Planned destruction of Sufi architectural heritage in Tunisia

Press release, 11 March 2013

Recalling the resolutions adopted on religious heritage by the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th General Assemblies of ICOMOS regarding the protection and enhancement of sacred heritage sites, buildings and landscapes;

Following the previous statements on the planned destruction of sacred heritage sites in Libya and Mali;Mausole Sidi Bou Sad n

ICOMOS condemns the recent destructions of Sufi cultural heritage in Tunisia and continued threats to this heritage in several countries of the region.

Having always been esteemed and regarded with affection, Sufi architectural heritage in Tunisia is now threatened by planned acts of destruction which began shortly after the revolution of 17 December 2010 – 14 January 2011. Destruction has focused on the zaouias - mausoleums housing the tombs of patron saints - which serve as important places of pilgrimage for communities. These sacred places are being attacked by fanatical followers of a strict interpretation of Islam, which has always been foreign to Tunisia and its inhabitants, who have always lived in a spirit of great tolerance towards other religions and spiritual practices.

The Sufi heritage occupies a special place in the daily lives of Tunisian communities and represents an integral part of their identity and collective memory. Any damage to this heritage will harm the identity of a community and inflict irreparable loss to local spiritual and social values. The consequences can be disastrous both in terms of social cohesion and for the conservation of an important component of the immovable cultural heritage of the country.

The first attacks dating back to Spring 2011 affected monuments in small towns, such as the tombs of Sidi Bou Mendel in Hergla, of Sidi Abdelkader in Menzel Bouzalfa at the Cap-Bon, and of Sidi Bou Said El Béji in Sidi Bou Said near Carthage. Threats have now spread to the mausoleum of Saida Manoubia in the Manouba, near Tunis, and even to the mausoleum of Sidi Sahbi in Kairouan, which is at present under military protection.

The World learnt with deep concern of the destructions and damages inflicted on the Sufi heritage in other African countries, including Libya and the regions of northern Mali: Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal. Recent attacks on this type of heritage are now also reported from Syria.

ICOMOS therefore calls for a global and collective response including both:

  •         The cooperation of the responsible public authorities and the mobilization of local communities to implement concrete measures to protect the Sufi heritage; and, 
  •       Awareness raising among all stakeholders and the general public of the outstanding cultural value of this heritage and its unparalleled social and spiritual roles.

 Paris, 11.03.2013

 Download the full Statement in PDF




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