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At the beginning of t tth century, when the Muslim geographer Abu-ubeid AI-Bakri described in his al-Masalek wa i-Mamalek ("Routes and kingdoms") what was then considered the capital of Ifriqiya, Kairouan was still a rich and populated city. Situated in the middle of a fertile plain which yielded a fabulous harvest, at the border of an olive forest as far as Sfax and Susse, Kairouan was the centre of a network of trade routes radiating to the southeast towards Egypt, to the south through the Castiliya towards the "Bled es-Sudan" (Country of Black People), and to the northwest towards Spain throuqh the capital cities of central and western Maghrib.

The extension of Kairouan was huge: AIBakri speaks of its new walls, 22,000 cubits long, with 14 gates, rebuilt by the Fati mid princel AI-Moyzz.. The historian describes accurately the Great Mosque, founded by Uqba ibn Nafi and reconstructed by ZiyadatAllah the Aghlabid, its hundreds of ancient columns, its carved marble mihrab covered with gblden enameled tiles,its famous chair made 6f precious oriental woods and its towerlike minaret. According his own words:

"BefOrf,e Kairouan's bazaars were transferred to Ma suriya, a double alignment of shops exten ' ed uninterrupted from the north to the south II through the town, from the gate of Abu-r-rabia to the Jami, the street had a lengthl of two miles less one third, and from the Ja,mi to the Tunis Gate, two-thirds of a mile. It was roofed from one end to the other and cfntained by itself aI/ the store-houses and work-shops of the city. Outside the town are fif~een water-basins (majil) built by order of Hioham (the Omeyad khalif) and other prince!s, in order to supply the inhabitants with ~'ater. The biggest and most useful of them I near Bab Tunis ( .... ) It is circular and of gre t extension ... ,~

AI-Ba ri continues with a de.scrip,tion of Kairouan', water-system, which Included a doubl1-storeyed aqueduct which brought water from the mountains and supplied as many as 48 public baths. He describes the neightiouring residential cities for the princes' qourt, from the oldest Aghlabid residencer Qasr-al-Kadim, to the famous Raqqada palace, with its gardens and waterworks, to the Fatimid new town Sabra "AIMansy_riya". In his whole wonk (or in what is left ot lt) only the city of Fes deserves such a long ~nd accurate description.

As the, residence of the most refined courts of the time inhabited by an influential popula-

Han of Arabs and Berbers, the home of the first important school of religious law and humanities in the Maghreb and the centre of a rich agricultural region served by long distance trade route, all this was at an end. AIBakri mentions that in the year 1060 "the population was taken in captivity and the city deserted". Even so, he could not imagine that this would be the end of the capital's glory.

More than four centuries later, when Leo Africanus related to the Pope what he knew of the country where he spent his Iife,2 he describedd Kairouan, which he visited in the year 1516, as a semi-deserted provincial town, poor and thirsty in the middle of an arid land "... dove non nasce ne a/bero ne grano... non v'e tome ne' pozza d'acqua viva, eccetto qualche cisterna ... ", visited during the summer by nomads whose tents gathered around the city walls.el-le adds:

"Ora la detta citta dopo if guasto che di lei fecero g/i Arabi, comincio ad essere risbitata, ma miseramente: e gli abitatori di oggi sono tutti poveri artigiani e per /a piu parte conciatori di pelli d'agnel/o e di cepretto e peliicciei.). e di cotali mestieri assai parcamente vivono ... "4

What had happened in these centuries? After the dynastic and religious wars of the 11th century, what was left of central power in Ifriqiya dissolved under the shocks of bedouin invasions from Upper Egypt, rellqious fights between shiites and sunnites, Christian counter-offensives in the seas, and the Norman conquest of Sicily. It was a time of declining long-distance trade, recoiling sedentary settlement and shrinking urban life taking refuge in the coastal strongholds. Kairouan was one of the most important victims of these historical circumstances and its decay was permanent. When the situation improved under the Hafsid rule in the 14th century, it was Tunis, not Kairouan. that became the capital of the re-established central power and of renewed commercial activity.

Kairouan today is closer to the city described by Leo Africanus than that of AI-Bakri. It is the result of a slow reoccupation of an empty urban shell by a provincial garrison, holy pilgrims, settled nomads. and artisans and merchants crafting and exchanging the simple goods ot a vast semi-inomadic hinterland.

