The Saharan oasis put to the test of its Landscape: The Jerid

Vincent Battesti 1, *
Abstract : The history and the structure themselves of oases recall us this obvious fact: the nature of gardens and palm groves is artificial; to be more precise, anthropic. Surrounded by the desert, oases are usually the combination of agricultural spaces and dwellings. Their existence itself is not necessary, but the quite common shape and structure of these ecosystems in Sahara are answers, to the severe desert pedoclimatic conditions, selected and implemented by generations of gardeners.

The result as it appears today can be seen and analyzed as an oasian landscape. These landscapes are shaped by history, local environment, and daily practices. Their primary purpose seems to be agricultural, but other kinds of practices contribute to their definition: gardens, even of a palm grove, are always more than a production of biomass: they produce social fabric, through everyday works, talks, evocations, or thoughts made around them. Oasian gardens are "spaces" qualified and so turned to "places", practiced, said, thought, with agricultural, aesthetic, social purposes... Therewith, do we circumnavigate the oasis landscape issue? Certainly, oasian landscapes are "built nature", but we maybe have to find out now by whom they were built... By "local practices", I do not restrain my analysis to the indigenous practices but I broaden it to the nowadays-effective actors of these spaces. If I illustrate my lecture with the case of Jerid in Tunisia, I have to convene in my analysis actors of tourism and actors of development. All, with local people, converge to define what is an oasis, what "it is for", how to read these spaces, and this polyphony is not without effect on the share of the resources: water, land, labor and even ideas of the relation to environment. If we focus on tourism, its impact is consequent on many daily local aspects, at first the use of the scarce water (to be used by hotels or to embellish the scenery), the labor (diverted from agriculture), but even on the definition of the oasis: a place to work or a place to stroll? The usual local definition of the garden manages a place for leisure and work unlike European tourists who underestimate the anthropic quality of a palm grove. An ethnoecology of the oasis landscape deals with the cross-actions of practices and narratives of various actors of this specific desert space.
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Submitted on : Monday, May 21, 2012 - 6:00:08 PM
Last modification on : Monday, July 22, 2019 - 6:23:36 PM
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Vincent Battesti. The Saharan oasis put to the test of its Landscape: The Jerid. Virginie Picon-Lefebvre, with Aziza Chaouni. Desert Tourism: Tracing the Fragile Edges of Development, Harvard University Press, pp.104-117, 2012, Aga Khan Program of the Graduate School of Design, 978-1-934510-18-6. ⟨hal-00569247v3⟩

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