Thursday, December 20, 2012

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Moorish Heritage in Tunisia

Ibn Khaldun Statue in downtown Tunis

Look around the cities and towns of Tunis and you will see the footprints of many different civilizations. Carthage and Rome are the best-known examples perhaps, but many other ethnic groups have come to these shores as conquerors, as traders, as migrants and as refugees. For most of the last 4,000 years, Tunisia has welcomed people from around the Mediterranean basin, and Africa, who have brought their own histories, cultures, languages and religions. Each has made their own contribution to the richness and diversity of contemporary Tunisian culture.
Two of these groups are the Andalusians and the Moors. Both these people came as refugees from Spain during the middle ages and settled in Tunisia over several centuries, bringing with them culture and traditions that have become an important part of Tunisia’s cultural heritage.
For many centuries much of the Iberian peninsula – modern-day Spain and Portugal – was under the influence of Moorish culture and Islam. The architectural masterpieces of the Alhambra palace-fortress in Granada or La Mezquita in Cordoba, to cite just two examples, still stand as testaments to the wealth and cultural sophistication of this society. From the eleventh to the fifteenth centuries, however, the peninsula gradually fell under the control of Christians in a process known as the reconquista, which continued until 1492 when the last Moorish city, Granada, fell to Christian Spain.
As a result of the reconquista, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco received two distinct waves of Muslim Spanish migration. The first group – Andalusians – were Arabic-speaking Muslims who started to arrive in 1230. Often wealthy and educated, they had few difficulties integrating with local populations in urban areas such as the medinas of Tunis and Sousse. For example, the historian Ibn Khaldoun (1332-1406), born in Tunis, was from an Andalusian background. He was the first to write about the Amazigh in his book Almuqadima; the Introduction. Today, his statue can be seen in downtown Tunis, opposite the cathedral and French embassy.

The second group consisted of Moors. After Granada fell under the control of the Christians kingdoms in 1492, Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and adopt the Spanish language and traditions. Despite a ban on Islam, Muslims practiced their religion secretly until their expulsion in 1609 to Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
This expulsion under Phillip III in 1609 marked one of the most significant waves of Moorish immigrants to the country, and their arrival made a large impact on Tunisian culture and popular memory. Some of the wealthier Moors chose to settle in the north fringe of the Medina of Tunis- Bab Souika, Bab Carthagene and Bab El-Khadhra. Many farmers and poorer immigrants settled in several villages scattered throughout the Medjerda Valley and in other parts of northern Tunisia.
Chechia Market Tunis photo 1900

In contrast to the experience of the Andalusians, the Moors had a more difficult time integrating into Tunisian society. Arabic and Islam had been banned for over a century in their Iberian homeland, and the Moorish communities that settled in the countryside in particular, were considered by the established communities to be culturally influenced by Christianity. Moreover, these migrants were not only Muslims: Spanish Jews were also expelled from Spain and joined the Tunisian Jewish community that has existed here since the Diaspora, more than two and a half millennia ago.
Moorish Heritage in Tunisia 
When the Moors left Spain following the reconquista and settled in North Africa, they brought with them their knowledge, culture and aesthetic tastes. Together, the contribution of the Moorish and the Andalusian in Tunisian culture can be seen in the daily life of the Tunisians, particularly in domains such as cuisine, architecture and clothing.
Testour, founded in 1609, is an authentic Moorish village located in Northwestern Tunisia. The urban planning of the town follows Spanish norms- with windows and doors opening onto the streets rather than inner courtyards. The minaret of the city’s mosque is reminiscent of the church bell-towers in Seville and Toledo. A square for bull fighting was even erected before the blood-sport was banned by the local authorities a few decades after the village was founded.
Today, the original layout of the village is still visible and the minaret of the mosque can be seen from the GP5 road on the way to Teboursouk and the archaeological site of Dougga.

