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Tunisia - Expo Paris 1889

Tunisia at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889
Architect(s) : Henri Saladin

Immediately after Algeria, and on the same side of the central avenue of the Esplanade, the picturesque buildings of the Tunisian Section were built.

The Tunis Committee, delegated by the Beylical government to organise the participation of the Regency in the Universal Exhibition of 1889, put the Tunisian Pavilion project out to competition in 1887. The project which was ranked first, and which was executed verbatim, is due to one of our young architects, Mr. Henri Saladin. Several trips to Tunisia and two missions from the Ministry of Public Instruction enabled him to gather numerous documents on Arab art in Tunisia; thus the Tunisian section presents us, under its different aspects, with numerous specimens of this very particular art.

The main façade and the side façades are composed of elements taken from the Bardo, the Souk-el-Bey, the Dar-el-Bey and the Zaouïra of Sidi-ben-Arouz in Tunis, while the rear façade, of a more animated character and a more archaic style, presents only borrowings from Kerouan: In the centre, the door of the Salla-Réjour of the Okba mosque, surmounted by the ribbed dome that is so particularly Tunisian; on the right, the loggia of the Bab-Djelladine door of the same city; on the left, the entire façade of a Kerouan house with its corbelled veranda, with its door with rough nails and wrought iron hammers.

This rear facade forms the main motif of a planted courtyard which is bounded, on the left, by the souk, or vaulted bazaar, with its colourful columns and multicoloured shops; on the right, an isolated pavilion, an exact copy of the picturesque houses of the oases of the Tunisian Djerid, which border the rugged shores of the southern chotts with a series of small green towns. The back of this courtyard is occupied by a series of various shops, and a Tunisian restaurant which opens onto a concert café of a very particular character, and in which Tunisian dancers in their elegantly strange costume give the spectacle of their bizarre dances performed to the sound of this Arab music of such penetrating regularity.

Between the Algerian Palace and the Tunisian Section a pavilion covered with palm trunks is intended to receive the products of the forests of the Regency. It rises above a massive substruction which is none other than a cellar intended to receive the wines that the French colonists of Tunisia are exhibiting for the first time in France. The future of the colonisation of the Regency lies to a great extent in the extension of the cultivation of the vine; the committee of the Tunisian Section is therefore counting on the interest of this part of its Exhibition.

The palace itself is essentially composed of three large divisions which extend around an open courtyard to which access is gained through a large vestibule with a ceiling richly decorated with interlacing and arabesques.
The first of these divisions, the right-hand gallery, contains the exhibition of agricultural and viticultural products.

The second, the left-hand gallery, includes the public, private industry, furniture and port services.

The third, in the back room, is for the Fine Arts, Archaeology and the services of the Directorate of Public Education.

The Djerid pavilion was also intended for one part of the Exhibition: the Arab industry applied to furniture and clothing, synthesised in a way by the reproduction of an Arab interior animated by mannequins dressed in the rich costumes of Tunisians of both sexes.

The souk, or bazaar, contains in its twenty-six shops specimens of all the branches of industry in Tunis. Here, the manufacturer of chechias. Further on, the embroiderers, in gold or silver, the jeweller, the perfumer, the barber, the painter on pottery, the damascene maker, the carpenter, the coffee maker, the confectioner, the turner, the painter, the goldsmith, the weaver, the sculptor of arabesques, the writer, etc... They are all here in their natural setting, under these bright white vaults, supported by columns coloured in red and green, colours dear to all good Muslims.

The aspect of this bazaar is really marvellous when the burning sun which shines outside penetrates there only by the rare openings of the top of the vaults, when all the merchants and craftsmen, squatted in their shops, dressed in their costumes with so tender tones, surrounded by their picturesque goods, attract the shoppers with the help of a few words of French that they were able to learn in Tunis, and when finally, at the end of this picturesque street, the bazaars of Barbouchi and Bouan, known to all those who have visited Tunis, present to the amazed buyer the carpets : of Kerouan, hauswema and fraichiches, the silks of Tunis, the haïcks and burnous of Djerid, the frechias of Gafsa, the blankets of Djerba, the thousand embroidered trifles of gold and silver that the Arab craftsmen excel in working so delicately.

