The Ghorfas of Medenine
The Ghorfas of Medenine refer to a group of Berber nomads in the southern Tunisia, particularly in the city of Medenine. They are known for their traditional way of life, including their nomadic habits and intricate crafts. The Ghorfas are an important part of the cultural heritage of Tunisia and have made significant contributions to the country’s rich and diverse cultural identity.
The Ghorfas were a wealthy and powerful family in the town of Medenine, Tunisia during the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were known for their mansions, lavish lifestyle, and their role as leaders of the local community. The Ghorfas were considered to be one of the most influential families in the region and held a great deal of political and economic power. Today, the mansions of the Ghorfas are considered to be some of the finest examples of traditional Tunisian architecture and are popular tourist attractions.
The ghorfa are the basic element of the ksars found in the Maghreb. A ghorfa is a kind of attic used to store food: cereals in the lower part, olives and cheeses in the upper part. Ventilation is ensured by two holes in the exterior and interior walls, creating a current of air. Their rounded silhouettes and small openings give the impression of a stack of tunnels that have been painted in the colors of the desert. Each ksar can have from one to six floors with hundreds of ghorfas (on average 200).
Médenine brings together a modern city and a fortified village, better known as a ksar, made up of granaries, or ghorfas, pretty old squares and colorful and lively markets. Far from the big resorts and the hordes of tourists, we plunge here into the heart of a more authentic Tunisia, with a different architecture, inhabitants less accustomed to foreigners and buildings in the colors of the desert.
The ghorfas of Medenine give an original aspect to the ksour. These strange vaulted buildings built on top of each other generally rise five to six stories high and give the city an undeniable charm. Nicely restored from the time when they could serve as dwellings for the inhabitants, they resemble a succession of tunnels with their small openings and their rounded shapes, all in the colors of the desert.
Unless they belong to the same community, two neighboring ghorfas do not communicate. In pre-colonial times, Medenine was the most important trading center in the south, attracting merchants from all over North Africa and even from Bornu, south of the Sahara. The Ksar housed the ghorfas of the various nomadic Berber tribes of the region. But nowadays part of these ghorfas are now used as dwelling.
Be sure to lose yourself in the narrow streets of the fortified village, stroll through the fragrant and colorful markets of the new town and completely immerse yourself in the timeless atmosphere of the region. Almost everywhere you will have the opportunity to admire scenes of daily life, far from the tourist routes.