ITALIAN ARCHITECTS, DECORATORS AND CONTRACTORS IN FRENCH TUNISIA: CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY IN THE BUILDING PRODUCTION OF AN INTEGRATED COMMUNITY Ettore Sessa In 1936 the construction of such a sophisticated, even if simple, detached family house as Villa Zirah built by architect Giovanni Ruota, is one of the revealing signs of the space in the new town of Tunis around the mid - thirties by the group of planners and building entrepreneurs belonging to the big Italian community.Villa Zirah, completed the following year, is one of the few mentionable works by Ruota, and it can be distinguished in the high-class neighbourhood context of Avenue de Paris extension - today called avenue de la Liberté: this mainly happens because of the expressive contrast of the harmonious modulation of the façade both with the continuous window sill, marked by saw-toothed pseudo-astragal, and with semicircular eccentric avant-corps - by the first dynamically ornamented - surmounted by a pergola with ray-shaped transoms; the pergola theme has become a distinctive note of many kinds of works built by planners of Italian community. Ruota, who is also the builder of the nearby Villa Disegni, had completed the year before the construction of a considerable rental building also connoted by a Déco arbritation facies at 22, rue d’Algérie -Maison Tabone, surmounted by a pergola too. Villa Zirah stands for another important milestone in the building production of Italian people living in Tunisia towards the gaining of that “modernity”, so wished for in the fortnightly propagandistic review «Italiani di Tunisia».. This massive immigration was applied as a fly-wheel for an economic impulse and it could be put at the core of a half-century tradition; Italian people living in Tunisia, who were 6,000 during the period of Risorgimento, became 30,000 in the eighties of XIX century. Between 1884 and 1901 the French authorities - even as a reply to the Triple Alliance - removed all privileges that, in line with the progressive turning point impressed to the Regency by Khair-ed-Din Pasha and later by Muhammad Bayram, had contributed to the rising of a real Italian community consisting of several social classes with the development, particularly in Tunis, of a middle-class of professions, trading and entrepreneurial activities. Once abolished the consular jurisdiction, the French administration extended the programme of limitation to other fields, such as the public contracts from which Italian enterprises were ruled-out, with few exceptions like Giuseppe Rey from Piedmont and Sicilian Giuseppe Di Vittorio. The considerable presence of architects, engineers and decorators coming from Italy and living in Tunis in the space of time between the institution of the French Protectorate and the outbreak of World War II, can therefore be considered a complicated event. The Italian community, particularly in Tunis and, to a lesser extent in the rest of the country, was already substantial even before the creation of the French Protectorate. A first nucleus of people from Livorno, mainly of Jewish religion, was dedicated to trade and productive activities – that will later become solid firms, as the typographical factory Finzi and the furniture-making factory Coen; there were also professionals - among them two surgeons Giuseppe Passeri and Giacomo Castelnuovo stand out. A heavily populated community of fishermen, farmers, craftsmen and small shipowners had settled in Tunis from Sicily - two areas, one in Tunis and the other in La Goulette, were officially called Petite Sicile. At the end of XIX century, when the works of the Italian Community in the building sector were particularly appreciated – so much that the magazine “La voce del muratore” was published in Tunis, there was a generation of immigrants’ sons, so lively and esteemed - even by French authorities - that they would become a specific professional and entrepreneurial class. By the mid - thirties the Italian community in Tunis can claim a prominent role in the Protectorate economy and in the European physiognomy impressed on some of its important urban centres like Biserta and Tunis. Particularly in the latter the works of Italian builders, planners and decorators assume a considerable importance. They will mainly act in that orthogonal urban lay-out balanced by Combat Engineering - soon after the institution of the Protectorate - along the axis that from the door of France linked the Medina to the port, without the fortified surrounding wall. This axis would become the breezy two-lane Avenue Jules Ferry, separated by a two-row promenade – first renamed Avenue de la Marine and later avenue Habib Bourguiba, real essence of new Tunis. Although they filled a role in the public sector jobs - actually limited to an élite of excellent people from this community, they acted largely in the field of residential buildings. To that end their contribute to the pronunciation of an updated, if not originally “modern” physiognomy of Tunis architecture, surely less in the Art Nouveau period and more definitely in the Déco one, was relevant. Nonetheless, in spite of Italian etymons still significant in the late-eclectic period or in the first Liberty witty remarks – see the works by Benito Barsotti, Pietro Brignone and Salvatore Desiato - with the carrying on of the XX century, French ways adapted to a generic “Mediterranean” background will prevail. But the latter - sometimes with limited concessions regarding the formal instrumentation - will rarely digress into the very fashionable arabisances of that period regarding the colonial official architecture of the French Maghreb. Anyway, the presence of Italian people in Tunis will always be a “foreign” presence according to the opinion of the Protectorate authorities. This happens in spite of the consolidated relationships with people from Tunis and with the bey ruling class: acquiring their stylistic ways was perhaps considered inappropriate. Between the twenties and the thirties few, but significant works by Italian planners who are productive in Tunisia either occasionally or exceptionally bring a different cultural message that, also in the residential building sector - the case of Ugo Chiarini is significant - gives the “Mediterranean” style a precise ideological meaning and a peculiar didactic entail. These works can be grouped with several buildings by Italian interpreters of Art Nouveau French variants and of Déco style in the up-to-date building sector, both as regards those constructed by immigrants from Italy - like Remo Radicioni, Giuseppe Riccobono, Giuseppe Alfredo Sesta Catania, Guglielmo Vella - and those built by people grown up in place or in France - like Francesco and Salvatore Aghilone, Edmondo Boccara, Giuseppe Augusto Coppola, Vito Mario Giglio, Romeo Giudice, Raimondo Maida, Francesco Marcenaro, Giovanni Ruota, Vito Silvia. As regards Italian people in Tunis we can distinguish three seasons sometimes partially overlapping, in almost seventy years of activity in the fields of building and architectonic decoration.

