International Colonial Exhibition of Paris 1931

May 6, 1931 - November 15, 1931

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Tunisia at the Exhibition Paris 1931

© Latapie

Architect(s) : Valensi

The manifestation of Tunisia at the Colonial Exhibition consisted of a sort of synthesis of indigenous life represented by a City composed of an official pavilion of Arab architecture, on which were grafted the souks or covered streets, a faithful reproduction of the souks of Tunis with their craftsmen and shopkeepers.

Around it, rise :

On one side, along the Avenue de l'Afrique du Nord, the Pavillon du Commerce et de l'Industrie, the pavilions of individual exhibitors, the various bazaars. All these Arab-style pavilions are linked by decorative walls, with exits leading to gardens with basins and fountains, benches for resting, etc...

On the other side, on the route du Bac, there is a mixed restaurant where, along with excellent French cuisine, indigenous dishes are served. Next to the restaurant, a pavilion contains Tunisian attractions, many of which are also located on the medians, terraces and small indigenous squares along the official pavilion.

Finally, at the end of the route du Bac and the avenue de l'Afrique du Nord, there is a large oriental bazaar with a refreshment bar at the back.

The entrance to the official pavilion is on the Place de l'Afrique du Nord. This pavilion has an exterior patio with colonnades and a central water feature with a large white marble basin. The façade is decorated with glazed and polychrome ceramic coverings and is topped by a huge moucharabieh that covers the entire first floor. This first floor houses the detachment of the indigenous Beylical Guard, made up of 32 men, two non-commissioned officers and an officer, who are responsible for the guard and the service of honour of the pavilion.

In the axis of the external courtyard, a monumental room is offered to the visitor's view where the whole Tunisian production is presented, first of all in the expressive and pictorial form of three grandiose dioramas, each of which has the purpose of representing the most characteristic episode of the exploitation of the different products exposed in this room.

The front diorama, rotating on itself by an ingenious mechanism, gives the image of the three stages of the cultivation of cereals, which is the most important of the crops of the Regency, at the beginning of the Protectorate, on the eve of the war, and in the aftermath of the war, when it benefited from a considerable effort through the development of economic tools and scientific cultivation procedures. This diorama is the work of the painter Georges François and is mechanically mounted by Mr Fontbonne.

Two other dioramas, one on the right of the room, the other on the left, representing the first, the fisheries and sponges, which constitute one of the most picturesque industries of the Regency; the second, the mining industry so important in the Protectorate, and which makes it, as far as phosphates are concerned, one of the largest producers in the world. These two dioramas are the work of a talented painter, M. Vergeaud, who has been living in Tunis for many years, where he appreciates the charm and colour. This useful lesson is completed by a set of decorations intended to help people understand the colonial effort and judge our influence in the Protectorate.

In the four corners of the room, large panels put up for competition, like the dioramas themselves, by French artists who were or had been in Tunisia, harmonise with the work of the architect M. Valensi. Three of these panels, measuring 7 metres by 5 metres, represent the exploitation of forests and esparto grass fields, the livestock farming that flourished in the Regency and the cultivation of vines: they are signed Jeanne Thil. In a fourth panel of the same size, the painter Félix Aublet shows us olive trees, orange trees and palm trees, with an equal concern for truth. Finally, an immense frieze 42 metres long and 1 m. 30 high, of a beautiful order. 30 high, of a beautiful order, develops all around the room.

These artistic decorations do not limit their efforts to providing a pleasure for the eyes: they illustrate at the same time a succinct and vigorous documentation marking in a few words and a few substantial figures the power of the results obtained by the development of Tunisia in its fifty years of French Protectorate.

The necessary complement to this documentation, i.e. the various products themselves, which are exhibited with diagrams and photographs, are housed in a series of low, well-aligned showcases, illuminated according to the most modern devices, without detracting from the general aesthetic and concentrating, rather than dispersing, the attention of visitors.

