Tunisia: Menzel Bourguiba

Most cities around the Mediterranean will proudly trace their origins back millennia. Several of them were early colonies of the ancient Greeks, while others were founded by Romans. Carthage in Tunisia, for instance, was a settlement that evolved into a city-state and then into an empire. It was founded by the Phoenicians in the ninth century BC, flourished and was eventually reduced to rubble by the Romans in 146 BC, who later rebuilt the city.
But not every city can be proud of their ancient heritage. In the very north of Tunisia lies Menzel Bourguiba. It cannot trace its origins back to the remote past.

In 1897 Tunisia was a French protectorate. France, wanting to protect its 'African province', decided to build an arsenal on a strategic and secluded location between lakes Ichkeul and Bizerte. A town, needed for non-military personnel and their families, was built on a nearby site. It was named Ferryville to honour the French minister Jules Ferry (1832-1893), the 'inspiration' of the French protectorate of Tunisia. The French expats found the city so beautiful that they lovingly called it 'Petit Paris' ('Little Paris').

Tunisia finally achieved independence from France in 1956 and one can imagine that a city that bears the name of a French usurper was 'tainted'. For that obvious reason, its name was quickly changed to Menzel Bourguiba, which means 'House of Bourguiba'. It is named in honour of the first president of the independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba (1903-2000).
These days, the arsenal has become a ailing shipyard to repair merchant ships. It saw its zenith in the 1970s and 1980s, when Tunisia had a much larger merchant fleet and the (then) Soviet Union used the shipyard to drydock its ships. At that time, the yard employed over 1,300 people.

Now, Menzel Bourguiba is a somewhat sleepy town with more than 54,000 inhabitants. It is surrounded by olive trees and is hemmed in by the turquoise-coloured water of both lakes. Sometimes a city has a great future behind it.

No comments:

Post a Comment