My dear travellers and lovers of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of travelogues on the Mr.M blog. The month of August will be dedicated to an unusual country on the African continent – Tunisia, a country known for its olives. At the very beginning of this fifth post in the series of travelogues, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia for the kind invitation and hospitality. With their help, travelogues and fashion stories were created that you could read during the month of July, but you will have the opportunity to read them during August as well, and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy the summer season of posts on the Mr.M blog.

If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues from Tunisia or you want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:

The Republic of Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. It is part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordering Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It houses the archaeological sites of Carthage dating back to the 9th century BC, as well as the Great Mosque of Kairouan.

Tunisia is known for its ancient architecture, markets and blue shores, it covers approximately 164,000 km2 and has a population of around 12 million. It contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains and the northern part of the Sahara Desert, and much of the remaining territory of Tunisia is arable land. With almost 1,300 km of coastline, it includes the African junction of the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean basin. Tunisia is home to the northernmost point of Africa – Cape Angel, and its capital and largest city is Tunis, located on its northeastern coast, after which the country gets its name.

The fifth blog post in the series of travelogues about Tunisia will be dedicated to the lost desert gems of North Africa that we can find in Tunisia: Sahara, Chebika Oasis, Nefta. The Sahara is a desert on the African continent. This desert with its area of 9,200,000 square kilometers is the largest hot desert in the world and the third largest desert overall, smaller only than the deserts of Antarctica and the northern Arctic. The desert got its name “Sahara” through the derivation of the Arabic word for “desert” in the irregular feminine form, singular sahra’. The desert covers most of North Africa, excluding the fertile Mediterranean coastal region, the Atlas Mountains of the Maghreb, and the Nile Valley in Egypt and Sudan.

It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the north to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually changes from desert to coastal plain. It is bordered to the south by the Sahel, a belt of semi-arid tropical savanna around the Niger River valley, and the Sudan region in sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara can be divided into several regions, including the Western Sahara, the central Ahagar Mountains, the Tibesti Mountains, the Air Mountains, the Tenere Desert, and the Libyan Desert. For several hundred thousand years, the Sahara has alternated between desert and savannah grasslands in a 20,000-year cycle caused by the precession of the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the Sun, which changes the location of the north African monsoon.

Chebika is a mountain oasis located in the south of Tunisia, in the delegation of Tamerza in the western part of Tozeur province. The name Chebika means “small net” in Tunisian Arabic because the water flowing in the waterfalls of the oasis forms flowing nets and webs. The oasis itself covers 25 hectares and forms, with Tamerza and Mides, the smallest of the three main mountain oases in the southwest of the country, located on the Tunisian-Algerian border. Čebika is located in a deep valley, excavated in Upper Cretaceous limestone during water from a natural spring of good quality for irrigation. This valley is occasionally penetrated by runoff from a large mountain basin that has been exposed and hollowed out by erosion.

This geography is suitable for the occurrence of sudden torrents of rainwater and their rapid concentration at the level of the source, upstream of the oasis. In 1969, after the deadly floods that killed more than 400 people in Tunisia, the current village of Chebika was built near the abandoned village. The urban part of the current village is summarized in a chessboard, the lines of which form streets that intersect at the level of the market.

Prehistoric remains are numerous in the region, but the site of Chebika gained special importance in Roman times when it became an important link on the border: the Saharan limes connecting Thebes with Gafsa, both borders overseeing the movement of tribes and the collection of taxes. A number of military milestones and a Roman fossatum (defensive ditch) are found around the oasis itself, as well as cisterns and works from the same period and various traces of ancient roads and cultures leading to the surrounding fortresses and towards Ain el Khanga and Seguia el Rouma (“Christian Cistern for irrigation”).

