Back - List of Pavilions

Tunisia - Expo Paris 1900

Tunisia at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1900

This time, Tunisia achieved all the success of the picturesque that the famous Rue du Caire had had in 1889, and this picturesqueness was in good taste, without those somewhat violent disparities that the too wild cavalcades, the cries and the often too naturalistic gestures of the donkeys threw into the famous street. In addition, the Tunisian exhibition in 1900 fulfilled the other aim which should be the aim of any exhibition of a distant possession: by a judicious selection of local products artistically presented, it introduced us in the most favourable light to a region which our protectorate has brought to an almost unhoped-for degree of prosperity.

It is to the patient and courageous efforts of our resident general, Mr. René Millet, who skilfully directed the beylical administration, that we owe this flourishing state of a land in which, in 1889, there was still so much to do. The exhibition at that time only showed us ideas, an embryo of progress. Our
protectorate was orienting itself, it was measuring, it was guessing at the vast field that lay before it; but it had still only planted milestones, and rather on paper than on the ground itself. There was talk above all of great public works, of ports, roads, lighthouses, which were lacking and whose importance was recognised; plans indicated them to us; but who could ensure that they would be carried out? That depended on the intelligence, the activity and the energetic will of the French Resident General to whom all these questions belong. Fortunately for our protectorate, M. Millet proved to be the right man to accomplish such a task; he carried it out with a certainty of vision, a breadth of ideas and a science of administration which transformed Tunisia. Today this French protectorate, which in 1889 had only a public works programme, has four well-equipped ports: Tunis, Sousse, Sfax and Bizerte, the latter of which has become a first-rate place of war, where French squadrons would find a safe haven.

On the other hand, the lighting of the coasts is well under way; lighthouses have been built, notably at Bas-Tina and Bas-Tugëness, in the island of Djerba; they give security to the shore, to commercial ships whose number is becoming more and more numerous.

In the interior, Tunisia has 2000 kilometres of road in perfect condition, the immense ribbon of which only gets longer every year. The network of Tunisian railways has developed in an astonishing way, extending as far as Gafsa. Finally, agricultural hydraulic works have been undertaken almost everywhere and ensure that the country's soil is increasingly fertile.

These are, in broad outline, the fruits of M. Millet's constant solicitude; this is the work he leaves behind. He was rewarded by a considerable influx of French settlers and capital; a good number of Parisians do not hesitate now, not only to visit Tunisia as tourists, whose beauty amazes them, but also to settle as industrialists, as farmers in properties that they buy and often manage themselves. Foreigners, especially Italians, imitate this beneficial exodus and the number of immigrants of Italian nationality is constantly increasing. They ask nothing better than to bend to our customs, and even in the long run to adopt our language and to mingle intimately with our colonial families. In order to help them, we must prepare a whole series of administrative measures to facilitate their stay; we must create French schools everywhere, where the children of the natives and those of the immigrants will sit. M. Millet has very wisely recognised this need and has laid the foundations of a vast administrative, judicial and educational organisation which is likely to completely change the country before long, to unify it and make it a truly French land.

This transformation of Tunisia could be fully perceived when one visited, as millions of people have done, the official part of the Tunisian palaces, located at the Trocadero. These, for there were several of them, occupied, on the Passy side, the lower part of the gardens between the two parallel lines of the Boulevard Delessert and the Quai. A street separated them from Algeria.

At the corner of this street, opposite the outlet near the Pont d'Iéna, the skilful architect, M. Saladin, one of the men most familiar with Oriental art, had built the door and minaret of the Mosque of the Barbier, of Kairouan. This was the entrance to the Tunisian section, curated by Dr. Loir.

The Africanists were delighted to find, opposite the door of the Barbier, another mosque, this one for the use of the natives. Its minaret was a reconstruction of that of the mosque of Sidi-Makhlouf, in Kef. Further on, at the entrance to the Avenue Delessert, a third minaret appeared, that of the great mosque of Sfax. On this line, the visitor could find a copy of the mosque of Sidi-Mahrès, in Tunis. It contained the exhibition of the public services of the Regency: trade, industry, finance, agriculture, etc. Other pavilions were reserved for public works, transport and archaeology. The wall of the section was a copy of the surrounding walls of Kai-rouan and Gafsa. The entrance to the Tunisian restaurant was copied from a porch at Sidibou-Saïd. The conference pavilion reproduced the one at Manouba, a real jewel.

