Medina quarter

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Mule moving goods through the car-free medina in Fez, Morocco

A medina (from Arabic: مدينة, romanizedmadīnah, lit.'city') is a historical district in a number of North African cities, often corresponding to an old walled city. The term comes from the Arabic word simply meaning "city" or "town".[1][2]

Historical background[edit]

Prior to the rise and intrusion of European colonial rule in North Africa, the region was home to many major cities which had long been centres of culture, commerce, and political power over many centuries.

In Algeria, the French conquest that began in 1830 and brought the country under colonial control resulted in significant destruction of the urban fabric of its historic cities. Colonial rule also led to the dismantling of many traditional urban institutions, the disruption of local culture, and even a certain level of depopulation over time.[3] Fewer cities have preserved their pre-colonial urban fabric in Algeria by comparison with neighbouring countries, but significant remains have been preserved in historic cities such as Algiers, Tlemcen, Nedroma, and Constantine, as well as in many Saharan towns.[4]: 100 [3] In Algiers, most of the historic lower town was demolished and remodeled along European lines after the French conquest. The only part of the old city that remained relatively untouched was the upper town, which contained the citadel (qasaba) and the former residence of the rulers, and thus became known as the "Casbah" of Algiers.[5][6]: 237 

The fate of traditional walled cities in Tunisia and Morocco, which also came under French colonial rule over the next hundred years, was quite different.[3]: 69  The French conquest of Tunisia took place in 1881 and resulted in the establishment of a French "Protectorate", while nominally retaining the existing Tunisian monarchy. In Tunisia the French generally built new planned cities (the Villes Nouvelles) outside the established historic cities.[7] These new planned towns were almost exclusively inhabited by European colonists while the indigenous population predominantly resided in the old districts, resulting in a certain level of racial segregation during the colonial period.[7] Some French assimilationist policies, as witnessed in Algeria, were also implemented in Tunisia.[7] In Tunis, the old city was preserved but it was physically linked with the European town, making it easier to police, while its traditional economic and administrative systems were marginalized, rendering it dependent on the European districts.[7] The most important preserved historic towns or medinas today include those of Tunis, Kairouan, Mahdia, Sfax, and Sousse.[8]

In Morocco, the Treaty of Fes established another French Protectorate over that country in 1912. The first French resident general in Morocco, Hubert Lyautey, appointed Henri Prost to oversee the urban development of cities under his control.[9][10] One important colonial policy with long-term consequences was the decision to largely forego development of existing historic cities and to deliberately preserve them as sites of historic heritage, the "medinas". The French administration again built new planned cities outside the old walled cities, where European settlers largely resided with modern Western-style amenities. This was part of a larger "policy of association" adopted by Lyautey which favoured various forms of indirect colonial rule by preserving local institutions and elites, in contrast with other French colonial policies favouring assimilation.[11][12] The desire to preserve historic cities was also consistent with one of the trends in European ideas about urban planning at the time which argued for the preservation of historic cities in Europe – ideas which Lyautey himself favored.[13] Scholar Janet Abu-Lughod has argued that French urban policies and regulations created a kind of urban "apartheid" between the indigenous Moroccan urban areas – which were forced to remain stagnant in terms of urban development – and the new planned cities which were mainly inhabited by Europeans and expanded to occupy rural lands outside the city which were formerly used by Moroccans.[14][15][11] This separation was partly softened by wealthy Moroccans who started moving into the Villes Nouvelles during the colonial period.[10]

List of medinas[edit]



Medina in Tripoli, Libya


View of the medina (old city) of Fez
Medina in Tangier, Morocco


View of the medina of Sousse, Tunisia
Souk El Khodhra in Sfax, Tunisia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Petersen, Andrew (1996). "medina". Dictionary of Islamic Architecture. Routledge. p. 182. ISBN 9781134613663. Literally 'city'. This term is often used in North Africa to describe the older part of the city.
  2. ^ "medina, n.". OED Online. Oxford University Press. September 2022. Retrieved 7 April 2024. The old walled part of a North African town. Hence formerly (in colonial times): the non-European section of a North African town (now historical).
  3. ^ a b c Sari, Djilali (2013). "The Role of the Medinas in the Reconstruction of Algerian Culture and Identity". In Slyomovics, Susan (ed.). The Walled Arab City in Literature, Architecture and History: The Living Medina in the Maghrib. Routledge. pp. 69–80. ISBN 978-1-135-28126-7.
  4. ^ Troin, Jean-François (2017). "Urbanization and Development: The Role of the Medina in the Maghreb". In Amirahmadi, Hooshang; El-Shakhs, Salah S. (eds.). Urban Development in the Muslim World. Routledge. pp. 94–108. ISBN 978-1-351-31818-1.
  5. ^ Hoexter, Miriam; Shuval, Tal. "Algiers". In Fleet, Kate; Krämer, Gudrun; Matringe, Denis; Nawas, John; Rowson, Everett (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three. Brill. ISSN 1873-9830.
  6. ^ Bloom, Jonathan M. (2020). Architecture of the Islamic West: North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula, 700–1800. Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300218701.
  7. ^ a b c d Njoh, Ambe J. (2015). French Urbanism in Foreign Lands. Springer. pp. 144–146. ISBN 978-3-319-25298-8.
  8. ^ M. Bloom, Jonathan; S. Blair, Sheila, eds. (2009). "Tunisia, Republic of". The Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195309911.
  9. ^ Garret, Pascal (2002). "La fabrique publique de l'espace public confrontée aux intérêts privés. Lyautey, Prost et les "bâtisseurs" de Casablanca". Géocarrefour. 77 (3): 245–254. doi:10.3406/geoca.2002.2749.
  10. ^ a b Aouchar, Amina (2005). Fès, Meknès. Flammarion. pp. 192–194.
  11. ^ a b Wagner, Lauren; Minca, Claudio (2014). "Rabat retrospective: Colonial heritage in a Moroccan urban laboratory". Urban Studies. 51 (14): 3011–3025. doi:10.1177/0042098014524611. S2CID 145686603.
  12. ^ Holden, Stacy E. (2008). "The Legacy of French Colonialism: Preservation in Morocco's Fez Medina". APT Bulletin: The Journal of Preservation Technology. 39 (4): 5–11.
  13. ^ Aouchar, Amina (2005). Fès, Meknès. Flammarion. pp. 192–194.
  14. ^ Abu-Lughod, Janet (1980). Rabat: Urban Apartheid in Morocco. Princeton University Press.
  15. ^ Abu-Lughod, Janet (1875). "Moroccan Cities: Apartheid and the Serendipity of Conservation". In Abu-Lughod, Ibrahim (ed.). African Themes: Northwestern University Studies in Honor of Gwendolen M. Carter. Northwestern University Press. pp. 77–111.
  16. ^ Lew, Josh (29 April 2021). "10 Beautiful Cities to Explore by Foot". Treehugger. Retrieved 2022-12-06.
  17. ^ "VISIT THE MEDINA OF TOZEUR". Globe Secret. Archived from the original on 2023-02-07. Retrieved 2021-01-05.

External links[edit]