The ksour of Tunisia are granaries (ksar singular) for the use of one or more tribes. They are mainly concentrated in the south-east of the country, in the area between Matmata and Tataouine, where there are about 150. These ksour are part of the cultural heritage of this region of Tunisia and bear witness to its historical evolution and sociological. They arouse great enthusiasm among tourists.
The ksour moved from the top of the mountain towards the plain according to the historical and economic necessities. The ksar is an attic made up of storage cells, called Ghorfas, for the use of one or more tribes. These tribes are first Berber, then Arab from the seventh century with the Arab-Muslim conquest, the south-east of Tunisia did not know any “true settlement […] neither by the Carthaginians nor by the Romans nor by the Byzantines “. After the Hilalian invasions in the eleventh century, the Berbers are driven back into the mountains when the Arabs occupy the plains. Therefore, the relationship between these two types of tribes hesitates “between confrontation, serfdom, and protection to achieve complementarity based on the trade of products of the mountain and the plain.”
The citadel ksour, or kalâa (fortress), clearly have a defensive purpose. It is difficult to access and identify them from afar because they are high perched on reliefs in which they merge because of their structure and color. The villages, troglodyte dwellings with their underground oil mills, are located downstream. The oldest inscriptions found on the walls of ghorfas date back to the time of the Hilalian invasions but nothing prevents us from thinking that their construction could be anterior.
The ksour of Douiret, Chenini, and Guermessa, located on impregnable sites and having the vast hinterland of the Dahar plateau, allowed the Berbers to maintain themselves while establishing relations of clientele and protection with the Arab tribes. Other ksour, like Ksar Hallouf, gradually Arabized, or those of Jebel Abiadh, which could be encircled by the Arab tribes settled in the plains or the valleys, became progressively simple granaries after the abandonment of the associated troglodyte villages.
The defensive nature of the mountain ksour remains but, located on more easily accessible sites, they dominate fertile depressions and plains and are essentially agricultural. They are not associated with villages and most often serve as places of storage for the Arab tribes who used before the ksour of their protected Berbers, like the example of Ksar Ouled Soltane.
Ksar of plain
The plain ksour is the most recent and corresponds to the will of the French protectorate and the Tunisian government to develop urban centers Ben Gardane, Medenine, Zarzis, and Tataouine in particular and more modern housing conditions. Freed from topographic constraints, they occupy a larger area (one hectare for Ksar Morra). Simple granaries, they do not exceed a floor and do not generally have doors but of a simple corridor of access. Some ksour plain, however, became real cities like Medenine of Zarzis.
The Ksar design
The ksar is usually provided with a single entrance, protected by a door, except in the case of plain ksour. A corridor, called Skifa, provides access to the courtyard. These places are used for social life: we can meet there, welcome visitors, and carry out commercial transactions. On the courtyard, of variable form, open Ghorfas, four maximum, arranged on the ground floor or in floors. Some ksour have a second court if they have experienced an extension, as is the case of Ksar Ouled Soltane who has 440 Ghorfas while the average is between 150 and 200.
The Ghorfas are superimposed cells, closed on the outside, presenting the appearance of a compact wall. Small pieces four to five meters deep and two meters high and wide, they serve to store for long periods, up to seven years of drought, food products: cereals in the lower part, possibly in compartments separated by low walls, olives, and cheeses hanging from olive wood bars located in the airy upper part by two opening holes in the outer and inner walls.
The different Ghorfas are joined but do not communicate unless they belong to the same owner, and no corridor can move horizontally between them, they are not always at the same level. It is accessed by a rudimentary staircase or by olive wood bars inserted into the wall. Sometimes a small, discreet space is set up between two Ghorfas to hide valuable possessions.