Tozeur is a city in southwestern Tunisia and home to the country’s biggest oasis containing hundreds of thousands of palm trees. Its economy is based on the export of dates and “Saharan” tourism. In fact, more than 700 thousands visitors – both Tunisians and foreigners – come to enjoy the beauty of its mountain oasis.
Scores of ponds are scattered throughout the oasis and outside its confines. The layers of silt found at the bottom of these ponds provide the essential raw material for the local brick industry. With summer temperatures reaching 45 degrees, the extracted silt takes little time to dry and assume its yellowish, hardened form that is known in its Arabic name as “toub.”
Walking around the old city of Tozeur, one is immediately confronted by intricate, geometrical patterns of “toub” that decorate the buildings’ façades and the walls of the old city’s narrow passageways. These yellow bricks astonishingly maintain houses cool in the stifling heat of the summer and even warm in the cold winter.
Abdelhamid Haddan, a writer, painter, and artist, described the manufactory process of the brick of this yellowish brick. Mud and sand are mixed together and then soaked in water. Afterwards, mulch is added. The mixture is then moulded within small rectangular wooden frames and left to dry in the sun for one day in summer and ten in winter. Finally, the bricks are baked in a kiln under extreme temperatures reaching over 1000 degree celsius.
Haddan pointed out that the brick’s production is very economical. 1 cubic meter of clay can produce in turn 1000 bricks. The brick measures 17 cm by 8 cm and 3.5 cm high and weighs 728 grams.
The technique of Tozeur’s brick-making is Mesopotamian in origin and brought by the Arabs in the 8th century. Due to the similarity of environment, Arab settlers found Tozeur to be a propitious location to continue their brick-making traditions, claimed Haddan.
For those who plan to visit Tozeur, Haddan’s book The Brick of Tozeur is available in the city’s libraries in English as well as French and can be consulted for more information.