But let us first relate how Kairouan grew as the 'capital of Ifriqiya in the "classic" lslarnlc era. Founded in the year 670 by Uqba Ibn






Nafi during the third Arab raid as the first permanent settlement west of Egypt, the city was designed as "un rt3duit de defense, une place d'armes, une base de depart: toutes fonctions qu'exprime son nom d'a/QayraWan - ville de garnison. "5

Unlike the sites of most Islamic cities in North Africa, Kairouan's site bore no previous Roman settlement, though the nearest Roman city, Jellula, was less than 40 km. north on the lower slopes of the TELL mountains. The first Arab raids of conquest kept away ~rom the coast, where Byzantine influence still prevailed. On this itinerary, Kairouan had a key position, near the borders of Sahara, at the northern end of a chain of oases I receding as far as Egypt, within a day's travel from the Tell mountains and their high ~Iateaus, through which the conquest spread westward as far as the ocean. Kairouan loccupied a position similar to that of Kufa, bamascus and Fustat, but could only rnalntain this as long as the city was able to control the trading routes in a pacified or well-r1astered territory. In the stormy history of Maphrib this situation lasted no longer than t~ree centuries.

Kairou1an . was several times occupied and destroyed during the recurring revolts of the Berbe~ population, from the Kahina resistancr defeated in 698 to the Kharigid revolt in 7401• The city was probably never more than a military camp until the coming of the Banu ~ghlab dynasty, who ruled a unified and totally Islamicised Ifriqiya in the name of the A*assid Khalifs from 801 to 909. The Aghlabid princes reconstructed Kairouan's walls, I enlarged and rebuilt the Great Mosq~e, founded the residential city of Raqqada~. 5 km. west of Kairouan and undertook a large number of hydraulic works to supply the city and palace with water. They built flter basins and an aqueduct, but also irrigated the plain around the city, protecting it fromifloods with a series of small dikes and ditches at the foot of the rnountalns.s

The e~1 d of the Aghlabid dynasty was signalled by ths Shiite rebellion. Kairouan was in 909 the first step in the successful march of the Fatirnlds towards Egypt where, in 919, Ubaydl Allah proclaimed himself "al-Mahdi" and "Klhalif ot all believers". He soon left Kairouan for his new capital Mahdia on the coast. From there, in 968, his successors transferred the court to the newly founded Al-Oaira, This was the end of Kalrouan's teadin~ role, even if it survived for another hundred years as the capital of the Fatimid

local supporters and the Ifriqiya governors of the Banu-Ziri dynasty. Kairouan's citizens never accepted totally the new Shiite creed and they joined with every religious revolt. Perhaps for this reason the new rulers built a twin city for themselves close to the old one at its southeast borders called Sabra "AIMansuriya", to which they transferred all of the city's commercial activities. Later historians nosta'lgia for the past praised the rule of the Zirid dynasty and their court in AIMansuriya as the richest and fullest of oriental refinements of all times, but it seems more likely that the decline had already begun, particularly in long distance trade. The turning point for Kairouan was the invasion of the Banu Hilal, the Arab nomadic tribes sent from upper Egypt to Ifriqiya by the Fatimid Khalif in the year 1049 to curb the independence of the Zirid prince, AI-Moyzz, and his return to the orthodox creed represented by the Baghdad's Khalifs. Kairouan was destroyed and its citizens fled, many of them as far as Fes, where they gave their name to the Great Mosque and to one of its twin cities. The plains around Kairouan, abandoned to the nomads, returned to bar-







ren steppes. The Arab tribes probabably monopolized what was left of the long distance trade; urban life retreated into the coastal cities, which had in turn to face the new Norman and Christian offensive; the insecurity of the territory drew back sedentary agricultural settlements to the sheltering mountains.

But w~at was left of the Aghlabid and Zirid capit~l? What can be reconstructed from the archeplogical and architectural remains of the city described by AI-Bakri and other medievall writers? Some monuments still stand, correspondlnq exactly to the descriptions, like the Great Mosque and the Aghlabid water basins; others can be surely dated from !inscriPtions, I'ike the small Aghlabid Mosq~e of the Three Doors. Archeological resea~ch in the 1960s gave liight to the palace of Ra~qada, with its huqe water-pond, the twin mailer water basins near the monument I basin outside Bab Tunis, and to the proba Ie structure of Dar Imara at the rear of the Great Mosque. The quantity of Roman, BYZa~tine, and Islamic marble column capit Is, carved lintels and pavements all over the city of today, re-employed in mosques. houses and street corners, are the remairs of an older and richer town.

But such remains are not sufficient to permit h. ypot~etical. reconstruction of the older city. Therel is littlle topographic evidence that can help ~s to define at least the city limits. The huge cemetery to the west, with tombs and incrip ions dating from the first centuries of Islam, helps to fix the western border of the town; another cemetery near the Aghlabid basin gives the approximate position of the ancient Bab Tunis. As the ancient texts suggest, ~hese show an extension greater than the w lied town of today. But nearly half of this a ea east of the Great Mosque - if we postu ate its central position - has vanished swept away by the erosive forces of the a nual flooding in the-wadis. Nothing can be s id of the southern limits, now lying bene th the modern expansion, nor of the twin t wn of Sabra-Mansuriya, where serious arChe~IOgiGal research has yet to be undertaken

Flood have certainly been the principal destructive faotor. They were caused by the intensi~e mountains deforestation, but also by the abandonment of the drainage system at the toot of the hllls, built In sth and 10th centuriesl-to dlvert under controlled conditions the flbod waters for irrigation and general use.?

Another factor of the loss of archeological evidence is the fragility of past building materials, the mud brick and "plse" convention. After each destruction of the city. resulting from abandonment or from violent disruption, the ruins of Kairouan became what they had been before, merely earth. When new houses, streets and shops were reconstructed over these ruins they often re-used the same solid elements, such as corner stones, columns and lintels, but not necessarily the same foundations or aUgnments. Where some excavations have been carried out, for instance around the Great Mosque, there is 5 rn, of earth mixed with archeologicalevidence,

Probably some parts of today's urban fabric are still a remnant of the alignments, walls and mosques of the died city. Certainly other excavations will prove successful, inside or outside the present wallis; on the other hand, the study of historical sources has onlly begun in Tunisia, and may reveal new material. In the present state of knowledge, it is impossible to go further in hypothetical reconstruction. Only a few elements of the lost capital can be inferred from the the present city survey which was not undertaken with the scientific methods necessary for this kind of urban archeological investigation. Let us then turn to the present liayout of the city as it was extensively surveyed in 1968- 70 for the Direction des Monuments Historiques of the Tunisian Minister of Oulture.s The present walls were built in the 17th century under Ottoman rule when the city was an important provincial administrative and military headquarter. The walls probably followed the line of the older fortifications of the Hafsid period (14th century), if not earlier. The few architectural structures that can be surely dated are of the Ottoman period, the suqs, the Jami ell-Bey and several big houses; others, like the Zawiya of Sidi Abid el-Gariani, are certainly of Hafsid style, but very little can be said of the urban form and its monuments before the 17th century. What is certain is that the city experienced a significant growth in population in the last two centuries, dramatically accelerated in the last fifty years. In 1930 Kairouan had a population of 19, 000 habitants: the urban land inside the walls was already filled with the present layout, and two outside neighborhoods on the. wrst were al'redy formed. In 1968-70 the total urban population had grown to 47,000 (75,000 in 1981), with an estimated 27;000 living inside the walls,










From the semi-deserted city of Leo Africanus to the dense, if not crowded, built-up area of today, Kairouan's story is the history of the slow reconstruction of a different city from that of the past, of the progressive reinvestment of urban functions in a different socioeconomical context, and of the process of re-occupation of urban land by a growing population. We shall trace this process through the Survey of 1968-70.

There is no doubt that Kairouan's past heritage was a source of enormous religious prestiqe. The Great Mosque, the one founded by the legendary conqueror Sidi Uqba, tHe oldest, largest and richest mosque in the N.1aghrib, was famous from Egypt to Morocco, and even to Muslim Black Africa, as one of the holiest places in Maghrib. Its presttqe was reinforced by the named tombs of ho,y men, like Sidi Abu Jama al-Balawi, the ~OPhet's companion, Sidi Sahnoun, the faun er of malikite orthodoxy, and many other saints who came from all parts of Islamic arid. Kairouan was an obligatory stop on th~ pilgrims' route to the Holy Places. On several occasions during the year pilgrimages brought thousands of people to Kai-

rouan from all parts of Maghrib. The religious function of Kairouan as the Holy City of Maghrib was never lost and lis certainly one means by which the permanence of the city was ensured.

This explains one of the main peculiarities of Kairouan: the fact that the Great Mosque, the Jami al-Kabir, is in a peripheral location. The mosque is integrated in the urban pattern as in every other Islamic town, but isolated in the northeast corner of the city walls. We already noted that in AI-Bakri's time the Great Mosque was nearly in the middle of the crowded "sumat" crossing the city from north to south. Why, when the city was reconstructed, did the community not gather again around the old Jami, but chose another core for urban activities? The explanation lies probably in the fact that in its holiness, the Mosque of Sidi Uqba did not identify with the jami ot a single local and somewhat impoverished community, but with the much greater community of Maghribi believers. It could not be enclosed in the mean patchwork of activities of a rural market, but had to open onto a vast empty space where thousands of pilgrims could gather and camp on the occa-



sian of annual "mosserns". What is certain is that most of the buildings around the Great Mosque are of recent construction and of little historical significance, apart from some Marabout tombs. No trace is left of a permanent settlement of a community in charge of the protection or maintenance of the sanctuary such as we find in other cases. In the traditional (and dialectic) opposition between urban dwellers and nomad tribes, the charge and honour of the mosque's protection and care were probably taken away from the city. These were assumed by some nomadic tribes who had special rights on the territory around the mosque, as may be witnessed by the bedouin cemetery just outside the walls.

The Ukba's Mosque was isolated in an urban "extra-terrltorltv", the core of the reinstalled city 500 m. to the west, probably where some sort of fortified qsar resisted a permanent uriban settlement at the principal crossroad an important well (Bir Barruta). Here, mid-way from the Tunis and Southern Gates, Kairouan citizens had their own Friday Mosque, built in the 1.7th century, not only in the middle of the network of suqs, but literally above them, at an upper level, confirming thus the necessary and universal link between the suqs and the Jami as the symbol of citizenry. A third Friday Mosque, Jami esZitouna, lies ouside the walls, in the outer neighbourhood of Jebliya, traditionally identified with a second-class, or outcast, community of brick- and pottery-makers, to which true citizenship was long denied. Thus the hierarchy of Kalrouan's Jami Mosques reflects that of the communities of believers gathering around them.

In Kairouan as a centre of religion, we cannot underestimate the role played lin the reshaping of urban life after the 15th century by the zawiyas.. These religious brotherhoods spread all over Maghrib as multi-functional organizations (reHgious, social, political and military) of great historicat weight, particularly in Morocco. Their formal organization is ancient and well known: "a Igroup of disciples (Talib, Murid) gather of around a Master (Shaykh) and begins an tnltiatlon process during several years, until some disciples are judged by communal acknowledgment capable of teaching themselves: another center of initiation (zawiya) lis then founded. "9

Supporting the decentralization of religious teaching, "compensated by a vow of fidelity to the master assuring unity and continuity",

the zawiyas became centres of reassembling and reuniting the population, especiall~ in regions where thecentrall governamenlt was ~e.ak. For the urban populations of i~terior Cities cut off from coastal trade, pow~r and wealth, the integration offered by the awiya cultural move me. nt r. epresented a way f finding a new social identity.

The ~.f a large nurn. b. er .Of. z. aWfas i.S one of the main features of Kairouan. Iden-

tified by the presence of the tomb f the founder, and generally roofed with a ubba or dome, they present a complex layou • articulated around several courtyards. So;.re zawiiyas include a "medersa", or colle~~s for students' residence and instruction; all have cells or rooms to lodge affiliated visitor , and a common hall for prayers, teaChi~ and pious exercises. They often include a house (dar) where lived the family of the aster, and several storerooms for goods fr m the often rich "habous" (Waqf) properties. looking at the cit.y plan, we. may suppose t~at Z.8- wiyas were sited in bigger enclo ures,

including perhaps gardens and arc ards, and certainly in open spaces for the ~eception of crowds of pilgrims. Such complex and




multi-purpose spatial organization occupying large plots of land contributed to the reshaping of the city, with the progressive filling in of the enclosed open space and its integration in the urban fabric. With their profiles of the domed sancturaries emerging from terraced roofs, the zawiyas gave the city a distinctive skyline.