Chebika can without too much doubt be identified with the ancient outpost Ad Speculum (literal translation “place of the mirror” in Latin): the garrisons used the mirror to communicate with other positions and to signal possible enemy incursions. The site of Chebika formed an optical relay, which would have a metal mirror installed in a place called Kasr al chams (“Fort of the Sun”). The locality received the title of civitas within the Roman province of Africa, which it held from 30 BC to 640 AD.

The traditional agricultural system of Chebika consists of three floors, with palm trees (especially those producing dates of the deglet nour variety) which are characterized by high density (500-600 trees per hectare), a great diversity of tree and shrub species on the second level and food grain crops, horticulture and forage at a lower level. The system also integrates family farming of sheep and goats, producing the manure necessary to maintain soil fertility, as well as camel farming in the pastures between the palm grove and the desert.

The irrigation water of the oasis is the collective property of the farmers who capture the spring and distribute it free of charge according to agreed secular methods giving the right to a certain amount of water, previously determined by the clepsydra. The maintenance of canals and hydraulic structures for distribution mainly by gravity, previously the collective responsibility of farmers, was revised in 2000 to reduce water losses in the canals and is now managed by the Tozeur Regional Commissariat for Agricultural Development.

Revising the irrigation schedule to match the reality of the plot is a difficult but necessary subject to ensure the future of the oasis. In this context, the population of Chebika is socially and economically disadvantaged and benefits little from transient tourism that uses few products obtained from the oasis. The unemployment rate is high, especially among young people, which causes a rural exodus from the oasis or even emigration abroad. This emigration or the search for a paid activity outside of agriculture leads to the deterioration of the infrastructure of the oasis and to the strengthening of the absence or even the abandonment of certain plots. The grove of palm trees is getting old and too tall palm trees need to be restored. Knowledge in the field of agriculture and animal husbandry and craft knowledge in the development of products from the oasis and the steppe environment is also being lost.

I would like to share an interesting fact with you, namely that the village of Chebika served as a set for the famous movie The English Patient. Today the village is abandoned, but it is used for tourist purposes and as a film set. One of the famous legends is how Chebika became famous when, on his way back from Mecca, Marabut, sensing his imminent death, asked to be placed on his camel, to let the animal go where it wanted and to bury it where it would stop. A Marabut is a Muslim religious leader and teacher who historically served as a chaplain in Islamic armies, particularly in North Africa and the Sahara, West Africa and historically in the Maghreb.

The camel stopped at Chebika, and at the place where the water comes out of the spring in Ain el Naga. There is a traditional belief that women go to the grave of a marabout to ask for healing, to give birth to a boy, to help with childbirth, for a selfless husband to love his wife again, or to bring back a husband or son after a period of absence. In general, the legend attributes to the marabout the power to protect people and herds from the evil spirits that haunt the chote and that regularly rise towards Mount Chebika.

The Zarda Festival continues to be celebrated today in the form of the annual Sidi Soltane Festival. Once celebrated on Fridays in summer (now in autumn), it begins with animal sacrifices, followed by men’s prayers in the mosque and the sharing of meals outdoors. The population of Chebika, Tamerza, El Hamma du Yerid or neighboring tribes (Ouled Sidi Abid) participate in this demonstration. Some practices are less respected, but tend to become secularized, turning into socio-cultural activities of defending oasis cultures and generating income thanks to the participation of international and domestic tourism in Tunisia.

Nefta is an oasis town in Djerid located in southwestern Tunisia. The municipality is located in the southwest of Tunisia, between Tozer and Hazou, which is located on the Tunisian-Algerian border, and the latter is 33 kilometers from Nefta. The oil is located between Chot el Jerid and the Sahara dunes. The city is characterized by the presence of the “Nefta basket”, which is a natural depression dug into the rock.

