Regional Architecture in Tunisia from Specificity to Standardization

Fakher Kharrat

Professor of Architecture at l’ENAU ( National School of Architecture and Urbanism of Tunis)

Director of Research Unit PAE3C (Patrimoine Architecture Environnement, Connaissance Compréhension, Conservation)


Starting from the observation of a tendency towards the standardization of the architectural expression throughout the country, the present article proposes to pose the problematic of the regional architectures in Tunisia. First by treating the identification of these specific regional architectures in the old architectural production then by prospecting the chances of conservation of these specificities in the current production. What are the generating factors of a homogeneous and specific regional architecture? What are the characteristics that define its specificity and identity? What are the factors of change? What are the trends of new architecture, conservation or loss of specificity? To try to answer these questions, we propose to use the following method of analysis: After a review of the factors that generate these architectures, they will be examined using the concept of human integration. in its environment in three forms, urban, architectural and technical. Hypotheses: homogeneous regional architectures presenting a cultural identity and a geographical continuity inside the country and a civilizational juxtaposition of different specificities near metropolises. The new architecture presents a trend of standardization across the country and a characteristic of eclecticism by the multiplicity of regional or global references

Keywords: Spécificité, homogène, juxtaposition, régionale , civilisationnelle, intégration.

[1] NB:This article is based on two studies commissioned by the Tunisian Ministry of Equipment and Habitat on the architectural specificities of the Tunisian south and north-east and published in a limited edition in 2004 and 2009 and published on the website of the Ministry of equipment. The other regions, namely North West, Central West and Central East, are still under study.

Regional Architecture in Tunisia from Specificity to Standardization


Starting from the observation of a tendency towards the standardization of the architectural expression throughout the country, the present article proposes to pose the problematic of the regional architectures in Tunisia. First by treating the identification of these specific regional architectures in the old architectural production then by prospecting the chances of conservation of these specificities in the current production. In relation to this issue we ask the following questions:

What are the generating factors of a homogeneous and specific regional architecture?

What are the characteristics that define its specificity and identity?

What are the factors of change? What are the trends of new architecture, conservation or loss of specificity?

Hypotheses :

In relation to these questions, we posit the following hypothesis: Tunisia can be divided into zones of homogeneous regional architectures presenting a cultural identity and a geographical continuity within the country and a civilizational juxtaposition of different specificities close to the metropolises. The new architecture presents a trend of standardization across the country and a characteristic of eclecticism by the multiplicity of regional or global references.

Source of information and methodology:

It should be noted at the outset that this article is based on the results of two studies commissioned by the Ministry of Equipment and Housing to identify the repertoire of the specific architecture of southern Tunisia and northeastern Tunisia. The other regions are still under study. On the occasion of the development of these two studies carried out by private consulting firms, I participated as a heritage consultant for the two design offices and two publications were published in limited series. “The Architectural Specifics of Southern Tunisia” [1] published in 2004 and “The Architectural Specifics of Northeastern Tunisia” [2] published in 2009. These studies are published on the website of the Ministry of Equipment and Housing Tunisian [3] and are not offered for sale. This article aims to popularize and disseminate a summary of the main results with a theorization test.

The principle of these studies is to start from geographical regions to carry out an in-depth study of the sources of the architecture, of the local potentialities called generating factors of the architecture then to follow by a typo-morphological analysis of the architecture by examining the implantation. , architectural typology, vocabulary and construction technique. The aim is to achieve a division of the study area into homogeneous and specific architectural zones.

The concept of analysis is that of the integration of man into his environment in three forms, urban, architectural and technical. Integration is understood as the way in which man integrated himself into this environment first by the mode of implantation, then by the architectural typology chosen and finally by the technical means implemented to achieve it.

For practical reasons we will take care of the Tunisian south then Northeast Tunisia to try a synthesis in the end. A more exhaustive reasoning on the whole Tunisia will be made after the publication of the other parts to know the South-West the Central-East and Central-West Tunisia.

Southern Tunisia:

The factors generating the architecture of southern Tunisia:

Departure: Geographical area

The Tunisian south can be divided into geographical sub-regions: the Chot, the mountain, the plain Jfara, the desert and the island of Djerba.

Characteristics of its specificity and identity:

Urban integration:

The oasis cities develop around the Jerid hut near the water sources, with a compact fabric of the medina type.

The mountains are experiencing the development of trogloditic or perched dwellings, with an online implantation and the construction of collective lofts on the tops of the hills.

The island of Djerba, develops an establishment on the property called Menzel with a group of souks.

Finally, in the desert, the architecture of the nomads and semi-nomads is essentially based on the tent.

