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Saving a Tunisian Relic from Destruction

Despite the pandemic, shoppers crowd the small bookshop at 18 Rue d’Angleterre. Many are here for the first time, squeezing their way between the stacks of books piled high along the walls of the bookshop said to be the oldest in Tunis. Sunk within an obscure street near the city’s medina, there is little to distinguish number 18 from its rival further down the street, or the small haphazard book stands that shelter in the square opposite from a rain that never quite comes. All nestle amid the bleached awnings of the French ville nouvelle, itself marking the transition from the storied Arab architecture of the medina to the grand colonial designs of Tunis’ city centre. Recent years have not been kind to the bookshop. Battered by changing tastes, new technology and now the pandemic, the old shop is facing closure. But with the news spreading – via social media, with no little irony – people have come from across Tunis, eager to make a purchase to help out or simply to explore this unknown part of their city’s heritage before it vanishes.