Tunisia/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Heritage is one of the pillars for economic growth and the promotion of national culture and has always been a fundamental element in cultural policies since independence. The delicate and the scientific nature of heritage issues had a significant influence on the management of culture and on its policy making approach. Historically, the heritage sector was a special environment dominated by a strong scientific community that controlled it for a long time, with a degree of independence from the Ministry of Culture. National Heritage Institute was founded in 1994 and had strong control over all matters related to heritage. Until the 1990s, the priority of conservation and protection of heritage was adopted at the expense of heritage exploitation and display. As a result, low attention was given to infrastructure and to the promotion of heritage for tourism stimulation. Within this policy, most of public allocations went to renovation, excavation, publication and scientific research.

That trend has changed as a result of the increase of tourism income in the country’s economy, especially after the emergence of the concept for cultural tourism, the development of new technologies and the increase in funding requirements as a result of an increase in the number of sites and artifacts that were discovered.

In 1988, the State has established the “National Agency for the promotion and exploitation of archaeological and historical heritage”, renamed in 2004 with “The Agency for the Development of National Heritage and Cultural Promotion”. This public institution had its independent legal personality and administrative status, and was under commercial law. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture, it was responsible for the preparation and the implementation of cultural heritage development and promotion policies.

In 1998, The Ministry of Culture funded the establishment of a geographic information system for mapping heritage sites and the creation of a digital database. In 2002, the Ministry of Culture in association with the Agency for the Development of National Heritage and Cultural Promotion started an extensive project, partly funded by the World Bank (19.2million Euros) with similar funding from culture sector, to promote six main sites and museums (Carthage, Bardo Museum, Museum of Sousse, Kairouan, Oudhna, and Djerba).

In addition, the historical scope has been widened to include new eras of interest, among them the contemporary era. Renovation efforts included the cultural heritage of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and modern era. Several historical monuments were transformed into cultural centers, museums, or administrative offices. For example the House of Al-Asram, dating back to the 18th century, was transformed into a Cinema Club and a place for exhibitions (Tahar Haddad Club).

The promotion of heritage amongst Tunisians is mainly carried out through educational programs school trips, exhibitions, theater plays, documentaries and talk shows. Promotional events increase during the celebration of Heritage month, from 18th April until 18th May every year. The celebrations consist of continuous events across the country and include the participation of regional and local authorities, and cultural and educational institutions. Currently, there is a rising interest in promoting intangible heritage for local development particularly through cultural tourism.

Chapter published: 05-05-2015