Architectural integration:

In the oasis cities one finds the dwelling with patio, in the mountains one finds the troglodytic dwellings horizontal, or vertical and the semi troglodyte dwellings in the perched villages with a linear commotion which tends towards the formation of a course in front of the Ghars or pieces dug around the patios dug vertically.

The Houch djerbien is composed of rooms surrounding a patio and a sculptural architecture where one can easily read the function and the meaning from the architectural form.

The desert is the kingdom of the tent fruit of centuries of adaptation to the nomadic way of life.

Technical integration:

Around the djerid hill, the abundance of clay and palm trees favored the use of terracotta for walls and palm wood for rugs in oasis architecture. Plaster and earth are used for plastering and filling. The set of brick equipment becomes the medium of significant forms in addition to the structural and bioclimatic role.

In the mountains and exploiting the tabular landscape, an original mode of construction develops by the digging of the friable earth between the limestone plates as in Douiret or Chenni. Where the mountain is harder we witness the construction of perched villages partially dug or hitched to the mountain as Tamazret. Where the landscape is nipple and the rock is frable, the local genius develops dwellings dug vertically as in Matmata.

In Djerba there is more stone and less palms and no mountains. Limestone firing gives lime that helps build walls as well as vaults and couples. Plaster is used for plastering. The result is a scuplural white artchitecture on the human scale dotted throughout the island in complete harmony with nature.

For the desert, camel wool is used woven for making the tent easily transportable with the structural elements drawn from the few trees of the desert. Other ephemeral branch constructions can be built in the stabilization periods.

Homogeneous zones of southern Tunisia:

Each geographical sub-region develops a specific architecture and this through the rigorous use of local geographical characteristics and in correspondence with the way of life of the inhabitants. The isolation and the difficulty of the transport helping, the same human group has developed different architectures a few kilometers away. Homogeneous and specific architectures emerge in perfect correspondence with the geographical sub-regions.

We come out four big homogeneous sets:

The zone of architectures of the oases
The area of ​​mountain architectures
The architectural zone of the nomads and semi-nomads
Architectural area of ​​the island of Jerba and the coast
These large sets are in themselves sub-zones with specific peculiarities that are manifested essentially in the texture and decorative mode resulting from the nature of the materials used.

The zones and sub-zones are:


The zone of architectures of the oases

a-The subzone of the architecture of the oases of Tozeur, Nefta and Hammet Ejérid

b-The sub-zone of Nefzaoua Nord

c-The subzone of the coastal oasis architecture

The area of ​​mountain architectures

a-Sub vertical troglodyte architecture area

b-Under architectural zone of stone perched villages

c- Under the zone of the architecture of the troglodytes horizontal and Gsour.

The zone of the architecture of the island of Jerba and the coast

The zone of nomadic and semi-nomadic architectures.

a-The sub-zone of nomadic architecture of South Nefzaoua.

b-The sub-zone of semi-nomadic architecture of the plain of Jeffara.

c-The sub-zone of nomadic architecture of Dhaher and El Ghrib and El Ouara

d-The Grand Erg and El Fjij are desert areas.


Characteristics of the specificity and identity of the oasis architecture:

Urban intergration

Compact fabric on non-cultivable land, proliferation of bortal as a portion of covered street.

Hierarchy of roads according to the climate, the way of life and the social organization.

Architectural integration:

Patio houses with chicane and distribution of living rooms around the patio and presence of specific spaces for the conservation and conditioning of dates.

Ingenious garbage collection system for fertilizing the oasis

Technical integration:

The oasis architecture uses materials available on the site namely the earth and the palm wood in addition to plaster the raw earth and the sandstone.

The land is cooked in kilns and used in construction. The local macons develop a specific implementation art representing hollow or raised designs and which have a dual aesthetic and structural role to compact the earth used in the heart of the wall.

The palm wood is taken from the oasis among the palms arrived at the end of their production, thrown into the salted Chot for one year then used for the horizontal covers of the houses.

Gypsum is baked directly on site to produce plaster used for plaster.

The factors of change of the oasis architecture:

Factors of change: change of lifestyle spontaneous or by political obligation, ease of transport and accessibility, centralized mode of production, loss of traditional know-how and social denigration of the traditional architecture presented as primitive.

Current trends in the architecture of oasis cities?


Production of subdivision around old centers and loss of urban specificity. Public subdivisions are treated in the same way for the entire national territory despite the differences in the geography of the climate.


Progressive loss of the patio even in the historic center and construction of the villas outside


Given the development of transport and the desire for modernity, there is a proliferation of the use of reinforced concrete and red products but also stone or imported ceramic and marble. The consequence is the loss of constructive know-how.


