Under the Almohads and the Hafsids, from the 12th to the 16th century, Tunis was considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Islamic world. Some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains, testify to this remarkable past.
Outstanding Universal Value
Located in a fertile plain region of north-eastern Tunisia, and a few kilometres from the sea, the Medina of Tunis is one of the first Arabo-Muslim towns of the Maghreb (698 A.D.). Capital of several universally influential dynasties, it represents a human settlement that bears witness to the interaction between architecture, urbanism and the effects of socio-cultural and economic changes of earlier cultures. Under the Almohads and the Hafsids, from the 12th to the 16th century, Tunis was considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Arab world. Numerous testimonies from this and earlier periods exist today. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, new powers endowed the city with numerous palaces and residences, great mosques, zaouias and madrasas.
The inscribed property covers an area of approximately 280 ha and comprises all the features of an Arabo-Muslim city. It is composed of the central medina (8th century) and suburbs to the North and South (13th century). There are some 700 historic monuments, distributed in 7 areas, among which the most remarkable are the Zitouna Mosque, the Kasbah Mosque, the Youssef Dey Mosque, Bab Jedid Gate, Bab Bhar Gate, the Souq el-Attarine, the Dar el-Bey, Souqs ech-Chaouachia, the Tourbet (family cemetery) el Bey, noble houses such as Dar Hussein, Dar Ben Abdallah, Dar Lasram, the Medrasa Es- Slimanya and El-Mouradia, the El Attarine military barracks and the Zaouia of Sidi Mehrez.
With its souqs, its urban fabric, its residential quarters, monuments and gates, this ensemble constitutes a prototype among the best conserved in the Islamic world.
Criterion (ii): The relay role played by the Medina of Tunis between the Maghreb, Southern Europe and the East encouraged exchanges of influences in the field of the arts and architecture over many centuries.
Criterion (iii): As an important city and the capital of different dynasties (from the Banu Khurassan, to the Husseinits), the Medina of Tunis bears outstanding witness to the civilizations of Ifriqiya (essentially from the 10th century).
Criterion (v): The Medina of Tunis is an example of a human settlement that has conserved the integrity of its urban fabric with all its typo-morphological components. The impact of socio-economic change has rendered this traditional settlement vulnerable and it should be fully protected.
The attributes that express the Outstanding Universal Value include not only the buildings but also the coherent urban fabric of the town. The exact boundaries of the property need to be clarified.
At the time of inscription, 50% of the built heritage of Tunis was considered to be in a bad state of conservation or almost in ruins. Individual monuments and the cohesion of the ensemble of the urban fabric have remained partially vulnerable to the effects of socio-economic change. A buffer zone is proposed in order to better protect the surroundings of the property.
The Medina of Tunis (with its central part and two suburbs, North and South) has conserved, without significant alteration, its urban fabric and morphology, as well as its architectural and architectonic features. The impact of adaptation to new life styles and its demands is relatively slight and the different restoration and/or rehabilitation interventions have not affected the intrinsic value of its functional and structural authenticity, even if the buildings remain vulnerable to the accumulated change of materials and building techniques.
Protection and management requirements (2009)
The Medina of Tunis benefits from the national listing for 88 historic monuments. It also enjoys national protection for 5 monuments, 14 streets (including 3 souqs) and a square. Its protection is also assured by Law 35-1994 concerning the protection of archaeological and historic heritage and traditional arts, and by the development plan of the Medina of Tunis. The Medina of Tunis has a safeguarding and management structure attached to the National Heritage Institute and a Safeguarding Association for the Medina attached to the Municipality of Tunis. The proposed buffer zone needs to be revised to ensure the efficacious protection of the property taking into account its values and its integration into the environmental context. The regulatory measures to ensure the management of the site and its buffer zone as well as the implementation mechanisms should be specified.
The Medina of Tunis has exerted an outstanding influence on the development of architecture, sculpture, and connected arts, and of urban planning. This group of buildings is rare, as most historic Islamic centres have suffered grave destruction and reconstruction over the centuries, whereas Tunis still preserves its homogeneity.
Under the Almohads and the Hafsids, from the 12th to 16th centuries, Tunis was considered one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the Islamic world. Some 700 monuments, including palaces, mosques, mausoleums, madrasas and fountains, testify to this remarkable past.
It is a commercial and economical centre for northern Tunisia and the administrative centre for the whole of Tunisia. It is situated close to the sea with only Lake Tunis between it and Mediterranean Sea. Tunis is divided into three parts: the old city, called the Medina; the French quarter, which now is the centre; and the newer and larger regions built in the south and north of the city.
Tunis has a number of landmarks; most dominant are the Zitouna mosque and the few remains of ancient Carthage. Suuq is the Arabic name for market, medina for town. In Tunis today, the suuq is also known as the medina. Today, the medina is still inhabited, but by only a small percentage of the total population.
This is where the main mosque of Tunis is located, as has been the case almost all the time Tunis has been a Muslim city. The city was even laid out with it as the centre. Its name means 'olive tree', and comes from the mosque's founder who taught the Koran under an olive tree. It was first erected in the 9th century by the Aghlabid rulers, but its most famous part, the minaret, is a 19th-century addition.
The Medina of Tunis extends over 270 ha and includes most of the 700 historic monuments of the city. It is divided between the central core, which still bears traces from the period of its foundation (8th century), and two quarters dating back to the 13th century. This remarkable set of buildings developed from a small settlement named Oppidum tunicense, mentioned by Pliny the Elder. It reached its greatest splendour in the 13th century under the Hafsid dynasty, but continued to be enriched with mosques, buildings, and madrasas during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The decorated, mysterious and varied doors that line the roads, above all those of the Medina, illustrate the ways of thought and life of Tunisian families: there are simple doors with a single leaf, double rectangular doors in Hafsid style, and doors with a small under door known as a Khoukha. It was invented by the Spanish princess, wife of Abdulaziz Ibn Moussa Ibn Noussair, in order to oblige his Muslim subjects to bow to their monarch. Their colour also have a particular meaning: yellow ochre in the Koran is the colour loved by God; green is the colour of Paradise; blue, only introduced in recent times, recalls the 'blue of Sidi Bou Said', the village north of Tunis, which in the past was identified with catastrophe, but today used between the dominant colours in the windows and the walls of the houses of the Tunis medina. tricolour (white, green and red) one is the coat of arms of the Hafsid dynasty, who reigned from 1228 to 1574 in Tunis: they were brought together to recall the preceding dynasties - white for the Aghlabids, green for the Fatimids, and red for the Sanhajids.
The decorations (hilia, jewel) over the doors are made using large and small nails in order to execute symbolic and geometric designs: they have considerable historical and sociological importance. Also to be found are the symbol of Tanit, the Carthage goddess of the fertility, the six-angled star of David (which according to legend drives away djinng, the malignant spirits), the Christian cross (a memory of the Christian past of Tunisia, with St Augustine of Hippo), the Muslim mihrab (the place in the mosque where the Imam leads the faithful in prayer), the Turkish moon, symbolizing Ottoman Turkey, and the other Christian symbols, the eye and the fish. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC