Chenini, Douiret and Guermessa, these names have one thing in common: they are those of the Berber villages of southern Tunisia. Like all Berber places, they are perched on top of rocky hills.
Douiret is a small Berber village located in southern Tunisia, about twenty kilometers from Tataouine.
It is divided into two parts: the old village, consisting of troglodyte dwellings dug in the hills, and the new village located on a hillside. The former village is made up of small dwellings, called Ghiren (plural of Ghar meaning cave), which bear the family name of their owner. Ksar has “allowed the Berbers to maintain themselves while establishing customer and protection relationships with the Arab tribes arrived in the eleventh century with Hilalian invasions.
Douiret originally sheltered a rural mountain society. The people who built this type of fortified village (ksour) in the area are called Jbaliya (mountain people). The inhabitants of the new village are now Arabic speakers, speaking Tunisian with regional peculiarities of this region of the south, and Berber speakers (Chelha).
Chenini is a small troglodyte village (18 km east of Tataouine) located on the top of a ridge and seems to have taken good care, thus nestling in height and blending with the landscape (the stones of its walls were carved into the rock itself), to protect themselves from the invaders.
St. Augustine believes that Kenini, whose name derives from Kanaan, is the origin of the word Chenini. However, in the Berber language of Tataouine, the verb ‘chenna‘ means ‘to mix’.
It is overlooked by a ksar citadel, or kalâa, perched on a hillock at about 500 meters above sea level. It is a place of storage of food reserves and valuable goods that also served as a refuge in case of attack. Like the ksour of Douiret or Guermessa, he “allowed the Berbers […] to maintain themselves while establishing relations of clientele and protection with the Arab tribes”.” When the risk of invasion or plunder [became] less important and with the sedentarisation of the Berbers, the village began to develop on the flanks of the hillock and down” until the creation of the new village of Chenini around 1960. His white minaret served as a landmark for the caravaneers.
A place of tourism on the ksour circuit of Tunisia, Chenini is also the name of one of the moons of Luke Skywalker’s planet in Star Wars, many scenes of which are shot in the region.
A Berber mountain village, located about twenty kilometers from Tataouine, It is famous for a traditional craft called Margoum (embroidery), but women and girls of recent generations have not taken the torch because of the changing lifestyles and the monopoly of industrial manufacturers.
Guermessa is part of the ksour of Tunisia. It also includes troglodyte dwellings.
Fondatin and developement
The full development of these architectural ensembles was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Note that the troglodyte excavations are understood as evolutions of the cave which was chosen as a place favorable to the defense. It is perhaps to this strength of character, to this permanent resistance to assimilation that we must attribute the firmness and discretion of the village in its site and its composition as well as the inhabitants in their tenacity and sobriety.
The ksar marries the relatively wide part of a steep peak. He directs his entrance to the isthmus which connects him to the other part of the piton; there is the mosque. The hard layers, exposed by erosion, the composition of the isthmus, invited to think that this “place” could serve as a place of prayer.
A date found in a cell, inscribed in relief, indicates that the construction dates back to the year 1193 (590 AH). It would have been a century before the Hilalian invasion.
Troglodyte excavations unfold on some level lines of the creek. The severity of the slope forced the roads to these lines to narrowness and justified the retaining walls for the retention of the earth during runoff.