Oasis cities: acceleration of the loss of specificity, but also resistance and attempts of its conservation:

Oasis cities continue to be used but are increasingly abandoned or modified. The new forms of production obey new standards and use new materials like those used throughout the country with various forms close to eclecticism. However, attempts to use traditionally-inspired urban or architectural forms are observed, as well as use in the form of plating of traditional materials such as brick or palm wood in new public buildings or in tourist architecture.


Characteristics of its specificity and identity:

The mountain according to its morphology gives a specific architecture. In the tabular landscape as in Chenenni or Guermessa, and between two layers of limestone, the inhabitants dig the soft clay part. In fairly friable hills, the digging is vertical with collective granaries built. In the harsh mountains, the inhabitants develop perch constructions sometimes semi-troglodytic hooked to the mountain.

Urban integration

The establishment of houses in the heart of the mountains reflects an aspect of mimicry and fusion with the landscape, probably for reasons of safety but also for an aspect of thermal comfort and adaptation to the semi-nomadic lifestyle.

Architectural integration

The same human group develops different architectural typologies that range from the linear organization of the horizontal troglodyte dwelling, to the organization of rooms dug around a vertically dugout patio called Mehres.

Technical integration

The local genius takes advantage of the local geological features with a subtraction architecture with the minimum of construction when it is indispensable.

The factors of change in mountain architecture:

Currently and following the socioeconomic transformations started since the colonial period and continued after independence until today with all the effects on the family structure and the cultural values, the urban structure and the habitat have changed. The result is the abandonment of old villages and groups, the destruction of the natural environment. The latter do not currently present as poles of tourist attraction. We are witnessing the abandonment of heritage and constructive principles.

The phenomenon of abandonment is not only the consequence of migration to foreign countries and large cities but caused by the creation of new agglomerations with infrastructures and equipment which were deprived of the old villages.

Current trends in mountain architecture:

The construction by SNIT of new villages by political decision with water, electricity and basic equipment such as the school and the dispensary generate resistance at first. But the inhabitants end up living there by building Gourbi and abundant housing type animals. These new villages are now developing outside the development plans and along the roads sometimes in floodplain and trample the few agricultural lands available.

This sub-zone is marked by the almost total abandonment of old settlements and the creation of new agglomerations that have nothing to do with the old settlements .. Indeed Chenini Douiret, Guermassa, Ghomrassen with the gsours remain only places course and sightseeing.

Attempts to restore Douiret by the safeguarding association Douiret and Gsours by the INP with limited resources and a somewhat disorganized manner are noteworthy.


The area of ​​Djeffara plain has an urban and architectural extension very fast and very important. Indeed since the years of independence several cities have developed including the important Medenine which is the place of sedentarization nomadic and semi-nomadic peoples and the inhabitants of abandoned Berber villages;

The houses develop in houch with central courtyard which evolves of a vaulted room until closing.


The study of the architectures of the Djerba zone and its coastline shows a great coherence between the produced urbanism and the mode of production of the island based on agriculture, weaving and fishing. The built environment corresponds to the way of life of the population and its beliefs. An evolution that over the centuries has given a very specific architecture that has preserved a balance between buildings and vegetation and preserve the precarious ecological balance of the island.

Characteristics of its specificity and identity:

The island of Djerba is characterized by a plain with a water table of uneven softness and availability from which a differentiated fertility. It has a mild climate and knows the urbanization since antiquity.

Urban integration

The urban characteristic of the island of Djerba is the dispersion of dwellings called Houchs, which usually occupy the center of a self-sustaining agricultural property called Menzel. Only the souks are grouped as Houmet Souk. The only agglomerations of the island are in Riadh and developed by the Jewish community of the island.

Architectural integration

The dominant typology of the island is the patio house surrounded by Bits of housing and services as well as outbuildings for agricultural activity such as semi-buried or artisanal oil mills such as weaving workshops.

Technical integration

Djerbian architecture takes advantage of the available materials such as rubble from which the lime is drawn with appropriate cooking or the gypsum from which the plaster is drawn by cooking or the palm wood in a quantity inferior to the Jerid given the sparse consistency of the Ghaba.

The Djerbians have arrived at this result using exclusively the materials available on the island helping enclave, and have developed a profusion of forms that give their architecture the appearance of a complex language where each form has a functional or symbolic meaning . This is what has made for centuries the specificity of the architecture of Djerba.

The factors of change of the architecture of Djerba:

The change in lifestyle, the ease of transport of materials and the development of tourism are all factors that have caused the change of the architectural landscape in the course of Djerba.

