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Report 1993: Tunisia - the South and the Desert

By Eleanor from UK, Spring 2012

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Page 17 of 17: Djerba - Things to Do and See

photo by MAW

Pottery

Unless you are wanting to lie and soak up the sun or go shopping in Houmt Souk, there isn’t a lot for tourists to see and do on Djerba.

Fadloune Mosque listed in guide books as open for tourists is no longer. There are the usual signs outside saying 'not open to non Muslims’ and the doors were locked. This seems to have been shut after the Jasmine Revolution. The only unlocked door led into the room where a body was washed on a board before being wrapped in a white shroud and taken on the wooden bier to the cemetery. The Imam’s house outside wall of mosque had smaller Mosque attached to it.

There are several interesting fortified Mosques scattered around the island, all of which have to be admired from outside the wall. All you see is the top of the minaret. For photographs head to El Kebir, on the outskirts of Melita. There is a big bank outside the courtyard wall which can be climbed for views into the courtyard. The Mosque is in the centre of the courtyard which has cisterns beneath it. These provide water for use in the ceremonial washroom in a small building in the courtyard. A small stone shelter is used by the Imam when leading prayers in the courtyard. Around the walls are small rooms used for teaching the Koran.

Just south east of Guellala on the coast is the very old Mosque Of Sidi Yati. It is reached by a rough track off the main road. It is a whitewashed building surrounded by trees. A very weathered sign outside the wall says the mosque “was established by Shiek Yati Mestaoui during the 3rd century of the higare accordant 9thC Christian” We went through the doorway in the wall surrounding a courtyard enclosing the four domed mosque and a smaller building.

Erriadh where we were staying used to have a large Jewish population. Most of them left after the Second World War to return to Israel. El-Ghriba Synagogue was constructed in 1920 and despite very tight security is open to visitors. However we visited during the Passover, so it was shut.

Erriadh is one of the more interesting settlements on the island. The old Jewish quarter is a fascinating place to explore with a maze of side streets and squares. The houses have white walls with a doorway off the street which leads into a passageway or courtyard. Many have a smaller shaped doorway inside the big one. Several have fish carved above the door for good luck. Doors and windows are usually painted blue. Many of the old houses had a barrel roof which helped keep the house cool during the hot summer months. We found the remains of a disused Synagogue. This had once been a large and splendid building. One window was open allowing a glimpse into a courtyard with pillars.

We enjoyed Meninx, a Roman site, on the Adjim road just after the causeway. I had seen this marked on the map but there is very little information about it on the web. It is a thought to be a Carthaginian settlement which was resettled by the Romans. It is marked by a brown tourist sign after the causeway and there is a lay by at the side of the road. There is no information at the site, so we just wandered. The site stretches a long way between the road and the coast.

It was a beautiful day and the sea was glinting in the sunshine. There were a few small fishing boats moored on the beach and someone wading in the sea catching fish in a hand held net. We walked across a rough area with piles of rubble and low growing vegetation, with a lot of bright yellow trefoil providing a splash of color. At first there was little to see and only the fragments of red pottery lying everywhere indicated people had once lived here. We found the remains of handles and rims. As we walked towards the sea we discovered the remains of the forum with column bases, remains of much eroded pillars and bits of carved marble lying around. Things were beginning to look up. As we wandered we found the site of the cisterns. Two tanks are still in good condition but the rest have collapsed into a pile of rubble. We kept stumbling across bits of walls from unidentified buildings, some still with plaster. Walking back the other way is a large area that has been partially excavated. There is a wide paved street lined with very dark red sandstone pillar bases and the remains of buildings on either side. We found more cisterns and a large flat area with an impluvium (well) in centre.

Our driver took us to see the ruins of some ‘Roman’ remains on the edge of Midoun. To him anything old was ‘Roman’. These are next to olive groves surrounded by earth banks. Again there are no signs or information at the site. Perhaps this could be the 4thC site of Būrgū mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Djerba? There is a massive pile of stones which had been collected and dumped (presumably when clearing land for the olive groves). Another pile has been reassembled on a modern base to form a ‘structure’. A set of steps leads down to a made circular area where there could have been the remains of some old masonry. Weird.

Guellala is a tiny village on the south coast renowned for pottery. Workshops line the main street, all with displays of pots outside and stuck to the walls to attract the tourist trade. We had an interesting visit to a working pottery. Clay is still mined on site. Steps lead down to a 25m deep shaft as the clay above this level is crystalline and no good for making pots. This leads to a long tunnel where the clay is taken from. The clay is mixed with water; fresh water gives a red color, salt water turns clay white. Pots are made on a potter's wheel. Small pots are left three to seven days to dry in the shade. Larger pots take 20 days. The kiln is fired up using palm leaves (usually every two months) and pots are fired at 1000KC for four days. The kiln takes another three days before the pots cool down. Pots are painted by hand by local women, glazed and then fired in an electric kiln at 900KC. The ‘magic camel’ is a popular tourist souvenir. Last of the big spenders, we bought two small bowls for 8TD. Not having any change we handed over a 10TD note and weren’t given change until we asked for it.

We had asked to go to Borj Jillij on the north east coast and drive along the coast road to Ajim. This was marked as an unsurfaced track on our map but is now surfaced all the way. We drove round the airport perimeter with airport control tower and past the lighthouse and other military buildings. This is a sensitive area and photographs not allowed.

Borj Jillij is on a stretch of long low lying coastline with little vegetation and a few trees. The rocky coast is made of flat volcanic deposits with sand beyond. Small fishing shacks are scattered along the coastline with piles of nets and crockery pots used to catch lobsters. Each pot has identification initials painted on it and are carefully piled up. We could see strange ‘Y’ shape structures resembling fences made of palm leaves out in the bay. Our driver said they were designed to help catch fish... Several small fishing boats were moored in the bay and a couple of men coming ashore with fish they had caught. Apart from the fishermen we were the only people around. This is rural Djerba going about its business.

It is a nice drive to Ajim, along low lying coastline with rocks, stones, seaweed and a few sandy beaches. The only settlement along the road is at Sidi Jimour where roads from Houmt Souk join the Ajim road. There are a few scattered houses. It has a reasonable sandy beach and there were a few fishing boats moored. The Mosque is now shut and there was a group of young Tunisians sitting on the steps playing music. Further south the land is very dry and sandy and showing signs of desertification.

Being a Sunday, all the Tunisians were out for the day and parked up in any patches of shade provided by palm trees having a picnic. Rugs were spread on the ground with hampers and fires lit to grill fish. The area however is strewn with litter as no attempt is made to clean up or take it home. The area is becoming squalid. We felt this summed up Djerba.

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Trip Report 1992 - the North and Roman Remains

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