Such was the architectural framework in which the collections summarising the state of prosperity of Tunisia that we have outlined above were assembled. We have only briefly described the progress of the major public works. Certain other services were worth detailing, those relating to the exploitation of the land, for example, which were of great concern to the eminent Resident General.

The maps presented by the Directorate of Agriculture and Trade of the Regency showed the development of agricultural holdings in the northern region, in the Medjerdah valley and in the vicinity of Tunis. Most of these farms have the most sophisticated equipment and are subject to rational cultivation.
Most of these farms have the most sophisticated equipment and are subject to a rational culture which, in many respects, is not inferior to that of the large farms in the metropolis.

The plans of a large number of these estates (Rir-Kassa, Rou-Arada, Chaouat, Crétéville, M'Rira, Saint-Cyprien, etc.) could be consulted at the Tunisian section and were sufficient to give an idea of the average distribution of the various crops in the north of the Regency.

Cereals, vines and olives are the main crops in Tunisia. In 1899, the area sown to cereals was 370,000 hectares for wheat and 405,000 hectares for barley. Durum wheat is the most widely cultivated; its grain is sought after for the manufacture of semolina and pasta. Their average yield is 8 to 12 quintals per hectare for Europeans. French ploughs are beginning to be used by the natives, who are encouraged to do so by tax relief.

Although it dates back only about twenty years, the cultivation of the vine has taken on a capital importance in the north of the Regency. The vineyard area has doubled in the last ten years and is currently more than 8,000 hectares, producing around 220,000 hectolitres. To this day, the vineyard has remained free of phylloxera and black rot.

Sixty-three exhibitors represented Tunisian viticulture at the World Fair. Tunisian wines are, in fact, increasingly sought after. The vinification, which is the object of very particular care, is made at many Tunisian winegrowers with a wine-producing material provided with the most recent improvements. The production of liqueur wines and brandies has developed greatly in recent years.

The cultivation of the olive tree extends over more than 200,000 hectares, and the production of oil reached 45 million litres during the 1898-1899 campaign, which was particularly good. The main centres of this culture are Bizerte, Tunis, Zaghouan, Sousse and Sfax. In the vicinity of the latter city, the cultivation of the olive tree is tending more and more to become exclusive.

Oranges, lemons, almonds, dates, figs, apricots, medlars, pomegranates, bananas, guavas, etc., are the object of an important trade; market gardening has developed rapidly in the vicinity of the towns.

Cattle constitute one of the principal riches of Tunisia; they are improving rapidly among the colonists, as their means of existence are transformed and as the progress in cultivation increases the fodder resources available to them. In short, the land is being developed in every way.

Trade has also followed an astonishing upward trend: during the first five years preceding the protectorate treaty (Treaty of Bardo), the total trade of the Regency reached 27 million francs annually (the highest figure) and today it is 100 million francs (1899)! Since 1890, exports from Tunisia to France have reached from 5 to 30 million and imports from France to Tunisia have risen to more than 27 million, instead of 16.

As for industry, it is progressing in the same way: there are, alongside the ancient Tunisian "hand-made" industry, mechanical factories of all kinds, distilleries, oil mills, mining operations, phosphate operations, etc.

To this economic development corresponds an excellent financial situation.

Tunisian public expenditure, which cannot be increased during the course of a financial year outside the budget estimates, has always been rigorously maintained below the revenue estimates. Also, all the budgets since 1889 have been settled by surpluses, the total of which represents more than 33 million francs to date, in spite of a budget of various expenses amounting to 70 million.

This management, by giving an excellent reputation to Tunisia, has developed its credit and has provided it on two different occasions with the opportunity to lighten the burden of its debt: a first conversion, in 1889, substituted a 3.5% amortizable debt for the former 4% perpetual debt; a second conversion, in 1892, reduced the interest rate to 3%. Not only did these two operations take place without any increase in charges for Tunisia, but they also brought the Tunisian Treasury 16 million in profits.