Current trends in the architecture of Djerba:

The change in the way of life of Djerbians and the opening up of the island have contributed to the adoption of new behaviors in housing.

International tourism, emigration abroad and the improvement of transport have fostered a certain resemblance to the continent, especially in the use of modern building materials.

The economic change that saw the decline of agricultural activity to the benefit of the tertiary sector and tourism and the return of money for immigrants eventually complete the trend towards models that break with the centuries-old tradition of the built environment.

Conclusion: the island of Djerba or the difficult resistance to change:

Abandoning traditional Houchs and Menzels, developing cities like Houmet Souk or Midoun the use of new materials such as stone, brick and red products make it difficult Djerba resistance to change and to safeguard its specificity more and more threatened.

However museumization is in progress and attempts to use the traditional architectural vocabulary in some hotels.

The inscription of the island on the indicative list of World Heritage and the attempt to inscribe at least religious monuments on UNESCO’s heritage list could help the island preserve what remains of its specificity.

[1] Regaya Kiwa-Ridha Rekik Group

[2] URAM-Ellouz Group


Northeastern Tunisia:

The factors generating a homogeneous and specific regional architecture:

Departure: geographical regions and historical wealth:

Northeastern Tunisia due to its fertility and its opening on the Mediterranean sea has experienced urbanization since ancient times. Utica founded in the 11th century AD, Carthage in the 9th century are of Punic foundation. Rome after the destruction of Carthage developed Roman Carthage and colonized the interior of the country. Leaning on the fertile Cape Bon, the plains of Bizerte and the mountain of Zaghouan rich in fresh water, it offers the ingredients of the urbanization and the development of a rich civilization which bequeathed to us a pleiade of monuments. Islamic medinas such as Bizerte, Tunis and Hammamet are developing in strategic locations and Tunis in the 13th century stands at the rank of capital of the current Ifrikia Tunisia. It knew the Turkish influence then French and finally the development like capital of independent Tunisia.

Characteristics that define its specificity and identity:

As the North is Tunisian is a fertile region, strategic and open to the Mediterranean cradle of the ancient world, and crossroads of civilizations, it has kept the traces of all the civilizational passages. These testimonies are not exclusive to a geographical sub-region but form a rich palimpsest or a juxtaposition of urban and architectural specific form. Thus one finds on the same territory of Grand Tunis the ruins of the ancient Carthage, the medina of Tunis and contiguous to her the colonial city. The same observation is made in Bizerte Hammamet or Nabeul.

Urban integration:

The Phoenicians develop Utica Carthage and Kerkuane as trading posts, the Romans redevelop quartering and create cities within the country. Muslims develop more defensible Tunis between two lakes and two hills and the French gain ground on the lake to develop the western city with an orthogonal trace contiguous to the organic route of the medina. Andalusian villages run along the Mejerda River and Berber villages grow on the hills around Greater Tunis. On the agricultural lands are also mixed vernacular rural architecture and French colonial farms. So urban integration is done by juxtaposing specific homogeneous entities on a civilizational basis.

Architectural integration

Roman and Islamic Punic architecture is based on the typical patio house of the Mediterranean but with a schedule and decoration specific to each period. Western architecture offers new types of architecture based on apartment buildings and villas.

Technical integration

Since antiquity, the architecture has used all the materials available on Tunisian soil, Kadhel rubble, Haouaria cut stone, Chemtou marble which is also exported to Rome, but also imported Italian marble wood stucco, ecc. Being an area of ​​power and wealth, all forms of art of building and decorating are represented. The medina and especially Tunis uses ancestral know-how with Italian and even French contributions. The vernacular architecture perpetuates a relevant traditional know-how. Western architecture uses new materials such as metal profiles and reinforced concrete.

The homogeneous architectural zones of northeastern Tunisia

Medial architecture:

The medial architecture is manifested in:

– The architecture of the medinas;

– The architecture of the medial villages;

– The architecture of the Andalusian villages.

The architecture of Medinas

The medinas of Arab foundation are:

– The medina of Tunis;

– The medina of Bizerte;

– The medina of Hammamet

The architecture of the medieval villages

The peri-urban medial villages:

– The medina of Nabeul;

– Medes villages of Radès, Ariana and Sidi Bou Said

The architecture of Andalusian villages

The Andalusian architecture includes the villages created ex nihilo and the neighborhoods integrated in the medinas: Slimen, Grombalia, Turki, Belli, Nianou, Zaghouan, Testour, Slouguia, Medjez El Bab, Grich El Oued, Tebourba, Jedeida, Kalaat El Andalous, Aousja, Metline, Ras Jebel and Ghar El Melh as well as the Andalusian district in Tunis and Hamdalous in Bizerte.

