Khaireddine Palace, or as it is called nowadays, The Museum of Tunis-or The City Museum-, is a historical monument in the middle of the medina. After the departure of Khaireddine Pacha to Costantipole following the beginning of the French Mandate in Tunisia, the palace served as Tunisia’s high court( Tribunal-fr), hence the name of the main street facing the palace’s north side- Rue du Tribunal-. Currently, The City Museum regularly hosts exhibitions and is one of Tunisia’s largest art galleries. The idea of creating the Museum of the city of Tunis was proposed in the early 90s, and in 1994, the museum hosted a temporary exhibition, in its first-floor rooms, which has shown that the building is suitable as a “cultural heritage” building and can be an art gallery. Since 1999, the palace has been hosting exhibitions of Tunisian and international artists.
Palaces of the Medina of Tunis
The medina of Tunis was the capital of the city, a human settlement that has witnessed the relationship between architecture, urbanism, and the impact of the socio-cultural and economic shifts of past diverse civilizations. From the 12th to the 16th century, Tunis was considered one of the largest and richest cities in the Islamic world. Some 700 monuments, including palaces, temples, mausoleums, schools, and fountains. Over the years, it has maintained, without any major modification, its urban structure, and morphology, as well as its architectural features. The effect of modernization is relatively limited and the various renovation and/or reconstruction measures have not changed the inherent value of the medina’s functional and structural authenticity, even though the buildings remain vulnerable to incremental changes in materials and construction techniques.
The palaces of Tunis are considered historical landmarks in the Medina. The ministers, the wealthy, and the notable figures of the city were those who lived in these palaces. Some of the houses in the Medina, constructed in the past centuries, are now open to the public. Among locals, they are known as “Dyar” in Arabic. Formerly carefully overprotected by their wealthy owner, these exquisite mansions now house museums, associations, and public institutions under the management of the municipality of Tunis.
1999 | Announcing the consideration of the northern half of the palace was allocated to a Muslim school at Tribunal Square as the current Museum of Tunis.
1994 | The museum held its first art exhibition
1992 | The building was ranked as a Historic Monument by Decree of 19 October 1992.
1972 | The northern part of the wing started hosting regional planning services for the district of Tunis and eventually served as a kindergarten.
1961 | The buildings’ ownership was transferred to the municipality of Tunis. The northern part of the palace was abandoned for some time except for a wing that was used as official housing for the school director.
1960 | The schools were closed
1910-1920 | Demolishing the southern section of the palace (south end of Rue du Tribunal) and replacing it with an Arabian-style school under the name of The Israelite School-Ecole israélite mixte-. The other half of the palace that once served as a court of justice and is located in the north, on the Rue du Tribunal, was assigned to a Muslim school.
1905 | The house was divided and sold to two private owners after having served as a court.
1881 | Beginning of the french mandate | Departure of Khaireddine Pacha | Sale of the palace.
1860-1870 | Construction of the Palace
This school is on the southern part of the Khaireddine palace and extends to the neighboring territories belonging to the Jewish community since 1908. It was designed by Raymond Valensi, an engineer of the Arts and Manufactures and an architect, vice-president of the Municipality of Tunis (1883-1887) and founder of the Portuguese Jewish Community of Tunis. It served as an educational institution for the nearby Hara district’s Jewish community. After 1961 the school remained closed for many years and was approached by the municipality of Tunis to install an artists’ residence complementary to the museum, but it was squatted following the revolution of 2011 by about sixty families low-income rural immigrant families who found in its rooms -which were transformed into Oukelas(وكالة), which means residence- a favorable hospitable structure.
A common aspect that the entrance, corridors, and stairwells of the school have in common is the fact that the lower part of their walls-1.80 m height- are covered with Italian tiles-blue and white-, unlike the classrooms which have plain walls. The sides of some walls are noticeably damaged and some tiles were torn off and got randomly replaced. Due to the overcrowding of its inhabitants, many imported tiles have been damaged, especially those in the corridor. In addition, the tiles that are in direct contact with the floor or exposed to the weather are in very poor condition.
Map from Nouira Architecture website
The whole set of buildings covers a land area of 20 hectares. It includes a mid-nineteenth century palace, a school building in the Neo-Moorish style, and numerous outbuildings, such as the former public execution hall. The Palace also ha open grounds including a garden. Its garden has been used as a site for the first time during the INTERFERENCE 2018 edition. It hosted a performance by the Tunisian artistic collective GORBI.
Its façade, composed of symmetrical window bays with broad street openings to the street, and Italian interior decorations with gold moldings blend traditional space organization and European innovations. It is one of the first buildings to have a facade designed by an architect.
The school buildings have been considerably neglected over the years, but they didn’t need as much repair as other parts of the palace. The H-beams’ steel joints have been severely decayed and the walls have shown several cracks and damp swellings. Poorly designed partition walls separated the once wide rooms, and all the networks required a full redesign. The authentic character of the façades and the reception rooms was completely lost.
The restoration work has been conducted by ASM Tunis Association for Safeguarding Tunis Medina. Currently, the site consists of a contemporary arts center with a residential wing and a complementary exhibition space to house the extensive municipal art collections.
The palace has undergone many alterations and demolitions and all that remains of the original palace is the decoration of a living room with a cast-iron chimney and the modified part of the façade. The main exterior façade of the palace has lost all neo-classical character of the 19th century. Though the vault of the ground floor has been restored to its original state.
The ground floor and the 1st floor are now connected by marble stairs housing an exhibition room circuit between the two floors. Two large and high rooms are located on the first floor, most used for exhibitions and events.
2019 | “Who Am I?”: A Voices of Memory Exhibition
2019 | Dream City 2019 | Who is afraid of ideology Part I & II
2018 | GORBI INTERFERENCE Exhibition
2018 | The Plastic Garbage Project Exhibition
2018 | Dream City 2017 | Tafkik by Sonia Kallel . More on Tafkik
Khaireddine Pacha-(Kheireddine Pacha)-خير الدين باشا التونسي- was born in 1820 and died on 30 January 1890. He was an Ottoman-Tunisian politician, his career in politics lasted from 1857 until July 1877.
He was born in Abkhazia, a then de facto state recognized by most countries as a part of northwestern Georgia. A lot of people of Abkhaz origins then also lived in Turkey. After the death of his father, Khaireddine was sold into slavery and traded into a prestigious household, that of the notable Tahsin Bey, a Cypriot Ottoman.
He received an Islamic education and was later sold, at the age of 17 years old, to Ahmed Bey the monarch of Tunis at that period.