The Tunisian budgetary nomenclature was reformed from 1900 onwards: it no longer differs from that in use in metropolitan France. The budget of the Regency has been published since the same date with the same developments as the French budget. From now on, it will be regulated in the same way. This capital reform makes it possible to follow, with the greatest ease, the financial operations of the administration of the protectorate.

All the credit for this flourishing state goes, as we have said, to the Resident General. We must also point out that Mr. Millet's preoccupations were directed towards other subjects in which his spirit as a fine scholar and artist was to delight. He was particularly interested in Tunisian archaeology, which had a very important place in the Trocadero palaces. The mission of the Antiquities Department, headed by Mr. Gauckler, is to study this country from a practical and scientific point of view.

How has the directorate fulfilled this task over the last ten years? This is what the Exhibition was intended to highlight, by summarising in broad strokes the results acquired in the field in which it operates.

The Directorate had undertaken a methodical inventory of the historical monuments of Tunisia from the most remote antiquity to the present day and presented, with superb albums, the relief models of some particularly important buildings: the Capitol, the temple of Coelestis, the theatre of Dougga, the Roman villa of Oudna, the Byzantine basilica of Carthage, and various types of funerary monuments constituting a complete history of the African tomb.

The study of the apparent ruins on the surface of the ground is complemented by the search for the as yet unknown archaeological riches of the subsoil. The excavations undertaken in recent years have led to some remarkable finds at little cost, a selection of which was exhibited at the Trocadero: the portrait of Virgil, the mosaics
of Virgil, the mosaics of Oudna and Medena, the agrarian laws of Henchir-Mettich and Ain-Ouassel, the cursus honorum of Salvius Julianus, the statues of Carthage, the masks, gold jewellery and precious amulets of Dido's contemporaries.

All these new acquisitions enriched the State's collections: the central museum of the Bardo, without rival today for its series of mosaics, the museum of the White Fathers in Carthage, the museum of Sousse inaugurated in 1899, the hall of honour of the 4th Tirailleurs. These collections were represented at the Exhibition, in particular by a curious series summarising in one hundred issues the complete history of the clay lamp, by photographs and by printed catalogues, accompanied by figures and plates.

The archaeological work undertaken in Tunisia is thus distinguished by its positive results and its practical character: practical also is the mission that the protectorate gave itself to restore the indigenous art industries that seemed to be condemned forever by European competition, in particular earthenware, pottery, carpets, damascene, goldsmith's and silversmith's work, carved wood and elaborate stucco.

The Antiquities Department has set up a series of ancient models in the Arab Museum of the Bardo, which serve to reform the taste of indigenous artists, bastardized by Italian influence, and bring them back to purely Arab traditions. She photographed the typical specimens that she could not acquire. She saved the dying art of noukch-hadida, or iron-cut stucco, by taking in the last of the nakach masters still living in Tunis and having him train apprentices. The noukch-hadida workshop at the Bardo, founded only three years ago, is today in full prosperity, as witnessed by the central pavilion of the Tunisian section, the dome of the Souk mosque, and the elaborate panels that adorn the various rooms.

The work undertaken is not fanciful and can be accomplished at little cost; but it was necessary to demonstrate that it offers a real interest for the economic future of Tunisia and that the workers capable of executing these works of art will find a clientele to buy them. This was demonstrated by the retrospective exhibition of Arab art, where so much wealth was accumulated.

It remains for us to note, as the living memory of this exhibition, the very original part called the Souk or Tunisian bazaar which delighted the visitors and to which, while leaving it all its character, one had known how to preserve, better than to the already named Cairo Street, an aspect of orientalism of good taste. It was the cheerful corner of the Trocadero, with its merchants of jewellery, pottery, carpets, copper, carved wood, antique and modern trinkets, at all prices, with its sellers of sweets, nougat, rose water, enticing the public, joyfully appealing to them without making them angry, with its coffee, its native pastries, with, in a courtyard, the tent of the carpet weavers where a little "Parisian from Tunis" was born in August. We spent many delightful hours there, learning, strolling, enjoying ourselves, learning to love a region that the skill of the head of its French administration has brought back to life.

©Paul Gers - 1900