To sleep at Dar Ben Gacem is to spend a night in a bygone era. Located deep in the warren of alleyways and vendors that make up Tunis’ labyrinthian medina, this newly renovated artsy boutique hotel offers a tasteful glimpse of Ottoman period architecture and art.
Originally built as a hotel by wealthy merchants in the 17th century and occupied for 300 years by a family who sold perfume, the building eventually fell into disrepair.
Leila Ben Gacem and her family eventually bought the building and spent three years working with local heritage specialists, the Association de Sauvegarde de la Médina de Tunis, and architect Zoubeir Mouhli to restore the building to its original incarnation.
It was important to them that they preserve the historic detailing that contributes so richly to the medina’s unique architectural legacy, while still providing a modern setting that would appeal to tourists.
“I love staying in a place where you really feel its spirit and heritage,” Gacem told Brownbook Magazine.
“I really want to bring out what Tunisian artists have made, and whoever stays there, I want them to really feel the medina. And that’s the fascinating thing. You’re living in this little micro-palace and there’s a whole medina around you. You’re right there near the kasbah and souk.”
Seven rooms are organized over two levels and around a central courtyard that is so typical of homes in the region – a feature that contributes to what Mouhli describes as “domestic introversion.” Each is adorned with colored wall tiles, carved plaster panels, and painted wooden ceilings.
The owners have made an effort to source their furnishings locally.
“Even the choice of furnishings reflects the local setting,” Brownbook reports. “If the detail wasn’t already present in the building, it was procured from one of the overstuffed antiques dealers which line the souk district of the medina, or made especially by local artisans.”
Not only does this lend an air of authenticity to their small boutique hotel, but it also promotes cottage industries and local Tunisians.
“We are social entrepreneurs,” writes Dar Ben Gacem on their website, “as we want to encourage tourism with a socio-economic edge by creating opportunities for micro and small businesses based in the medina; artisans, traders, tour guides, and chefs (mothers) that mastered their ‘cuisine’ by cooking for their families.”
Images via Dar Ben Gacem