The attraction exerted by this picturesque spectacle is only the least part of the exhibition of the Regency. The resources presented by this admirable country, and to which all the classes of the Exhibition bear witness, must strike keenly all intelligences concerned with the prosperity of the country and the putting into action of its living forces. The public works show us the progress made since the establishment of the French protectorate, the roads re-established, the bridges built, the water supply re-established or increased by major works in Tunis, La Goulette, Kerouan, Sfax, the creation of the port of Tunis, the re-establishment of lighthouses on these coasts with their frequent surprises, the reorganisation and enlargement of the towns, the development given to the maritime industries, etc.

The forests are not the least of the Regency's riches. Those of the north are in full prosperity and will be in full report in five or six years. The cork oaks, pines of all kinds, oaks, eucalyptus, etc. will give excellent products. The diversity of species is clearly visible in this pavilion, which is so well stocked thanks to the enlightened zeal of the director of the Regency forests.

At the other end of the country, the date palm, with its two hundred and fifty varieties, appears to us as a product of inestimable utility. Work on forest roads, guard posts and reforestation is already numerous and actively pursued; with the reforestation of the mountain ranges, a greater regularity in the water regime will be re-established, and with it a greater wealth for the country.

In all hot countries, it is enough to water the sand to make it fertile; what will it be like when, as in the Regency, one addresses an excessively rich soil which has been resting since the time when the Muslim hordes, under the leadership of Okba-ben-Hafi, swept the Berber and Roman inhabitants from the whole country and left behind them only ruined towns and solitudes which, today, only the nomads roam?

Agriculture and viticulture promise to give back a hundredfold the capital that has been devoted to them. Many exhibitors show the interesting results they have already obtained after a few years of cultivation. What would it be like if colonisation decided to go to our African colonies, in preference to South America, which is so far away from us?

Archaeology is there to prove to us what development of prosperity this country is susceptible of, and it is not only by the vestiges of the splendour of Carthage, of Utique and Hadrumète, that this development is proved, by the marvellous ruins of Dougga, of Sbeïtla, of Haïdra of El Djem, whose photographs or reproductions decorate this gallery, but especially by the still numerous traces of the so ingenious works carried out by the Romans and their predecessors to collect water everywhere and use it in irrigations covering almost the whole country.

The traces of these hydraulic works found in a large part of the Regency by Messrs Henri Saladin and R. Cagnat and the detailed study of the hydraulic system of the Enfida by M. de la Blanchère, director of the Antiquities and Arts Service of the Regency, prove this abundantly. As for the development of which the intelligence of young Tunisians of all races and religions is capable, one has only to examine attentively the exhibition of the Direction de l'Enseignement, which the head of this service has organised in detail, in order to realise, by what has been done in four or five years, all that will be done when the generation which is now being formed will be in the grip of active life.

This exhibition, which certainly does the greatest honour to the Regency, is largely due to the initiative of our resident general, M. Massicault, who has made it his favourite work. The Tunis committee, presided over by H. E. Mohammed Djellouli, Minister of the Pen, and M. Regnault, French Consul in Tunis, has been constantly organising the exhibition down to the smallest detail, and it would be necessary to name each member of the committee individually if we were to do justice to all those who have cooperated in the brilliance of the Tunisian Section. They have been greatly assisted by the activity and the great practical experience of the Tunisian Government Commissioner General, Mr. Ch. Sanson, who has given all his time to the organisation and administration of the Tunisian Section. Let us add that this ensemble is very well framed, that the architect Mr. H. Saladin has made excellent use of the elements from which he drew his inspiration, and that he has been able to present the first exhibition of our recent protectorate in an unusual way.

© Guide Bleu du Figaro et du Petit Journal 1889