Considered to be one of the most important tourist attractions in Tunisia, Djerba -the Island of Dreams- hosts an average of 1 000 000 tourists every year. While in Djerba, you will have the possibility to enjoy at least 4 sunny days during a 6 day stay, thanks to a temperate climate, with mild winters and beautiful summers. Tourism, craftsmanship, fishing and agriculture are the basic economic activities in Djerba.
Djerba, the Island of Dreams
Djerba is located in the southeast of the country. It is the largest island in North Africa, covering a land area of 514 km2 immersed in the Gulf of Gabes.
From firm ground, and more precisely from the peninsula of Jorf, a 15 minute ferryboat trip -crossing the Boughrara lagoon- seperates you from Adjim, which is located in the Southwest of the island.
Homer was the first one to talk about Djerba. During his Odyssey, Ulysses was caught in bad weather on his way back from the Trojan War. He and his companions landed in Djerba. But eating the mysterious Lotus made these travelers forget about their homes…
Like the rest of Tunisia, Djerba was inhabited by Libyan aboriginals who live there until today. Thereafter, Phoenicians seized the place and called it Meninx in reference to the murexes they harvested from its sea bottom to extract the purple. The Phoenicians founded an important trading post in Djerba.
As for the trail of the Romans, it was characterized by a 6 kilometer roadway called El Kantara. This roadway connects to the present day the Southeast of the island to the peninsula of Zarzis. On entering Djerba through this dyke, we find ourselves near the region/area of Guellala. This village is inhabited by the Berbers who preserve/conserve/maintain their language and customs/culture. It is the capital of pottery of Djerba, if not of all Tunisia.
The pottery in Djerba
When visiting a craftsman, we discover the wonders of the world of pottery. The potter talks about the extraction of raw material: the clay is extracted from quarries in the surrounding hillsides in large blocks. These blocks are subsequently displayed and exposed to the sun until the water evaporates. The clay will be mixed with seawater or well water to get white or red pottery. In order to form a pastry, the clay is kneaded with the feet. The pastry then takes shape in the potter’s wheel. Endowed with a meticulous mastery of the potter’s wheel, the craftsman will manually manage to make a piece of pottery that will later be cooked in an oven.
To visit a craftsman’s production site is a great opportunity to collect some memories of pottery.
The museum of arts and traditions of Guellela
In Guellela, it is necessary to visit the museum of arts and traditions. This museum surmounts the hill of Guellela and is considered to be the highest point of Djerba even if it is limited to a height of 52 meters. The museum allows its visitors to admire a panoramic view of the whole island. The major elements of this rare Tunisian landscape are outstandingly the palm tree, the olive tree and the sea, the sources of life of Djerban farmers and fishermen.
The museum also offers representations of the Djerbans daily activities, their festivities, their traditions, their rites and practices through beautiful models artfully placed in the museum and architecturally displayed in the shape of a Menzel architecturally speaking.
El Menzel, the Djerbian house
El Menzel is the Djerbian housing type. It contains El Ghaba which is an orchard of fruit trees, mainly olive trees, surrounded by cactuses. A tank collects rainwater in order to provide drinking water, an extremely rare thing in Djerba. El Menzel often contains domes of oil-mill built in the basement. These domes along with a temperature that arrives up to 25°C in the winter, the season of the extraction of olive oil, create an advantageous microclimate.
At the bottom of El Ghaba, rises El H’ouch. It is a house that has the form of a fortress, closed for privacy reasons, yet only accessible through one doorway. The doorway opens out onto a hallway reserved for the visitors. The hallway opens onto a central courtyard that converges towards all of other rooms of the house. Each of these rooms, except for the kitchen and bathroom, is organized in the following way: in the center we find a living space with domed alcoves on both sides, these alcoves contain beds that leave a space in the corners of the room for a second elevated alcove accessible by staircase only. This space is mainly used during the summer.
It is interesting to make a tour of the island in a quad ride. During the visit, we encounter the Menzels everywhere and a large number of mosques. In the area of Midoun, near the tourist zone, the mosque of Fadhloun is open to visitors. It is actually a religious complex dating back to the XIVth century. The mosque is similar to the other mosques of Djerba: colored in white and lacking decoration. Here, the mihrab of the prayer hall is just a simple niche that indicates the direction of Mecca, and the minbar is built of stones. The courtyard, which also contains a mihrab, is reserved for prayer in the summer. In addition to the mosque, the building has a small Koranic school called Medrassa, which consists of two classrooms, a living room, a room for food supplies, a grain mill, a bakery, and an ablutions room.
The Jewish community
Djerba can’t be mentioned without a word about its Jewish community, which came from Jerusalem 3000 years ago and settled in El Hara Elkbira and EL Hara Essghira. El Ghriba, Djerba’s famous synagogue, is one of the oldest synagogues in North Africa. Since it was established, it has been hosting Jewish pilgrims coming from all over the world.
It is highly recommended to visit Houmt Souk, the capital city of Djerba. The Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions is a must-see in Houmt Souk. It is located in Sidi Ali Zitouni’s Zaouia and exhibits a beautiful collection of typical Djerbian objects, especially those used in Djerbian weddings which are relatively different from other Tunisian weddings. It should be mentioned that a traditional wedding lasts 7 days. Brides wear a different outfit depending on regions and customs. However, gold or silver jewelry adorned with symbolic patterns are common to all Tunisian regions.
If you like what is exhibited in the museum, you can purchase similar objects at the craft shops in the souk or at (mostly Jewish-owned) jewelry stores.
Carpets are craftsmanship’s masterpieces in Djerba. After watching a craftsman weave a carpet, you can visit a weaver in his workshop known for its triangular pediment. The whole weaving process can be watched: from wool washing, carding and spinning, to the confection of a carpet.
Just like carpet weaving, fishing is a craft activity due to the traditional techniques used. Besides, selling fish in the souk is a quite particular process: it can be assimilated to an “auction sale”. The seller, called e-Dallel, shows e-Chok: some sort of bunch of fish attached by palm tree strings. E-Dallel suggests a minimum price and the auctions start.
Borj El Ghazi Mustapha, the majestic fortress
Still in Houmt Souk, the majestic fortress that stands by the sea is called Borj Ghazi Mustapha. This defensive structure was founded in 1432 by the Hafsid Sultan “Fares Omar”. The remains of the Roman fort which held the Borj’s position were used for the construction.
In 1560, the Turkish chief “Ghazi Mustapha” restored it after it had been destroyed by the Spanish, coming to capture the Turkish Corsairs.
The towers that buttress the Borj give a chance to enjoy a panoramic view of the fishing port located nearby.