates the souks of the Medina. Fashion cues are taken indiscriminately from both east and west. House exteriors are decorated with traditional tiles that were once only used for interiors. McGuinness reports via these and other examples (p. 116) that aesthetic tastes are steadily tending to favor more individualization, so future developments may see higher demand for more personally expressive architecture rather than the more traditional, predefined themes present in the historical medina buildings. At the same time, the concept of what is a good upper-class urban residence may also involve an imitation in form of the medina houses. The urban aesthetic, seeking legitimacy and uniqueness among the global range of tastes, uses the traditional aesthetic, modifies it in some way, and may eventually become traditional as well if it survives long enough. Perhaps future construction near the medina will resemble the traditional forms more than modern residences currently do. The medina in Tunis functions as a backdrop for the city's twin desires to be a world-class urban environment and to embody an ancient, well-rooted culture. As Tunis, and Tunisia, initially sought to reject the precolonial system as backwards, the medina floundered and decayed; as they began to reconsider their historical background as an equally valid source of pride, the medinas began to attract more attention, more restoration, and more activity. The exact direction of its future development can't be predicted, but it will reflect the city's short-term and long-term balance that it

4 wishes to take between past and future, between local and global, between formal and communal.

5 References Akrout-Yaiche, Semia. New Life for the Medina of Tunis. In Iran: Architecture for Changing Societies. Philip Jodidio (ed). Torino: Umberto Allemandi & C., pp McGuinness, Justin. Neighborhood notes: Texture and Streetscape in the Médina of Tunis. The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture and History. Susan Slyomovics (ed.) pp Micaud, Ellen C. Urbanization, Urbanism, and the Medina of Tunis. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 9, No. 4. Nov., pp Stambouli, Fredj. Tunis city in transition. Environment and Urbanization. Aug., pp

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