The Medina of Tunis is one of the best witnesses of a Moorish contribution to the artistic life of Tunis, not only in terms of architecture but also culture and tradition.
The minarets of many of the mosques were designed by Moorish architects as were a number of palaces and schools, including Bir Lahjar. The colorful and eclectic ceramic wall tiles you can see throughout the medina are also of Andalusian origin.
The chechia, a red felt hat, is another notable Moorish contribution. Souk Chaouachine in the Medina houses the biggest felt-hat workshops. The first waves of these communities who settled in the Medina of Tunis installed the souk very close to the Zitouna Mosque in the heart of Tunis, since the felt-hat is a symbol of wealth and nobility.
Furthermore, the Moorish and the Andalusian architectural influence can be seen in the construction of bridges in Medjerda Valley. In Medjez El-Bab, around 70km west of Tunis capital, a bridge can be seen from the GP5. It was built in 1677, when the Ottoman rulers ordered a bridge to be built on Medjerda valley to make the work of tax collectors easier. The construction was supervised by Moors since they had experience in such work.
Medjez el bab Bridge supervised by a Moorish engineer

Ridha Mami is an expert on the Moorish Culture in Tunisia and in the Mediterranean who teaches in Manouba University in Tunis and Madrid University. He told Tunisia Live that the Moorish heritage can be observed in several common family names of Tunisians including Morou (Moor), Tlatli (from Toledo) and Qortbi (from Cordoba).   Mami also argued that one of the most significant contribution of the Moors to Tunisian culture is in cuisine. The names of many dishes have Spanish roots. Ojja for example is derived from olla the pot. Moreover, in Soliman, some 40km south of Tunis, a typical pie is made from cheese and parsley: Banadhej. This name has been derived from the Spanish term empanada.

Testour Mosque: the minaret follows the model of Sevilleans chruch bell-towers

In addition, Moorish heritage extends to the arts, and especially especially music. The traditional music genre of Ma’luf has Andalusian origins. In particular, two Tunisian musicians have left their touch on this music, Habiba Msika (1903-1930) and Khmaies Tarnen(1894-1965), both of whom came from Moorish families.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Rome Never Dies; From Thysdrus To El jem

In the small village of El jem, which has only 18,000 inhabitants, a monument stands to recall its old glory when it was the Roman town of Thysdrus.
With more than 500,000 tourists per year, the El jem amphitheater is one of the most visited monuments in Tunisia. It is sixty km from Sousse, another tourist town where more than two million people come to spend their holiday each year. Local travel agencies usually organize a half-day trip to El jem with reasonable prices.
Arena and cavea

The amphitheater was built at the end of the second century thanks to donations from the wealthy citizens of Thysdrus who wanted to show their loyalty to Roman culture. It is the third biggest Roman amphitheater, after the Colosseum of Rome and the amphitheater of Capua. It remains one of the most well-preserved and complete amphitheaters in the world.
The last to be built in the Roman empire, the El jem amphitheater benefited from the accumulated experience of Roman builders. Although it follows the model of Rome's Colosseum, it is elliptical in shape rather than circular, with 427 m on the outer circumference. It stands on flat ground with the support of a complex arch system that holds its three floors and 36m height. The seats can hold between 27,000 and 30,000 spectators, divided into three compartments and separated by balustrades, arranged according to social class. Notable guests used to sit in a sort of horizontal platform near the arena to be close to the action.
Under the arena is a gallery, the site of the amphitheater's bloody past. It contains more then ten rooms where prisoners and animals were kept. The amphitheater games were a part of the Thysdrus culture and a popular pastime. Venatio, or shows that pitted men against wild beasts, were popular in Thysdrus, as were the executions of criminals and prisoners of war.
Since the start of French occupation in 1881, excavations on the amphitheater have unearthed many mosaics that are now exhibited in a museum, some 600 meters from the amphitheater. These mosaics narrate the popularity of Venatio games that were substitutes for Roman Gladiator shows. The cult of the wine God Bacchus was also a common
event in the arena, and some specialists have said that the amphitheater games were dedicated to this God. The procession that preceded the shows were dedicated to him. The cult was largely among the slaves who used to fight for their freedom under the slogan "Bacchus Liber Pater" (Bacchus Father of the Free).
With the decline of Rome, games were stopped, and the huge amphitheater was then used as a citadel by the Berbers led by their queen "Al-kahina" ("the priestess") in the seventh century, when the Arab troups started to attack the actual Tunisian territory. The Arab historians described it as Lajem, a word derived from the Arab word "ajem" - the citadel - which turned into the current name "El Jem." In 1695, the tribes rose against the political taxation of the Tunis-based ruler Mohamed Bey. The tribes escaped and took refuge in the amphitheater. The solders used cannons and opened breaches. These breaches can also be seen.
Since 1985, the amphitheater has been resurrected thanks to the International Festival of Symphonic Music. Musicians from Tunisia and the rest of the world come and perform from mid-July until mid-August.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

