The Rupestrian heritage of Jabal Nafusa: a study on settlements and architectural forms

Beniamino Polimeni
“Università degli Studi Mediterranea di Reggio Calabria”

The Jebel Nafusa is the central portion of a horseshoe of mountains about 3,000 feet high which extends from the Matmata region near Gabes in Tunisia to the coast not far from Misurata in Tripolitania. While the region of Garian is largely undulating plateau covered with olive trees, the Nafusa region to the west is now desiccated in great stretches although basically the ecology is similar to districts further east. Settlements are distributed on the dry, bordering valleys of the plateau, mainly on the eastern side where the Uadian are only seasonally rich in water but allow cultivation. The advantages of this configuration are twofold: on the one hand, the morphological characteristics of the Jabal Nafusa are a privileged spot from where to defend the territory against incursions from north and south and on the other hand, by maintaining a strong link with the Sahara desert, so facilitating transport and trade. The region possesses two unique types of construction, the cave dwelling and the communal granary, both of them arose from the adaptation to climatic conditions and in response to the collective needs of the communities. The former is known all over the district and was the common habitation of the Arab, Berber and Jewish communities. This article summarizes field research studies of subterranean Berber and Arab Settlements in this part Libya. The aim is to create an analytic sequence which starts from the territory and extends to architectural objects, so as to understand the relationships among the landscape, the history and the city formation.

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