This rare and attractive map of Tunisia was made by Heinrich Kiepert, the 19th Century’s foremost cartographer of the Arab World and Near and Middle East, the year that France took political control over Tunisia (which had hitherto been ruled by the Bey of Tunis). Curiously, while the map was issued under the label of Kiepert’s normal publisher, the esteemed firm of Dietrich Reimer, it was lithographed in a charmingly crude style by the local printer W. Greve.
The map embraces the pulated northern part of the what had become the French-controlled Regency of Tunis (the southern part consisted of sparsely populated Saharan lands inhabited by Bedouin nomads) and the adjacent areas of Algeria. All major topographical features are showcased, while all cities and towns of any import are labelled, with the line below the title explaining the symbols used to identify Roman Ruins; Tombs of Muslim Saints; Lettering to denote the Lands of Native Tribes; and Railways under Construction.
With reference to the railways, construction of the country’s network had commenced in 1877. By 1881, the completed lines had reached from Tunis well to the to east, over halfway to the Algerian border, while the full extent of the planned lines was to run from Algeria through Tunis down to the port of Sousse.
Tunis is one of the most archaeologically rich places on earth, home to Ancient Carthage, prosperous Roman towns and as well as great centres of Islamic learning and commerce. The present map features a vast wealth of archaeological information and is importantly is one of the first maps to depict the discoveries of the late German historian and epigraphist Gustav Wilmanns (1845 – 1878). In 1873-4, Wilmanns, on a commission from the Berlin Academy of Sciences, extensively explored Tunisia’s Roman ruins, recording important inscriptions that revived ancient knowledge that had lay dormant for over 1,500 years. Kiepert, who was well connected in Berlin, was one of the first to gain access to Willmanns’ Tunisian research. Sadly, Willmans died in 1878, although much of his work was published in 1881.
In the upper left of the map is a chart, ‘Explication des termes géographiques arabes et berbères’, that translates the Arabic and Berber geographic terms used on the map. Kiepert had a great respect for and skill with languages and employing native terms as much as possible was key feature of his maps.
A Note on Rarity
The present map is rare. While we can locate around 10 institutional examples, it seldom appears on the market; we cannot trace any sales records.
Interestingly, the present example of the map belonged to the late Herry W. Schaefer (1934 – 2016), a Swiss banker who was one of the most avid and tasteful collectors of maps, books, archives and ephemera of North Africa and the Near and Middle East (his name is signed and dated on the verso).
Tunisia: The Crossroads of the Maghreb and Europe
Tunisia had traditionally been an autonomous part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled by the Bey of Tunis. However, in 1881, France, which had controlled neighbouring Algeria since the 1830s-‘40s, invaded the country on contrived pretexts. France made Tunisia a protectorate, while keeping the Bey in power in a figurehead capacity. As the historian Kenneth J. Perkins remarked, the “French carefully kept the appearance of Tunisian sovereignty while reshaping the administrative structure to give France complete control of the country and render the beylical government a hollow shell devoid of meaningful powers”.
The French ensured that Tunisia became the most ‘Europeanized’ place in North Africa or the Arab world, introducing many French institutions, customs and conventions, many of which were adopted, at least in part, by the ‘metropolitan’ class of the country’s cities. As the map shows, massive French investment ensured that the country was soon traversed by railways and decent roads, while natural resource exploration and massive agrarian development transformed much of the landscape. France also encouraged European immigration, such that by 1910 Tunisia was home to around 40,000 French and 105,000 Italian settlers.
In the years that followed, France continued to develop Tunisia and considered it to be a prized possession. However, the fall of France and the Nazi occupation of Tunisia during World War II permanently weakened French standing in the country. In the post-war period saw the rise of a new generation of Tunisian nationalists, led by Habib Bourguiba (1903-2000), who gave the country a voice distinct from France, leading to Tunisia independence in 1956. That being said, Tunisia has generally since maintained good relations with France, and French cultural and economic influences remain strong in the country to the present day.
Heinrich Kiepert: Foremost Authority on the Geography the Arab World & the Near and Middle East
Heinrich Kiepert (1818 – 1899) was a German geographer and historian of unusual intellect and diversity of interests. Born in Berlin, he grew up in an affluent, culturally sophisticated family, mentored by leading academics and travelling widely. He studied history, geography and philology, with a focus on Greece and the Near East, at the Humboldt University of Berlin under the legendary co-founder of modern geography, Carl Ritter (1779 – 1759). He showed great talent as a cartographer and worked closely with many commercial mapmakers. His first major project was assisting Ritter in the production of his Atlas von Hellas und den hellenischen Kolonien (1840).
Between 1841 and 1848 Kiepert made four trips to Ottoman Europe and Asia Minor, and become a world-renowned expert on Turkey. This led him to produce his own cartographic works concerning the Ottoman Empire, including the Karte des osmanischen Reiches in Asien (1844); the Karte von Klein-Asien (1854); the Specialkarte vom Westlichen Kleinasien (1890-2) and his posthumously-published, monumental Karte von Kleinasien meist nach noch nicht oder in kleinstem Massstabe veroffentlichten Aufnahmen in 24 Blatt (1902-6).
Upon his return from the Near East, Kiepert became the head of the Geographisches Institut in Weimar and, in 1854, was appointed a full professor as the University of Berlin. He maintained a long association with the prominent Berlin map publisher Dietrich Reimer, who was responsible for issuing the present map. Kiepert was a remarkably adept editor of cartographic material, possessing an uncanny ability to select the best and most accurate information out of a variety of conflicting sources, resulting in maps of amazing authority and precision for their time.
Kiepert also produced excellent large-format maps of diverse parts of the world, including of the Russian Empire, Central America, as well as various parts of the Near East, Caucuses and the Mediterranean. Notably, the present map was one of Kiepert’s most highly regarded works. He also produced educational tomes, including, Lehrbuch der alten Geographie (1877); Leitfaden der alten Geographie (1879); and his enlarged atlas of the ancient world, Formae orbis antiqui (1894). Additionally, Kiepert produced many maps for the Baedeker travel guides.
Following his death, in 1899, Heinrich Kiepert’s cartographic work was ably continued by his son, Richard Kiepert (1846 – 1915), a professional geographer, who issued revised editions of his father’s maps.
References: Bayerische Staatsbibliotek: Mapp. XX,54 d; Bibliothèque nationale de France: [Cartes de la bibliothèque du Prince Roland Bonaparte], SGE SG Y F 20; OCLC: 494505875 / 495272719 / 49005185 / 63052292 / 214935191.
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