Tunis has been the country’s capital since the 13th century and is currently home to 638,850 inhabitants. The city stands in an exceptional location at the heart of the Mediterranean and at the crossroads between the major trans-Saharan trade routes, and has established itself as a trade hub and a natural point of exchange with Europe. As a centre of cultural outreach, it is also one of the greatest seats of learning in the Arab world. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, the Medina of Tunis is a living testimony to 18th century urban planning and a major hub for craft creation. Around forty souks form a network of little covered alleyways lined with traders’ and artisans’ stores that are grouped by type of craftwork.
The Salon de l'Artisanat [Crafts Fair] in Kram, which is organised each year by the National Handicrafts Office (ONAT), is the most visited exhibition at national level. This major event brings together artisans from all regions of the country and hosted 140,000 visitors in 2017. The Medina Festival, launched in 1982, is also a flagship event that invites a broad public to rediscover through cultural evenings the history of the Medina, and its architectural, musical and craft heritage.
Since 2000, the Municipality and the Association de sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis - ASM [Association for the Protection of the Tunis Medina] have been committed to an ambitious programme to reclaim slum housing and renovate and restore historic buildings. Between 2008 and 2016, as an ongoing part of this programme, the two institutions have carried out two successive urban rehabilitation operations that sought to revitalise the traditional urban landscape and showcase the façades of several neighbourhoods within the Medina, including the Andalous neighbourhood. Run in close collaboration with residents and artisans, these participatory projects have provided food for thought on how to approach the restoration of old buildings and have helped to promote craft professions, whilst fostering the dissemination of know-how.
As a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art, Tunis envisages:
- restoring buildings within the city’s ancient fabric to host craft and folk art associations and a Mediterranean Centre for Applied Arts;
- mapping the spaces in which craftworks are sold and produced and conducting an inventory of the crafts and master craftsmen and women of the city in order to make the sector a central feature of the Tunis Development Plan;
- organising thematic craft days in the Medina to promote craft professions that are in decline and promote the sharing of new techniques and the perpetuate traditional know-how;
- building up international cooperation and exchange of expertise with other Creative Cities through the development of joint projects; and
- drawing upon the experience of other Creative Cities to guide the carrying out of reforms in professional training for traditional crafts