Western architecture:

Architecture of cities

Western urban architecture is either juxtaposed with the Medinas as in Tunis and Bizerte, or isolated asMenzel Bourguiba.

Farm architecture

Colonial farms are scattered in the north of the country in general and especially the Northeast.

Vernacular architecture:

Berber architecture

Berber vernacular architecture is found in villages such as Toukaber, Chaouach, Zriba, Zaouiet El Megais, Boukrim and Azmour.

Rural architecture

Rural housing is scattered throughout the northeastern region of the country; built formerly in earth, it is more and more built with modern means (bricks and concrete). The architectural forms are very simple with a great sense of orientation.

The factors of change and trends of the new architecture:

The morphological typo analysis and the examination of the architectural and technical urban integration give us a different logic of the Tunisian south. Indeed, the specific architectures do not correspond to the geographical sub-regions. In the same region we find the ancient settlement, the medial implantation, and the western implantation with all around a vernacular architecture.

However, only the fabric is the guarantor of the specificity and the identity, the materials and the vocabulary emigrate more easily and a mutual influence on the level of the architectural language is noted.

Currently the great development of Tunis with cities developed by the public operators like the AFH the SNIT and the SPROLS or private as the society of the lake present a juxtaposition of a vertical architecture of buildings or horizontal villas with national eclectic references or international. The spontaneous cities develop a dense and compact fabric close to the medina with a tendency to personalize the facades of the houses.

Conclusion: The architecture of Northeast Tunisia

It can be concluded that the opening of this zone on the Mediterranean Sea and the various influences favor a juxtaposition of civilizational specificities in the same natural area. Like the coexistence of diverse communities, architecture in northeastern Tunisia seems to tolerate coexistence that makes it an impressive cultural dungeon.

General summary:

To answer the questions raised by these two studies and after the analysis of the architecture of the South and North-East of Tunisia, with the departure of the geographical regions to identify architectural regions and to answer the questions raised in the problematic concerning the factors generators of a homogeneous and specific regional architecture, the characteristics which define its specificity and its identity and finally the factors of change and the tendencies of the new architecture, towards the conservation or the loss of specificity. And with the help of the analysis tool relating to the integration of man in his natural environment by the urban implantation, the architectural aspect and the materials and techniques of construction. we can validate the initial hypotheses and try to generalize for the whole of Tunisia.

We can conclude that the regional architecture in Tunisia is characterized by homogeneous multiple regional architectures presenting a regional cultural identity with a geographical continuity inside the country and a civilizational juxtaposition of different specificities near metropolises.

The new architectural production presents a tendency of uniformization on the whole country and a characteristic of eclectism in the architectural language by the multiplicity of regional or global references.

Towards a new specificity:

The awareness of new generations of architects and the awakening of civil society in recent years augur for the future, besides the conservation of urban and architectural heritage the search for a new specificity.

This perspective is all the more plausible as ecological awareness and the percepts of sustainable development with its economic and environmental social components plead for the safeguarding of traditional know-how, which promotes local economic development and attention to the environment. by using local materials and saving energy with the minimum environmental impact.

Our new cities would be respectful of heritage but also culturally rooted in their regions and their specific environment. The orientation towards political regionalization would plead for a local treatment in a global thought and our cities would be smarter and can succeed their resilience in the face of the rampant globalization of cultural specificity and cause of the standardization of architectural and cultural forms in general .

Bibliographies :

Research Office Regaya Kiwa and Ridha Rekik, The Architectural Specifics of Southern Tunisia,, Pub Coll, M. Equipment, 2004, …

Paola Raffa , Essai sur la typologie, Ksour della regione di Tataouine, 2007

Bureau d’Etudes URAM ,Les spécificités architecturales du Nord-Est tunisien,

min Equipement, 2010

KHARRAT.F, L’architecture tunisienne, une anthologie méditerranéenne, in

Atti de V Forum internationale le vie dei mercanti 3,4,5 Capri,Giunio 2007

KHARRAT.F, L’évolution du langage architectural à Tunis, in Atti del II forum Le citta del mediterraneo, Reggio Calabria 6,7,8 Giunio 2001

KHARRAT Fakher, Matmata ou l’architecture troglodytique verticale en Tunisie in

Contrspazio, 105, 2003

Djerba : les cahiers du cours de tunis

Bureau d’études URAM : Les spécificités architecturales du nord est tunisien, 2009


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