Sonic Affordances of a Sacred Spring. The Urban Courtyard as a Figure of Rehabilitation of the Medina

Noha Gamal Saïd

Oasis Water, Rare Element, Founder Element 


Water is a fundamental resource. It structures, by its distribution, the oasis habitat and makes it one of the first nodes of human settlement (Goeury and Leray 2017). In fact, the rarity of water and the aridity of the oasis regions have caused communities to establish a very special relationship to water, nourished with many beliefs, sets of rituals, and prayers for the water to remain abundant and to guarantee prosperity for all. This relationship, based on care and protection, reveals a particular conception of water as a sacred matter (Ftaïta 2006). As an essential element of the oasis ambiance, water is the former[1] of a unique experience: urban, sensory, and sacred. It is perceived as a giver of life, as aesthetic material, and as the core of collective memory. In water, the founding myth of feminine fertility, Lalla Zninia, is embodied (Naji, Goeury and Boumzgou 2016).


This article tackles the interaction between space and sound. It investigates, from an in situ sonic experience, the rehabilitation project of the Blue Spring realized in 2015 by the architect and anthropologist Salima Naji. La Source Bleue (FR), Aïn Zerka (ar-MA pronunciation), is a public space surrounding a natural spring located at the heart of the ancient city of Tiznit, Morocco. The rehabilitation project has favored the acoustic aspect of the spring through the creation of a two-level basin system, resulting in a waterfall of some meters. This new sonorous space has caused certain social practices to emerge and new forms of public behavior to arise. This work is part of a broader research project: Zerka, la Source Bleue et l’urbanisation des Oasis de Méditerranée. Conducted in Tiznit in 2015 and in Nefta, Tunisia, in 2016, the project aimed to define the oasis habitat in terms of sensory experiences, ambiences, significations, and attachment. 


In this article, I seek to interpret the sonic affordances of the Source Bleue following rehabilitation. In order to achieve this, the article weaves three literature reviews: on affordances, thresholds, and ambiances. This triad investigates the interrelationships between the existing sonic ambience and the different types of social interactions and aspects of physical presence – steps, gestures, movements, silhouettes – the sonic environment affords. The thresholds act here as the operating tool that helps us to unfold the relation between sonic environment and space affordances. Experimenting with this tool in an empirical study, the first objective is to develop a typology of sonic thresholds that will enable another reading of this space through senses, gestures, and emotions. Drawing upon this, the article highlights a new figure for rehabilitation of urban spaces in contemporary oasis cities.