The history of IBLA dates back to 1926 with the decision made by the White Fathers to set up a research and study centre in Maghreb, particularly, for those who worked there. It was Father Henri Marchal who thought of it first after the failure of the White Fathers in Ghardaïa, Algeria. Their failure had been due to their incapacity to master the Arabic language. The first community was established on 18 th November 1926 at the Boukhris farm near La Marsa, 20 kilometres from Tunis, and from the outset it had an international composition that IBLA still maintains up-to-date. Classes began on the 25 th November 1926, under the name “Study House”.

The study centre moved to Glacières street in Tunis in May 18, 1928. On 30 th March 1931, the centre was officially named IBLA which stands for ‘Institut des Belles Lettres Arabes’, in French and ‘The Institute of Arabic Literature’ in English. On 15 th February 1932, It effectively occupied its current headquarters on Jamaa al-Haoua Street. Already in 1928, the study centre published “Tunisian Papers and Tunisian Documents”. The IBLA Review was begun in 1937.

Located on Jamaa al-Haoua Street, IBLA occupies an old Arab house, in a working-class neighbourhood, near the old Medina of Tunis,across Bab Mnara. The neighbourhood came into existence as a result of the first immigrations that the city underwent. Jamâa al Haoua Street is found behind the mosque of the same name,Jamaa al Haoua, in the “Place du Leader”,(Leader’s Square). This place was named so because President Habib Bourguiba lived in one of the houses, which is currently a small museum since 1956. The French men arrested him on 18 January 1952. On this occasion, Mathilde Moufidha, his wife, and his son Jean Habib, hadtemporarily taken refuge in IBLA

Coffee shops, retailer shops and small markets are practically the only economic activities in the area. There is also a Faculty of Theology of Zitouna (formerly in the great Ezzitouna Mosque, within the old town). Also, there is an undergraduate high school and Maâkal Ezzaïm High School. Within a radius of two kilometres are found several university faculties of Tunis I and two high schools (Alaoui High School and Sadiki High School). The need and importance of IBLA library for high school students is explained by the absence of cultural centres and libraries for students and also, the presence of new working-class neighbourhoods, that is, Mellassine and Saida. The two towns have undergone urbanisation which covers more than 70% of
Tunisia’s population.