Medina of Tunis
Medina Of Tunis
Cultural Tunisia Arab States Tunis

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.