The Paradigm of the Space in the Tunisian Cultural Production between the 19th and 20th Centuries

in La rivista di Arablit, a. XII, n. 24, dicembre 2022, pp. 81-112.

Between the 19th-20th centuries, Aḥmad Bāy, Bayram al-Ḫāmis, Nāṣir Bāy and Muḥammad Ibn al-Ḫūǧah, were among the first to travel from Tunisia to Europe. From Tunis, a destination for centuries-old migration, the travellers cross Italy, a land of transition, and France, whose capital is unanimously considered the pinnacle of modern progress. Their constant search in Europe for ʿumrān, that is civilization and urbanisation, makes the conception and the perception of urban space the protagonist of monumental works that fall into the category of travel literature (riḥlah). The concept of ʿumrān is central in the Muqaddimah by Ibn aldūn, considered here forerunner of the Geocriticism. The 19th and the 20th centuries works analysed in this paper highlight the various modes by which the encounter with the space of the “Other” takes place.

1. Introduction

In 1949, Fernand Braudel described the Mediterranean as follows: «a thousand things together. It is not one landscape, but numerous landscapes. It is not one sea, but a complex of seas. It is not one civilization, but a number of civilizations, piled one above the other»1. The cultures of the Mediterranean area are so deeply connected that they cannot be said to be separate: in this perspective, the distances, the territory and the duration of the journey are reduced; the travel experience becomes ordinary. At the end of the 19th century, however, the route from the south to the north of the Mediterranean Sea represented an attempt to foray into a foreign world, an exercise to expand one’s knowledge. Consequently, the travel experience was perceived as an initiatory practice.
In The Arab Rediscovery of Europe Abu Lughod wrote: «Prior to the nineteenth century, Arab interest in the West was almost non-existent. As far as can be determined, between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries only one work appeared in Arabic which depicted the continent of Europe and, that book was rather general and vague»2.


1F. Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, vol. 4, translated by S. Reynolds, Harper & Row, New York 1972, cit., p. 43.

2I. Abu Lughod, The Arab Rediscovery of Europe, Princeton University Press, Princeton 1963, cit., p. 67.

This is an Article from La Rivista di Arablit - Anno XII, numero 24, dicembre 2022

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Maura Tarquini |