Restructuring la Petite Sicile (“Little Sicily”) Town Quarter of la
Goulette in Tunisia
over 20 years Tunisia has been following an urban rehabilitation policy
for rundown or poorly integrated town areas. Thus, different programs
of a national scale have been studied, giving rise to different urban
development projects. The state’s intervention mainly focused on
unplanned residential neighborhoods, as they were under-equipped from
Some old town quarters are of particular historic
interest but are in a state of significant dilapidation. The Arab-Muslim
historic districts are known as medinas, but European-heritage
areas also exist. It is the state’s aim to better strengthen social
cohesion within the various historic neighborhoods and at the same time
improve the citizens’ standard of living. This is the broader background
for renovating la Goulette’s Sicilian town quarter, commonly known as la
Petite Sicile (“Little Sicily”).
1886 explorer Victor Guerin—who had traveled through the region six
years prior—related: “‘La Goulette’ or ‘Halq el oued’ is like a maritime
suburb of Tunis from which it is separated by a lake known as el Bahirah
in Arabic. This shallow lake communicates with a beautiful gulf through
a probably man-made canal from the time of the Phoenician occupation and
which had been repaired at different times. The point at which the canal
meets the sea was given the name of ‘foum el oued’ by the Arabs, the
mouth of the canal, literally of the river because of the current
flowing there, or, even more commonly, Halk el Oued (the canal’s
throat), a term which the Italians translated as la Goletta and the
French as la Goulette.”
forts et canal de la Goulette
Engraved map by Nicolas Bellin.
21.5 x 17.2 cm.
Engraved by Croisy.
Published in the
Petit atlas maritime recueil de cartes et plans des quatre
parties du monde, volume 3.
Paris, 1764. From the collection at the Centre d'Études
Maghrébines à Tunis , CRM 2
About 10 kilometers from the city of Tunis, la Goulette is a port town
with about 78,000 inhabitants. In antiquity it was considered a suburb
of Carthage, but by the 15th century, only the “borj” remained—known as
“Karraka”—and it was successively enlarged and reconstructed by
Khaireddine—known as Barbarossa, admiral of Soliman’s fleet. Khaireddine
was beaten in 1536 by Charles V who succeeded him and who established
Spanish dominion over the region for about 40 years until the arrival of
the Turks. It was not until the 19th century that inhabitants felt it
necessary to develop a port. The favorable position of la Goulette’s
port explains the rapid development of the neighboring agglomeration.
town would become a point of convergence of road and railway networks
through the present time, as new road systems are still being developed;
the Rades-la Goulette axis, for example, will link the northern suburb
of Tunis with its southern suburb with a 260 meter cable-stayed
bridge—the first of its kind in Tunisia.
“PETITE SICILE” TOWN QUARTER
According to R. Darmon, “it is in the VIIIth century that
a new port was started with the building of a canal connecting
Tunis—already an important urban center—to the sea. Much later, in the
18th century, under the reign of Hamouda Pacha, the old ‘harbor’ of la
Goulette was dug and the quays and first warehouses of the Bey’s
maritime arsenal were built.” With the protectorate in 1881, navigation
companies advised building port installations in la Goulette. This is
how the town quarter of la Petite Sicile came into being. It developed
at the beginning of the last century, as reflected in the plan below:
is thus a relatively recent town quarter initially populated by
fishermen mostly of Sardo-Genoese origin. La Petite Sicile is the
original core of the European town of the la Goulette community. The 10
meter-long canal divided the town into two sections. To the north stood
the fortress and a collection of houses; to the south, the Sidi Chrif
Zaouia, the Beylical palace, the former seraglio, and the arsenal, whose
great door was to be restored and which still bears the coat of arms of
the Husseinite dynasty. The canal has today been filled in order to make
way for an access road linking Tunis with la Goulette starting from the
lake. In the early 20th century, however, spacious houses with
balconies and decorative moldings stood near the canal and bore witness
to the presence of new art in Tunisia. The church in the area is richly
decorated with frescoes and paintings in the Italian style. According
again to V. Guerin, la Goulette’s population in 1886 was mainly Italian,
hence the architectural flavor of la Petite Sicile.