Smaller qubbas, both inside and outside the walls, sheltered plainer tombs, like the ones with which the Maghribian rural landscape is marked. Inside the city walls, the qubbas are now interwoven with the urban fabric, scattered among the residential neighbourhoods, sometimes integrated inside the houses. The density of distribution of the qubbas along the borders of the town may be evidence of open cemeteries which, as in other cities like Fes, have now vanished. The occupation of such areas by plain and generally poor houses shows the progressive occupation of the walled city by a growing population in the last tfo centuries.

Besides the Jami Mosque and the zawiyas, the wialled city of Kairouan contains more than 50 masjids, everyday prayer-halls varying in size and shape from the simplest cha-


pel to complex multi-aisled halls with an open courtyard, minaret and midha, or ablutation room. Many masjids have a specialised deslqnations: some are oratories for the different suq corporations, whila others give their names to residential neighbourhoods. Unlike zawiyas, which formed spatial units by themselves, and tombs with the remnants of open air cemeteries, the masjids are strictly related to the urban fabric, residential or commercial, with which they are associated from the beginning. We find them at nearly every street corner, at the entrance of residential dead-end pathways, or at the transition from one district to another.v Masjids are perhaps the most enduring features of Kairouan's urban pattern: many are situated several meters below streets level, being much older than the surrounding houses, influencing their re-alignments in successive reconstructions. It may be interesting to state how their qibla orientation varies. In some (the oldest?) masjids, the qibla is aligned with that of the Great Mosque; other masjids are oriented like the 17th-century jami above the suqs. A thorough study of suq features as the ground level and







orientation may provide the key to the reconstruction of Kairouan's urban history, and help to determine those parts of the urban layout which survive from of the first lost city. The history of Kairouan's zawiyas, probably only possible through the written and the oral knowledge of their founders' life, may also help to reponstruct the story of the city's

slow renewa'i. .

The second main feature of present-day Kairouam is that of a market town. While the city is no longer a centre for the long distance trade of gold and slaves from Sudan, or of Egyptian cottons and Sicilian fruits, nor a production centre of the "finest woolen cloths in the West", it is still an important rural market servicing a vast area covering the northern part of Tunisian steppes, favorled by its position midway between the mou tains and the sea. Until recent times this egion was characterized by a nomadic and emi-nomadic way of life in which Kairoua representend the only urban settlemen of the interior north of Gafsa. Trade and prod ction in this area was inevitably direct d to Kairouan's market, being influ nced by its main economic activity, cattle breeding. Southern nomads used to stop here to trade twice a year on their way to and from the summer Tell cornfield pastur~s. It was not uncommon fifty years ago to see camel herds riding through the main stre~t of the city.

Is thi~ the reaso,n why Kairouan's main street is sol wide, with a shape more akin to that of the ~ahariancities than that of the Mediterranea~ medinas? Proceeding nearly straight from Bab Tunis to Bab Jelladin, this street is like a breach in the compact residential fabrip, widened moreover by the depth of sho~s, mosques, hammams and tea-houses on bpth sides. In spite of the gates and their com~lex system of elbow-shaped entrances (of hich only Bab Tunis is left), the main stre . t is still a place where the city opens to the erritory and the countryside, offering spe ializetl services and commodities.

But ii rural and foreign traders were allowed to enter the walled city to take advantage of spedialized services, they had to stay at nigh~outs'de the walls. The big open space outs de Bab Tunis still offers a good example of thl structures a market town offered to its customers. Here there was the grain market (Whit the cattle market was on the opposite side outside Bab Jelladin), and here Is conserv d a block of buildings providing shelter for travellers, their goods and animals,

especially funduqs (Maghribian khans) with cellular lodgings around a courtyard, common room, stables and storerooms.

