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Revitalisation of Recent Heritage of Tunisia (awarded 2008–2010)

Tunis is the capital of Tunisia and an ancient Arab city located near the Mediterranean Sea: it contains numerous Islamic monuments, mosques, and heritage buildings. One of its characteristic Islamic features is the slim green- tiled (zawia) minarets and domes which grace mosques (Akrout-Yaiche, 2004). Even before the establishment of the French protectorate in the latter part of the 19th century, Tunis was undergoing revolutionary and modernising urban change. Its most iconic neighbourhood is the medina at the end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The medina was once a medieval Islamic town with narrow streets, closed off cul-de-sacs, and traditional whitewashed courtyard buildings and houses with turquoise shutters and grills.

As the city grew, the medina became enclosed by newer neighbourhoods with more modern buildings. The downtown district of the Ville Nouvelle (New City), also known as the Hypocentre or Bab B’Har, was built on the eastern side of the medina, while the southern, northern, and western surroundings consisted of fortifications, cemeteries, and olive fields. Governed by France’s first reglement de voirie, the rational, Ville Nouvelle featured an ordered grid of open angular street. This practical layout, implemented by French engineers, changed the town’s historic walled inward-looking urban pattern. The new town was planned around the strategic Avenue de la Marine (later renamed Avenue Habib Bourguiba after independence in 1956); this long tree-lined boulevard is often referred to as Champs Elysees de Tunis (Mostafavi, 2011a). In addition to its established cultural structures, new European-style monuments and buildings were erected, including two theatres, the Rossini Palace (Figure 3.10) and the Municipal Theatre. These new Western-inspired spaces transformed the city’s native built heritage into an architectural melting pot of 19th-century French architectural features and European influences on local architecture. Before the arrival of the French and built during the Ottoman occupation were several funduqs (caravanserais) within the immediate periphery of the medina. A number of these were used by foreign delegations as consulates or even residences.

Revitalisation of Recent Heritage of Tunisia, by Association de Sauveg- arde de la Medina de Tunis (ASM)

Figure 3.10 Revitalisation of Recent Heritage of Tunisia, by Association de Sauveg- arde de la Medina de Tunis (ASM)

Source: © Aga Khan Trust for Culture/Salah Jabeur (photographer)

New, mainly residential buildings were often built next to these funduqs; some of them featured a mostly neo-classical architectural vocabulary, much of which inspired by neighbouring Italy. During the French period, many Italians arrived seeking work in construction, on farms, and in industry. They too left their architectural mark on some of the new buildings.

By the end of the 19th century, the construction of tall multi-storey buildings (often up to six or more floors) had spread along the regular and ordered boulevards of Tunis (Radoine, 2010a). These new urban blocks and structures featured various architectural styles and influences: neo-classical, Arabo-Islamic, art nouveau, and art deco. The city began to change as the application of urban and architectural regulations generated a new urban context with different layout, orientation, and purpose.

In its drive to attract tourists and investors and revitalise the heart of city, the municipality of Tunis solicited the ASM (Association de Sauvegarde de la Medina de Tunis) to evaluate the urban context of the most important axes in Ville Nouvelle and its surroundings along Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Avenue de France, the project proposed an urban revitalisation plan to turn 60,000 square metres of public space into a pedestrian, car-free environment (Mostafavi, 2011a), as well as the rehabilitation of approximately 130 decaying or derelict buildings. Among the sophisticated and culturally aware

Tunisois, the notion of heritage is not confined solely to the old medina; they also recognise the importance of acknowledging the architectural influences of their colonial past. Additionally, throughout Tunisia, the concept of built heritage includes all sorts of architecture, whether native or colonial. After the success of ASM in 1980 in conserving the medina (Radoine, 2010a), this progressive attitude regarding the importance of cultural preservation and embracing the various built environments as part of their historic urban fabric prevails, and today many more Tunisians take pride in their long and varied multifaceted cultural and architectural heritage.

Because of this perspicacious ideology, the inclusion of 19th- and 20th-century recent heritage structures as part of the Tunisian architectural identity has increasingly become a preoccupation of specialists and politicians alike. In 1988, the Tunisian state launched a comprehensive plan to list and classify all historic structures and monuments in the country. These included five public buildings of major importance in the modern urban history of Tunis: Palais d’Erlanger (1912-1920) of neo-Arabic-Moorish style (listed 1989); Theatre Municipal of art nouveau style (listed 1992); College Alaoui (1884) of neo-Arabic-Moorish style (listed 1992); Poste Centrale (1891) of neo-classical style (listed 1992); and College Sadiki (1897) of neo-Arabic-Moorish style (listed 1992) (Radoine, 2010a). While enhancing the image of the city of Tunis through platforms linking the connectivity and continuity between the medina and Ville Nouvelle, the project also encompassed a more holistic approach to resolve the dysfunctions of the city, thereby improving the everyday user environment of its inhabitants and thereby preserving its unique character.

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