From Thugga to Dougga

Named as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Dougga illustrates the synthesis of local and Mediterranean cultures that have left their mark on the ancient city throughout the ages.
Burial sites in the southern quarter of the site indicate that Dougga was founded during the Neolithic era (2000 BC).
The choice of the site was appropriate. It’s easily defensible against outside attack with its steep slopes and high cliffs as well as ideal for human settlement with fertile lands for agriculture and plenty of raw materials nearby for industry.
In the 4th century BC, the Greeks of Sicily led by Agathocles decided to fight the Carthaginians in their own territory. The city of Toccai was taken by Greeks in the campaign according to historical records and has been identified by modern-day scholars as Thugga, the ancient name of Dougga,
In 202 BC, capitalizing upon the weakness of Carthage at the end of the Second Punic War, the Numidians took control of Thugga, which became the capital of their kingdom, according to some historians. The Numidian Kingdom extended from northwestern Tunisia across northern Algeria. Under the reign of Massinissa (202-148 BC) and his son Micipa, Thugga witnessed a golden age in which the arts flourished.
Furthermore, this period in Thugga’s history has provided a significant collection of epigraphic and archaeological insight to the way of life at that time. In fact, it has provided the most ancient Lybic inscriptions known to date.
The mausoleum of Dougga, in the southern edge of the site, is the only intact structure that displays official Numidian architecture
Royal Mausoleum

in the 2nd century BC. It consists of a 21m tower topped by a pyramid and a lion and was dedicated to King Massinissa.
One century later, Thugga was conquered by the Romans, and the Roman province of “Africa Proconsularis” annexed the Numidian city. During Roman times, the city was composed of two districts – one for local inhabitants and another for Roman settlers. The Roman influence swiftly made an impact on the nature of the town, but the original layout inherited from the Numidian kingdom remained unchanged.
Local inhabitants assimilated Roman deities into their worship. For example, the Roman temples of Saturn and Caellestis were built over the ruins of previous temples to local deities – Baal and Tanit – respectively. Both of these Roman temples are found outside the cities’ walls while those of other major Roman deities are in the center of the city.
Monuments were erected as displays of Dougga’s loyalty to Rome, and the remnants of ancient Roman structures are testimony to the city’s golden age in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. Dougga’s theater, which is the best preserved in all of Tunisia, was built under the reign of the Antonian dynasty in the 2nd century. The Capitol, or the Temple of Jupiter, occupied the center of the city as a sign of Roman unity. The worship of Jupiter was the official religion at the time, and it was incumbent upon any respectful citizen to make sacrifices there.
Dougga Capitol

The city was not lacking in public baths. The largest of Dougga’s baths unearthed so far are the Licinian baths, which were constructed in the 3rd century thanks to the donations of rich Roman citizens.
Under the reign of the Severan emperors (193-235 AD) Thugga became a Municipium, a Roman city ruled by its own citizens, and even achieved the status of a colony in which all citizens were granted Roman citizenship.
When the Byzantines took over the administration of the city in the sixth century, they channeled enormous effort to fortify the city. Many stone blocks were removed from their original structures to be inserted in huge walls that would enclose the forum and the temple of Jupiter. Latin inscription can be found on these Byzantine walls.
Like the rest of the Roman cities in the province, Thugga declined with the arrival of the Arabs in the seventh century. Despite this decadence, it remained inhabited, and archaeologists have discovered ceramics and potteries from the 11th century. A small mosque, built a few centuries ago, rests on the eastern side of a pagan temple.
An old tradition with pagan origins survived the arrival of Islam and continues to this day. It’s the Lalla Mokhola along the ruins of Dougga’s Ain el-Hammam cisterns. Curious visitors can discover whitewashed walls bearing handprints, henna, the remains of burnt out candles, and brownish traces of dried blood from a chicken sacrificed to Lalla Mokhola, the Mistress and patron saint of the inhabitants. Lalla Mokhola was a lady, who arrived to the city in time immemorial. When she wanted to depart, she was obliged to stay by Dougga’s residents due to the prodigious, mystical powers she possessed.
At the end of the spring, a Zarda- a celebration involving sacrifice – is organized. The inhabitants collect money to buy a white ox
A Local Paying Respects in the modern-day Shrine to Lalla Mokhola

and spend a night near the cisterns because they think that this woman comes out from the nearby spring and pours oil on the head of the ox. In the morning, the ox is sacrificed and the meat distributed to the families.
The procession of Lalla Mokhola is a legacy of the Roman cult to the water spring. A Roman aqueduct, built in 184 AD, brought its water supply to the city. This cult is even mentioned in Latin inscriptions found near the aqueduct.
In 1960, a new village was built to shelter the inhabitants, who used to live amidst the ruins of the ancient city. It’s located on the road that links Tunis to el-Kef (GP5) and known as New Dougga

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Ahmed Jaouadi: The Other Face of Kairoaun

Ahmed Jaouadi: The Other Face of Kairoaun: Kairouan is the fifth-biggest city in Tunisia with more than 150,000 inhabitants. It’s 155 km south of Tunis and 65 km west of the Sahel –...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Ahmed Jaouadi: Come To Tunisia

Ahmed Jaouadi: Come To Tunisia: Dear customers I invite you to discover Tunisia. I organize private tours for groups and individuals. Tunisia is a rich country, mor...