As in all Islamic cities, the core of the City is represented by the suq's grid adjacent to the main street, midway from the two gates. No longer selling precious imported fabrics or exotic spices, as in Fes, Tunis or Cairo, and with only a few gold jewellers or silversmiths left, the suqs of Kairouan trade the products of the reglion, such as hides" leather and wool. But the suq's structure does not resemble that of a rural town. Rebuilt in the 17th century, it is a solid vaulted stone and brick structure, as in Tunis, with specialized segments still closed at night with strong doors. The most valuable of Kairouan products, woolen carpets, are traded in the middle of the suq's network, just beneath the pentmosque: here women still come to sell the products of their home-handicraft activities. The rest of the suq area is now invaded by cheap tourist objects, but the names and old maps record other specialized segments, from the kissariya (cloths and garments) to the saddlers and the babush manufacturers. Until the middle of the present century Kairouan had specialized industrial areas. Near Bab Jelladin, to which they gave their name, are the hide-tanners, while north of the suqa were the blacksmiths; outside the walls, to the west, were the brick- and potterymakers with their round furnaces and clay pits. After these poHuting activities were removed far from the residential areas, only the wool-weavers were left immediately west of the suqs, occupying rectangular workshops grouped around their masjid. Each workshop contained one or two big wooden looms, where women's woolen veils (haig) and men's heavy cloaks (burnus and kashaibiyas) were woven.

The economic life of iKairouan is thus concentrated in a T-shaped area, including the wide market spaces outside the opposite gates, the main street connecting them, and the wide body of covered suqs extending to the weavers district. Outside this area are the quiet residential neighbourhoods. Along the silent streets connecting the central busy area with the secondary gates or with the Great Mosque, there are only small groups of shops for everyday household expenditures, and ovens andgra'in-mills serving daily family needs,

Changes in Kairouan's residential layout have been important, in spite of the remarkable persistence of houslnq typology




which makes it difficult to analyse transformations in terms of the stratification of different housing patterns. A process seems evident: the progressive fi'lling up of every open space. Like many cities in this climatic region, Kairouan ought to have had a rather loose urban fabric, alternating dense residential neighbourhoods with open spaces for qardens, orchards and cemeteries. In the survey map we are still able to trace the large enclosures of some zawiyas, to reconstruct the late occupation of the borderland near the wialls and to identify the location of gardens ot great houses which are now divided in smbll plots. Looking closer at the housing layout, it is often possible to perceive the process of subdivision of one large plot into three or foJr housing units, and the partition of a big famil~ house with several courtyards into indepe~dent dwellings, or even the splitting of the s me courtyard between two families. Som of these examples illustrate the general formation of the courtyard-house, from the s~mi-rural haouch, or empty enclosure occu~ied by a single-roomed building on one side, to the complex urban house through the addition of rooms around the enclosure walls the doubling of room depth and the splitti g into two or three of the courtyard and blot, following a process that seldom takes the form of vertical extension. It is the proc ss itself of natural growth where new "roo is'' (or nuclear family apartments) are built or each married son in the father's hous , until the house splits into smaller units for each descendent. While this process has been observed in Tunisian suburban r rural areas,n in Kairouan the reconstructi n of such transformations is much more difficult to perceive, owing to the dominanc of the past, the discontinuity of permane t construction and the fragility of buildi g materials.

Othe changes in the residential layout depend on socia-economic transformations. Besie the simple houses of craftsmen and workEfrs, Kairouan had many big houses inhabitrd by an urban "bourgoisie" of merchantis, officials and rural land-owners. The few ~ouses that are left, all of recent construction, still occupy large plots, though none of them has the physical consistency and wealth of the Tunisian palaces. Though based on the same arc~itectural principles of plainer houses, the Kairouan houses show a complex organization around several courtyards that corresponds to the traditional arrangement. Around the central courtyard are

gathered smaller servicing courts and apartments, like the kitchen yard, the slaves dwelling-quarter, the harem or women's apartments, and the guest-house, or masriya, situated on the first floor with independent access from the street. Vaulted storerooms (zritas), granaries and stables are associated with the living quarters, confirming the dependance on wealth from rural production. Finally, many houses have enclosed gardens and orchards essential for family life and leisure, particularly in Kairouan's arid climate. It is evident that such complex layouts, depending on a huge household of family members and servants, could not survive today; moreover, the wealthier families were the first to leave their house for "colonial" neighbourhoods after independence, or to emigrate to the capital. So the big houses were split and transformed, each courtyard becoming an independent dwelling. Gardens and open spaces were sold in plots, and the central courtyards were often divided and transformed.

It is diifficult to determine a coherent typology to Kairouan's houses, taking into account all difference and changes in dimension, shape and internal organization. It is simpler to give an account of their common characteristics, and describe the "ideal type" to which every construction tends to resemble.

