Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Case study: Carthage in Tunisia

The key historical milestones that led to the protection and the promotion of Carthage as one of the main archaeological sites in Tunisia.
Hello, everybody. Today we’ll talk about Carthage, the ancient capital of a trading empire which dominated a large part of the Mediterranean during the first millennium before Christ, and we will look into what happens to archaeological sites when modern cities close to them develop. The archaeological site of Carthage in fact, as you can see, is located in the northern periphery of Tunis the capital of Tunisia. The UNESCO recognised the archaeological site of Carthage World Heritage site in 1979. Since its foundations by the Phoenicians in 860 Before Christ, Carthage was successfully invaded destroyed and rebuilt by various civilizations– the Romans, the Vandals, the Byzantines.
After the Arab Conquest in 698, it was abandoned to the benefits of Tunis where a new urban centre was established. After centuries of decay and pillages, Christian missionaries who set foot in Tunisia in the 19th century wished to use Carthage as the stepping point to the rechristianisation of Africa. During the French Protectorate, several archaeological missions were conducted to exhume Punic, Roman and Paleochristian ruins. In 1890, a new cathedral was inaugurated at the peak of Byrsa Hill overlooking the whole site. And Carthage underwent a rapid process of urbanisation, especially after the construction of the TGM, the train linking the centre of Tunis to the northern suburbs of La Marsa.
Residential developments to accommodate the newcomers caused irreversible harms to the antique ruins. After independence in 1956 and the construction of the presidential palace, the movement of urbanisation proceeded. A civil society organisation, the Association for the Safeguarding of the Medina, mobilised to obtain support from UNESCO to preserve the archaeological heritage of Carthage. After preliminary missions in the 1960s, in 1972, the then director of UNESCO launched a call to save Carthage. The 12 archaeological missions that were conducted until 1995 revealed new monuments and restrictions were introduced in the local urban planning regulations, as well as the national regulation in 1983 and 1985 to prevent new constructions. The consequences of these measures were considered ambivalent.
On one hand, they partially succeeded in stopping the development of new constructions on the site. On the other hand, these measures were deemed only restrictive. The various proposals aiming at enhancing the site, such as the Protection and Presentation Plan in 1995 and the World Bank Project in 2003 were not implemented. In addition, five presidential decrees further reduced the area of the site. In 1999, an area was removed from the protected area for the construction of the El Abidin Mosque on Odeon Hill. And in 2007 and 2008, four acres of land were allocated to the construction of high end residential compounds. These projects were stopped in 2011 after the Tunisian revolution.
Half a century after the launching of the UNESCO campaign, Carthage has yet to be saved.

Watch this video to understand the key historical milestones that led to the protection and the promotion of Carthage as one of the main archaeological sites in Tunisia.

The case of Carthage reflects the complexity of the urban governance of cultural heritage.

  1. Different scales of governance are intertwined. At the local scale, the municipality is a key actor, despite the few powers that municipalities have in the centralised Tunisian administrative system. Key strategic decisions are taken at the national scale, involving not only the ministry of culture, but also ministries of planning, transport, or tourism. The presidency also gets directly involved because of the presence of the Presidential Palace. Regarding the management of the site, responsibilities are shared among two national entities: the National Institute of Heritage, in charge of the archaeological works, and the Agency for Enhancement, Promotion of Cultural Heritage, in charge of the operation and the promotion of the site. On an international scale, UNESCO was central in defining a strategy for the site through numerous reports and missions. It still advocates strongly for actions to preserve and enhance the site.

  2. Private actors have been increasingly involved since the 1980s. This followed the limitations of the restrictive approach defined by the 1985 decree, which defined no-construction zones and led to the permanent vacancy of numerous lots. In the following two decades, the private sector became increasingly involved in the site. Two public-private partnerships were created. One operates the Acropolium, the former Cathedral located on top of Byrsa Hill. The firm that manages this building operates a different ticket policy from the rest of the site. Under the second, a private operator recently established a complex named the Phoenix of Carthage. The initial goal planned for this location was to set up an information point for the whole site. But the company in charge of the project eventually developed a venue for entertainment and weddings that does not benefit visitors of the site. A last example of intervention of the private sector is the selling of parcels of the site to a real-estate developer for high-standing villas. This example shows the risks that privatization can represent for the integrity of a cultural heritage site.

  3. The civil society also plays a major role in Carthage. The UNESCO campaign was launched thanks to the mobilization of the Association for the Safeguarding of the Medina in the 1960s. After the Tunisian revolution in 2011, the civil society mobilized to denounce the sale of parcels of the site to the relatives of the former president. Nearly 20 articles were published in the Tunisian press in the early 2011 to make the public aware of the situation in Carthage and more than 4000 people signed the petition entitled the “Call for the defence of the cultural site of Carthage Sidi Bou Saïd”. Two new non-profit organizations, the “Friends of Carthage” and the “Dwellers of Carthage”, were created to put forward their vision on the future of the site.

This article is from the free online

Cultural Heritage and the City

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now