Today the town quarter covers a surface area of 8.7 hectares. There is
very little left of the original buildings, and those still left need a
great deal of rehabilitation.
Petite Sicile town quarter of la Goulette, with its 8.7 hectares surface
area, has 3.7 hectares reserved for public areas (roads and public
squares) and 1 hectare for public and religious buildings (mosque,
church, primary school, professional college, etc.). The town quarter is
characterized by decaying buildings and congested corridors. It will
thus require intervention from the public authorities, including the la
Goulette Municipality and the Ministry of Housing and Land Development,
known as MEHAT. The Agency for Renovation and Urban Rehabilitation,
known as ARRU, was set up in 1981 under the authority of the Ministry of
Housing and Land Development. ARRU is well equipped to do its job in
view of 1) its experience with interventions in the urban environment
and 2) its position as a public authority within the limits of
designated land intervention areas.
Position of the town quarter
Different appraisal missions undertaken by ARRU and MEHAT took place
between 1986 and 1988. The aim of intervention is to:
assess the situation in terms of the state of the buildings and
their form of occupation, with the goal of finding solutions for
rehousing in line with the financial capacity of the households
living in buildings threatened with collapse;
improve the town quarter’s image through good architectural and
start restructuring the town quarter and overhauling all the road
develop vacant land with due respect to the existing architecture;
propose a well-balanced financial schema for the project.
town quarter’s decline stems from population flight. The creation of the
port of Tunis drew away part of the administration and the population to
the capital city, but above all, the road project, which led to the
canal being filled up, drove away the fishermen and reduced economic
activity for the area. The continued population loss to more recent city
extensions and to the suburbs will lead to extensive social change,
which may alter the broader character of the quarter.
According to the 1988 survey, 65% of the population of la Petite Sicile
is familial households of modest income due to the precarious employment
of the heads of households and low incomes. Thus 86% are tenants paying
very low rents or de facto occupiers. The average family size is five
persons. The 1988 survey made it clear that almost half of the
households had two rooms, with an occupancy rate of up to five persons
per room. The kitchens and bathrooms, when they do exist, suffer from
poor sanitary conditions.
State of the buildings before intervention
urban layout of la Petite Sicile is dense, with almost 80 housing units
per hectare. The area has been partially renovated with the construction
of new HLM buildings, which are social housing. A number of private
interventions have also accentuated the changes taking place in the
the survey started, a high proportion of the buildings were already
demolished. Many were in such an advanced state of decay that over 50%
were inevitably scheduled for demolition. Some buildings had been
abandoned by their original owners and were divided up so as to provide
more rental housing units. Most of the plots of land in the area are
registered to Tunisian owners, but 30% of the plots belong to
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TOWNQUARTER
area’s restructuring is based on a detailed master plan to reorganize
the area while respecting the prevailing architectural and urban
character. A traffic circulation and parking plan had also been drawn
up, as well as an area impact study.
idea of the canal was retained, so as to partially regain its former
image, which made the town quarter so original, and so as not to prevent
its reopening someday, should it become feasible and desirable to do
so. If one day this turns out to be the case, it would be
possible—according to the survey—to envisage a marina in place of the
roads have been widened to improve circulation; others are to cater to
the needs inside the area, for example, Avenue de la Resistance).
Finally, to respect the remaining fortification still extant in the
area, new buildings will be constructed at a distance from the remains
of the ancient wall.
Simultaneous with preparing the intervention, an identification survey
of building conditions and the general architectural interest of the
area established the priority households to be re-housed. Different
solutions were envisaged. In view of the 1989 downpours, ARRU built, as
an emergency measure, 54 housing units on the community’s outskirts to
provisionally shelter the households of la Petite Sicile who were living
in accommodations threatened with collapse. This was a temporary
situation while waiting for the households to be finally re-housed.
Other solutions were also envisaged, such as relocating displaced
tenants to buildings in a better state of repair or offering
compensation so displaced tenants could rent elsewhere until the
completion of the project.