The prevalent courtyard orientation of the houses is certainly designed to meet the best climatic conditions. Kairouan, though only 60 km. from the sea, has a harsh climate close to Saharan extremes, with burning arid summers and cold dry winters. The prevalent orientation (running northwest-southwest and southwest-northest) giives the southeast and southwest facing walls the best sun exposure in winter and the longest shadow during, the summer; it is the preferred position for the principal T -shaped rooms. Climate' control is also provided by careful lnsulation devices. The building material itself is composed of thick walls with external brick layers filled with pressed earth; vaulted or wooden ceilings have a thick layer of compressed earth below lime-covered terraces. Small windows and doors and high ceilings are constant features. Insulation is also guaranteed by the presence above the rooms of a low attic, drier and more roomier than living space, and often of a cellar (or cistern) under the main T -shaped room. Two-storeyed houses are few, and the second floor is limited to the part facing the street, sometimes crossing it by mean of a bridge-room


with screened (musharabiya) windows looking down the passage.

Water supply devices are another important feature. Nearly every house had a double water system; a well drawing drinking water from the rich underground stream and a cistern collecting rainfall from the terraced roots and paved courtyard.

Other features of Kairouan's houses are common to Tunisian traditional houses: the T -Shaped nuclear family apartment with two high bed alcoves in the aisles, a central living and reception space (behou) in front of the door, and two cabinets in the corners (maksuras); the entrance system, with intermediate halls (skifa) to prevent direct access into' to core of the house; and the servicing spaces (kitchen, storerooms) in the courtyard corners. To these elements, are added a simple long and narrow room for the loom with a big vertical frame in front of which women sit working for part of each day. Kairouan's houses are notable for the plain simplicity of their whitewashed walls. rNe seldom find in Kairouan the stone or tile decorated courtyard facades of other Tunisian towns, like Sfax, Mahdia or Sousse.)


Other characteristics are the co~1 forts achieved by climate control devices. I fact, Kairouan's houses combine characte istics of Saharan houses with the more cO'11 plex and refined patterns of ancient nlstortcal me-

dinas. I

Few of Kairouan's houses bear trac s of their history; the continuity in the bu Iding techn.iques and housing patterns make it almost impossible to give a date for their onstruction. like many other Islamic towns, Kairouan seems to hide from historical en uiry. There are few dated monuments] no cadastral or property limits documents and no ancient cartography, even though there are rich but unread archives. But, far fir the memory-less stillness often attributed to Islamic cities, Kairouan shows perhaps 'more than other examples a stratification o! permanent transformations, of accumulat~ion of increasing occupations and sudden de tructions. It is possible to begin to "read' this stratification, combining a "horizontal" timeless morphological approach with "vertical" methods of historical research.

Paola Jervis Oonati

1 Abou-Ubeid EI-Bakri, AI-Masalek wa'I-Msmalek (Description de I'Afrique du Nord, ed., with French translation, De Slane, 1957) Paris, 1965, p. 59.

2 Leo Africanus (Hasan AI-Wazzan AI-Zaiyati), Descrizione dell'Africa; pub. in 1550 by G. B. Ramusiu, Delle Nsvigazioni e Viaggi, I, ed. Einaudi, Torino, 1978.

3 "where no tree nor grain grows no source nor clear

water well, except some cistern " ibid.

4 "Now this city, after the damage made by the Arabs, began to reestablish itself, but poorly: and today's habitants are all miserable craftmen, mostly lamb and goat skin tanners and furriers ... and of these work they live very poorly ... " ibid.

5 M. Lumbard, L 'Islam dans sa premiere grandeur; Paris, 1971, p. 139.

B P. Solignac, Installations Hydrsu/iques Anciennes en Tunisie. Paris, 1936.

7 In the last "centenial" flood in 1969 the whole plain around Kairouan was submerged for several days.

8 See P. Donati, P. Jervis, Introduction a I'etude morphologique d'une ville maghrebine, Actes du lie Cdlloque ICOMOS, PariS, 1970.

9 Abdallah Laroui, Histoire du Maghreb, vol. I p. 24, Paris, 1972.

10 For the function of mosques as "passage-markers" see P. Jervis, "Casa-corte, Strada-Emporio", Hinterland, 15/16 (1980), p. 19.

11 A. Memi, Structures socio-economiques, village et maisons traditionel/es au Maghreb, unpublished manuscript, 1979.