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Report 1993: Tunisia - the South and the Desert

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 14 of 17: Douiret

photo by MAW

300 year old olive press

The original Berber villages in the area around Tataouine were hill top settlements built around a stone fort called a kala’a. Chenini is on all the tourist itineraries. Douriret is only a few miles away but receives far fewer visitors.

A new village was built on the plain in the 1960s with running water and electricity and most families moved down here. It is an attractive village with white houses with domed roofs. The road to the old town climbs up past the cemetery with white washed tombs and a small marabout.

Ahead on the hill is a big white mosque with a restaurant below the remains of the fortress. We could see many cars parked. Most visitors only get as far as here, spending a few minutes to admire the view and take photographs.

Our driver ignored the road to this and drove us round to the opposite side of the hill. There was not a tourist in sight. The road ran along the side of the mountain giving access to the ghars (dwelling caves) carved out of the hillside with round topped storage sheds in front. Many still have palm trunk doors. We could see the old mosque with a well in front of it and the remains of the school next to it. One house is still lived in by a young Berber who operates the oil press and uses a donkey for transport.

We parked in front of the mosque and went to explore, peeping inside one of the old houses. At the front was the small living area with a stone stove in one corner which was used for cooking and heat in winter. An oil lamp in a small alcove provided the only light. Behind was the sleeping area. The toilet was in a separate shed in front of the house and drained into a pit.

We went to ask to be shown the 300 year old olive press. Olives are grown on the opposite side of the hill and are ground up in a large stone press worked by a camel. The pulp is put into grass baskets which are stacked and then pressed using a palm trunk and the oil collected. The olives were still being picked when we visited in early April. The Berber was getting the press ready to begin pressing the following week.

We went into the Mosque. A doorway leads into the courtyard with a large fig tree growing in it. There is a separate square minaret. A well in the courtyard provides water for washing. This is put into a small hollow at the washing station. Before visiting the mosque the men sit on a stone slab to wash hands and arms three times, then face and finally feet. There is a small stone to rest the feet on to stop them getting wet.

The mosque is carved out of the cliff face and has separate doors and areas for men and women. Stone pillars were left to support the roof. The Mihrab is in a small alcove with a niche for Holy Books beside it. On the other side are steps to the Minibar where the Iman sat when preaching. There is a small niche for an oil lamp and more niches by the door for shoes.

It is thought the Mosque is 13thC but it may be older. Donatist Christians under Roman and Byzantine rule used to gather in underground churches to pray and this may have been one of them.

This was a well worthwhile visit.

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