All around the patio and the large room of the Tunisian production, a series of rooms follow one another: the first is an honorary lounge of pure oriental style with its painted wooden ceiling, a real puzzle made of thousands of separate fragments, - its Arabic bed surmounted by a dome, in carved and gilded wood, - its khou, a kind of small adjoining boudoir, more intimate, surrounded by divans. The walls covered with carpets and antique fabrics, the knick-knacks and the rare furniture which will be exhibited there will not fail to attract the attention of connoisseurs.

The other rooms are each specially reserved for the various events that characterise the development of the country: its history first of all, its colonisation, which was so flourishing during the Protectorate, its elected bodies, the Tunisian army, whose picturesque costumes attract the eye of visitors, and the Municipalities, whose great urban planning effort is represented by plans and models of a happy effect. The large room of Oceanography with the results of the scientific campaigns and explorations which were made on the coasts of Tunisia and the Gulf of Gabes; that of the Posts and Telegraphs, where philatelists are fascinated; the room of Public Works with their mines, their phosphates, their ports, their fisheries, etc., the room of Public Instruction, where one sees represented in particular the work of the small Moslem girls (works, lace, carpets), and finally the room of Trade and Work. This last room gives access to the entrance patio, opposite the main hall where we entered at the beginning.

Leaving the Pavilion, we walk along the beautiful Avenue de l'Afrique du Nord to reach the entrance to the souks: the first of these souks is the souk of the "leather embroiderers". It is surmounted at the entrance on one side by a minaret, a faithful reproduction of the minaret of Sidi ben Zaid, one of the most graceful in Tunis, with a hexagonal shape which marks the Turkish rite specific to the beylical family; on the other side, by a marabout whose decoration and entrance door are authentic. Finally, on the extension of this souk, a diorama gives the illusion of ending up in the Rue des Andalous in Tunis, whose appearance is most picturesque. The second souk, which is grafted onto the first, near its diorama, gives the appearance of the Jewellers' Souk in Tunis. It leads, on the one hand, to a diorama which gives the perspective of one of the most curious squares of Tunis, the Bab Souika square with its Sidi Mahrez mosque with its numerous white domes, and on the other hand it crosses a small square with columns, known as the Souk el Barka, where the slave market was once held.

These two souks include 45 shops in which not only the specialists, jewellers or leather embroiderers of these two souks of Tunis work, but all the craftsmen of the various native corporations: weavers, potters, chisellers, embroiderers, confectioners, etc., who show to the public their fabrics and their laces, their ceramics, their furniture, their ewers, their beautiful carpets of Kairouan, where the State affixes its stamp of guarantee, etc...

On the other side, on the place El-Barka, a Moorish coffee is installed where one serves to the visitors indigenous drinks, Arab coffee, tea with mint, syrups of violets or roses, etc... This Moorish café gives access to an outside terrace which spreads its tables and benches over the square along the Avenue de l'Afrique du Nord.

The general aspect of the souks, in their complete reconstruction, goes so far as to give the columns and facades the tone and patina that characterise them, and the picturesque is achieved in the very irregularity of the lines and the apparent dilapidation of its small houses that are supported so as not to collapse. The public finds there the real image of oriental life with its swarming, the multiplicity of its small shops where fantasy and the brightness of colours are combined, where one finds even the lively note of the street noises which is given by the call of the caouadji, the rumour of the hammer of the chiselers pushing back the shining copper of the ewers and of the ornamental trays, to which come
to which are added the calls of the shopkeepers and the cries of the snake charmer. The heady scent of leather filigreed with gold and silver by a tireless embroiderer mingles with the peppery scent of exotic products and the penetrating perfume of concentrated geranium, rose and jasmine essences, dear to every Muslim who makes the greatest use of them.

Finally, to end the visit of this official part of the Exhibition of Tunisia, by passing through the jewellers' souk, one reaches a belvedere from where one discovers a panorama of Tunis, by the painter Joseph de la Nézière. This 32-metre long and 7-metre high canvas gives a striking image of the city as seen from the top of the Darel-Bey or Beylical palace of the capital, with its infinite number of white terraces dominated by elegant minarets that slope down towards the blue sea of the gulf at the bottom of which stands the Basilica of Carthage...

©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale Internationale - Paris 1931