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Water supply in Roman Carthage

Water in Tunis at the time of Hafsides (XIII-XVI centuries)

According to historical sources, until the Hafsid period the water supply of the city of Tunis was ensured basically mainly through the wells (bir), up until the Hafsid period.

The rainwater harvesting tanks, placed in the basements of houses (majil) ensured sufficient water to cover the needs of a family. Still today many houses, Islamic schools (madrassas), mausoleums (zaouia), as well as the mosques and the hammams in the old medina of Tunis have retained their wells and tanks, as living relics of past centuries. 

Before the Hafsid period, the water had to be carried either from the many wells of the central medina or from another area rich in wells called Bir Abul Quifar. Typically, carrying water was a responsibility for the women, who regarded this daily habit as an opportunity to socialize and chat with each other. Many traditional songs talk about this “joie de vivre”.   

On the other hand, the crops grown outside the walls of Tunis would be irrigated from wells that were equipped with systems of waterwheels that used aeolian energy or animals to pumb up the water.  

Zaytuna Fountain: Arranged by the Caliph Al Hafsid Munstansir, on the eastern side of the Great Mosque Zaytuna receiving water from the Zaghouan aqueduct, this fountain served the central markets.

The inscription that can be seen in the dressing room of the hammam Al-Grana in Tunis illustrates the importance of the hammam for both religious and hygienic purposes. As stated by its founder the Qadi of Tunis between 978 and 988 AC, the hammam is of collective ownership (habus) for the benefit of the poor and needy. The inscription of the Dome of the Great Mosque of Zaytuna names also its two builders.