The Other Face of Kairoaun

Kairouan is the fifth-biggest city in Tunisia with more than 150,000 inhabitants. It’s 155 km south of Tunis and 65 km west of the Sahel – Tunisia’s eastern coast.
The Arabs founded the city in the 7th century and made it into a military base during their conquest of the Maghreb and Spain. Later it became the capital of Ifriqiya, the Arabic name for Tunisia in the Middle Ages, and was the largest metropolis in the western basin of the Mediterranean Sea for more than three centuries.
Nowadays, Kairouan is the most visited city in central Tunisia, thanks to its rich Islamic heritage. One of the Prophet Mohamed’s companions, Abou Zumaa Balaoui, is buried there. During Mouled – the festival that celebrates the birthday of the Prohpet Mohamed – thousands of visitors from Tunisia and abroad descend upon the city.
Kairouan is blessed with an important architectural and cultural heritage. With its massive, ancient walls, Kairouan’s medina remains one of the most authentic in Tunisia. Its grand mosque even served as a model for other mosques constructed in the Maghreb as well. Designed in the form of a citadel, it bears witness to the city’s military origins.
The Backroads of Kairouan
Despite the large number of visitors who come to Kairouan each year, relatively few take the time to explore the hills and mountains behind the city. Those who do explore these backroads are rewarded with wonderful views and the opportunity to experience some of Tunisia’s impressive pre-Islamic heritage. This dates back to pre-historic times and includes the Byzantine era in the 5th and 6th centuries AD. Much of this history is ignored not only by many Tunisians but by specialists in the field as well.
Ksar Limsa
Ksar Limsa
Ksar Limsa is often described as one of the most beautiful and most complete Byzantine monuments in Tunisia.
 With walls gilded by sunshine and crenellated towers, this fortress overlooks the valley of Oued Mahrouf some 30 km north-west of Kairouan near the village of Al Ouesllatia. 
The fortress is rectangular in shape, flanked by 13-meter high towers in each corner. The walls are around eight meters high and a crenellated parapet protects the wall walk.
 The inner courtyard measures 31 meters in width and 28 in length. The walls were built by stone collected from the ancient Roman town of Limisa. Constructed in the 6th century, it is a typical “castellum” built by the Byzantines to protect the town from attack.
Rock Art in Djebel Ouesllat 
This large and impressive mountain covers more than 130,000 hectares. Although it’s hard to reach and lacks water, this mountain has known human occupation for over 5,000 years.
Rock Art in Djebel Ouesslat
Ouesllat mountain contains an impressive quantity of wall paintings that demonstrate the existence of disappeared species. The paintings show that the white rhinoceros, the great ancient buffalo, as well as antelope, giraffe, hyena,
 and ostrich, once lived in the region.
Precious details about daily life are also revealed, such as hunting and family life. Domestic animals, such as cows, goats, sheep, and dogs, are well-illustrated in bucolic pasture scenes.
This mountain’s more recent history is likewise remarkable. The tribes of this mountain were very hostile towards any central authority and historically supported all kinds of rebellion against it.
In the beginning of the 18th Century, the hill tribes supported Hussein Ben Ali, the founder of the Husseinite monarchy that ruled Tunisia until 1957. During a bitter civil war between Ben Ali and his nephew, Ali Pacha, local villagers were punished by the Pacha for their support of Ali, who was murdered by Pacha and whose death was avenged by his sons – the ultimate victors of the war. All of the olive trees were cut down and the inhabitants were exiled during the Pacha’s reprisals.
These days the region is largely deserted, despite its fertile soil, and the abandoned villages have been left untouched for two hundred years. They stand witness to this important and bloody period of the Tunisian history.
The villages of Ouesllatia and Ksar Limsa can still be visited by car if one takes the regional roads – 99 and 46 – from Kairouan. Guided tours can be also organized from Kairouan.