Apart from re-housing renters and de facto occupiers (86% of tenants),
the project also made provisions for compensating the owners of
buildings for land acquisition and for lost business.
the basis of the appraisal, decaying buildings and those likely to
collapse were demolished. Out of the 207 buildings in the intervention
area, 143 buildings were scheduled for demolition and of those, 138 were
Rehabilitation of Housing Units
project has planned the rehabilitation of buildings whose state has been
deemed to be recoverable. These savable buildings cover a surface area
of approximately 7450 m2, supplying a floor area of 13,700 m2.
Technical surveys were carried out in order to find appropriate
solutions for the different buildings.
RESTRUCTURING THE TOWNQUARTER
project has scheduled development and overhaul of the different public
service networks, including thoroughfares, waste water treatment,
drainage, drinking water, low voltage electricity, public lighting, and
telecommunications. All the infrastructure works have been completed.
Some plots have been provided with services within the scope of the
operation, and they have been put up for sale.
has started a pilot construction operation with due regard to the
architectural specifications and features linked to the Italian history
of the area.
Project Provisional Costs
- acquisitions and provisions for land
- compensation for re-housing
- business compensation
- re-housing costs
Costs of development work
- demolition of building
- infrastructure work
- rehabilitation of building
Costs of Surveys
The total does not include the cost of the final re-housing operation
undertaken outside the perimeter of la Petite Sicile, which would raise
the total cost to over 11 million TND (i.e. 6.6 million Euros).
initial financing scheme included a contribution from the state budget
to finance the primary infrastructures. Municipal self-financing and a
loan from the Fund for Loans and Support for Local Collectivities,
together with a subsidy, will serve to finance the secondary
infrastructure works. Rehabilitation costs are to be partly financed
by the profit gained from the sale of developed vacant plots of land;
the rest is at the expense of the citizens themselves. Land acquisition
and development costs are to be taken over by ARRU.
plan, however, has not been completely followed, as ARRU had to take
over all the project costs except for the state’s participation in
providing primary infrastructures. As for the construction of temporary
relocation housing, a special credit line from USAID was reserved to
grant credits for 1) the acquisition of small plots of land with
services and 2) the construction of 27-square-meter expanding cores of
build up area on the very same plots of land.
project is expected to cover all expenses pertaining to provisional
re-housing operations. It is additionally to cover all financial
charges generated by the construction of housing for final re-housing
purposes. An “equalization” formula was applied to the sale of land to
the neediest households, who paid only 19 TND/m2 instead of
36 TND/m2. Another type of equalization formula will be
applied to cheap plots of land at only 45 TND/m2 instead of
the 70 TND/m2 applied to the wider public.
Rehabilitation expenses will be recovered from the sale of plots of
land. They thus will constitute a partial contribution of the
renovation project to the area’s improvement. Expenses pertaining to
land recovery and the area’s development will also be recoverable from
the sale of developed plots of land.
Project State of Progress
tenure auditing (that is, acquisitions and compensation) is underway.
Completion is estimated at 50%. Re-housing operations, on the other
hand, have concluded.
infrastructure works have been completed and demolition work is nearing
completion (97% done). Rehabilitation of buildings has not yet been
started, but renovation work—reconstruction of on-site buildings—is
underway. Approximately 60% of the developed plots of land are in the
process of reconstruction.
Assessment of the Situation
operation is underway and it is already possible to pick out some strong
- Relocated citizens benefit from improved
sanitation and habitability, compared with their pre-project situations.
Thanks to the project, these households will have access to ownership in
- Physically opening the area lends security
to the households that stayed behind, and it will encourage an inflow of
new populations, leading to a social mix and improving the area’s
- The area’s increased land values have
encouraged private promoters to undertake renovation operations. The
project will certainly be completed when new activities emerge in line
with the area’s needs, activities that had hitherto only been
difficulties, nevertheless, still need to be pointed out. Re-housing
options in the area have been exhausted, for example. The land recovery
process has been slow due to legal procedures.
restructuring of la Petite Sicile is a project to renovate the old urban
layout. By creating better housing conditions, the project has
considerably improved the standard of living for the population that
still lives there and for future inhabitants. Ultimately, increased
integration into the town will make it possible to create a more
favorable economic environment for internal private investment dynamics.
Slaheddine Malouch is President Director General, Agence de
Rehabiliation et de Renovation Urbaine, Ariana, Tunisia.
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