Sessa, E. (2008). Italian architects, decorators and contractors in French Tunisia; continuity and discontiunity in the building production of an integrated community. In E. Godoli, B. Gravagnuolo, G. Gresleri, G. Ricci (a cura di), The Presence of Italian Architects in Mediterranean Countries (pp. 102-115). Firenze : Maschietto.

Italian architects, decorators and contractors in French Tunisia; continuity and discontiunity in the building production of an integrated community

SESSA, Ettore
2008-01-01

Abstract

ITALIAN ARCHITECTS, DECORATORS AND CONTRACTORS IN FRENCH TUNISIA: CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY IN THE BUILDING PRODUCTION OF AN INTEGRATED COMMUNITY Ettore Sessa In 1936 the construction of such a sophisticated, even if simple, detached family house as Villa Zirah built by architect Giovanni Ruota, is one of the revealing signs of the space in the new town of Tunis around the mid - thirties by the group of planners and building entrepreneurs belonging to the big Italian community.Villa Zirah, completed the following year, is one of the few mentionable works by Ruota, and it can be distinguished in the high-class neighbourhood context of Avenue de Paris extension - today called avenue de la Liberté: this mainly happens because of the expressive contrast of the harmonious modulation of the façade both with the continuous window sill, marked by saw-toothed pseudo-astragal, and with semicircular eccentric avant-corps - by the first dynamically ornamented - surmounted by a pergola with ray-shaped transoms; the pergola theme has become a distinctive note of many kinds of works built by planners of Italian community. Ruota, who is also the builder of the nearby Villa Disegni, had completed the year before the construction of a considerable rental building also connoted by a Déco arbritation facies at 22, rue d’Algérie -Maison Tabone, surmounted by a pergola too. Villa Zirah stands for another important milestone in the building production of Italian people living in Tunisia towards the gaining of that “modernity”, so wished for in the fortnightly propagandistic review «Italiani di Tunisia».. This massive immigration was applied as a fly-wheel for an economic impulse and it could be put at the core of a half-century tradition; Italian people living in Tunisia, who were 6,000 during the period of Risorgimento, became 30,000 in the eighties of XIX century. Between 1884 and 1901 the French authorities - even as a reply to the Triple Alliance - removed all privileges that, in line with the progressive turning point impressed to the Regency by Khair-ed-Din Pasha and later by Muhammad Bayram, had contributed to the rising of a real Italian community consisting of several social classes with the development, particularly in Tunis, of a middle-class of professions, trading and entrepreneurial activities. Once abolished the consular jurisdiction, the French administration extended the programme of limitation to other fields, such as the public contracts from which Italian enterprises were ruled-out, with few exceptions like Giuseppe Rey from Piedmont and Sicilian Giuseppe Di Vittorio. The considerable presence of architects, engineers and decorators coming from Italy and living in Tunis in the space of time between the institution of the French Protectorate and the outbreak of World War II, can therefore be considered a complicated event. The Italian community, particularly in Tunis and, to a lesser extent in the rest of the country, was already substantial even before the creation of the French Protectorate. A first nucleus of people from Livorno, mainly of Jewish religion, was dedicated to trade and productive activities – that will later become solid firms, as the typographical factory Finzi and the furniture-making factory Coen; there were also professionals - among them two surgeons Giuseppe Passeri and Giacomo Castelnuovo stand out. A heavily populated community of fishermen, farmers, craftsmen and small shipowners had settled in Tunis from Sicily - two areas, one in Tunis and the other in La Goulette, were officially called Petite Sicile. At the end of XIX century, when the works of the Italian Community in the building sector were particularly appreciated – so much that the magazine “La voce del muratore” was published in Tunis, there was a generation of immigrants’ sons, so lively and esteemed - even by French authorities - that they would become a specific professional and entrepreneurial class. By the mid - thirties the Italian community in Tunis can claim a prominent role in the Protectorate economy and in the European physiognomy impressed on some of its important urban centres like Biserta and Tunis. Particularly in the latter the works of Italian builders, planners and decorators assume a considerable importance. They will mainly act in that orthogonal urban lay-out balanced by Combat Engineering - soon after the institution of the Protectorate - along the axis that from the door of France linked the Medina to the port, without the fortified surrounding wall. This axis would become the breezy two-lane Avenue Jules Ferry, separated by a two-row promenade – first renamed Avenue de la Marine and later avenue Habib Bourguiba, real essence of new Tunis. Although they filled a role in the public sector jobs - actually limited to an élite of excellent people from this community, they acted largely in the field of residential buildings. To that end their contribute to the pronunciation of an updated, if not originally “modern” physiognomy of Tunis architecture, surely less in the Art Nouveau period and more definitely in the Déco one, was relevant. Nonetheless, in spite of Italian etymons still significant in the late-eclectic period or in the first Liberty witty remarks – see the works by Benito Barsotti, Pietro Brignone and Salvatore Desiato - with the carrying on of the XX century, French ways adapted to a generic “Mediterranean” background will prevail. But the latter - sometimes with limited concessions regarding the formal instrumentation - will rarely digress into the very fashionable arabisances of that period regarding the colonial official architecture of the French Maghreb. Anyway, the presence of Italian people in Tunis will always be a “foreign” presence according to the opinion of the Protectorate authorities. This happens in spite of the consolidated relationships with people from Tunis and with the bey ruling class: acquiring their stylistic ways was perhaps considered inappropriate. Between the twenties and the thirties few, but significant works by Italian planners who are productive in Tunisia either occasionally or exceptionally bring a different cultural message that, also in the residential building sector - the case of Ugo Chiarini is significant - gives the “Mediterranean” style a precise ideological meaning and a peculiar didactic entail. These works can be grouped with several buildings by Italian interpreters of Art Nouveau French variants and of Déco style in the up-to-date building sector, both as regards those constructed by immigrants from Italy - like Remo Radicioni, Giuseppe Riccobono, Giuseppe Alfredo Sesta Catania, Guglielmo Vella - and those built by people grown up in place or in France - like Francesco and Salvatore Aghilone, Edmondo Boccara, Giuseppe Augusto Coppola, Vito Mario Giglio, Romeo Giudice, Raimondo Maida, Francesco Marcenaro, Giovanni Ruota, Vito Silvia. As regards Italian people in Tunis we can distinguish three seasons sometimes partially overlapping, in almost seventy years of activity in the fields of building and architectonic decoration.
Settore ICAR/18 - Storia Dell'Architettura
Sessa, E. (2008). Italian architects, decorators and contractors in French Tunisia; continuity and discontiunity in the building production of an integrated community. In E. Godoli, B. Gravagnuolo, G. Gresleri, G. Ricci (a cura di), The Presence of Italian Architects in Mediterranean Countries (pp. 102-115). Firenze : Maschietto.
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