According to some historical writings, the site was occupied since prehistoric times, as evidenced by several archaeological discoveries. The city later became a Numidian and then a Roman city. Nefta was the seat of the diocese under the Byzantines, and today it is the titular diocese of the Catholic Church in Tunisia since 1933. After the Muslim conquest, it became a high place of Sufism: the Qadiriya Sufi brotherhood is known throughout the Maghreb. The influence of this religious current has remained present to this day. The city is also home to a hundred marabouts including the famous Sidi Bou Ali who took over the city from the Ibadi Muslims and converted it to Sunni Islam in the 13th century. He founded an influential religious brotherhood, whereby a pilgrimage is organized around the shrine of this saint every year.

Nefta is home to Mos Espa, an abandoned film location for a remote spaceport in a galaxy far, far away hidden in the Tunisian desert near Nefta. This set is located between two salt lakes, the larger Chott El Djerid and the smaller Chott El Ghars, Mos Espa is an abandoned film set created as a remote spaceport location in a galaxy far, far away. Surreal surroundings and dramatic otherworldly structures make Mos Espa a must-visit if you’re a big fan of the Hollywood blockbuster “Star Wars.” However, you can even visit this set if you are not a fan of movies because you will enjoy the amazing scenery.

As one of the largest spaceports in Star Wars, Mos Epsa is depicted in the films as a city bustling with the daily lives of various aliens from across the galaxy. Home to the hero Anakin Skywalker from Episodes I, II and III, we’re told the location is on a distant planet known as Tatooine – named after the very real nearby Tunisian city of Tataouine.

This is where Anakin Skywalker and his mother live as slaves, and the foundations are laid for all the huge stories of the older Star Wars movies. Although some parts of the city of Mos Espa were added in post-production using modern technology during the filming of science fiction films of the era, here on the edge of the Sahara, all the main buildings from the films have been preserved. Dozens of structures line the city’s main streets, including many “moisture vaporizers”—in Star Wars, these devices were used to collect atmospheric moisture and produce water that is very expensive.

Currently, Mos Espa is slowly swallowing the sand that comes with every passing dust storm. Over the years, the harsh climate of the Sahara, the shifting sand dunes and the stream of tourists began to take their toll. Unlike other more traditional Star Wars filming locations, the city of Mos Espa was built in the middle of nowhere. Although nothing here is designed to last, thanks to the work of local and foreign enthusiasts, you can still walk the streets Qui-Gon Jinn walked to meet Anakin.

I have one very important piece of advice for all visitors to this site. Since the Mos Espa set is remote in the middle of the desert, it is important to bring a significant amount of water, especially during the summer period. The easiest way to Mos Espa is via the newly reconstructed road—leaving the town of Naftah to the north, take the road that goes slightly left and go north until you reach the end. There is another way, which is much more fun, but requires an expert guide and a reliable 4-wheel drive jeep safari vehicle. Professional drivers drive you in a straight line wherever you are, across the desert sand and the dry bed of the salt lake, so you can enjoy a sand safari.

During this press visit to Tunisia, I met the team of the national Slovenian television, who were reporting on Tunisia. In these pictures, you have the opportunity to see presenter Mojca Mavec, who recorded an incredible reportage for the new season of her show “Čez Planke“. Dear Mojca made homemade desert bread with a local and enjoyed desert coffee.

My dear travelelrs, we have come to the end of this fifth special travelogue in the series of travelogues about Tunisia where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the northern part of the African continent. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia in collaboration with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Tunisian culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Tunisia.

A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.

I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia once again for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Tunisian culture in a completely different way.

How did you like my story about Tunisia and the presentation of The Sahara, Oasis of Chebika and Nefta, the lost desert Jewels of North Africa that adorn the heart of this unusual country? Have you had the chance to visit Tunisia so far?

If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!

In the following stories from Tunisia, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey takes you to this unusual country!

From Love from Tunisia,

Mr.M

This post is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.

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Martine
Martine
6 months ago

The Tozer Desert Oasis Chebika is one of Tunisia’s funniest places, where the Oscar-winning film Don’t Ask Me Who Is, and the British Patient was filmed. To get to a place with water, you have to squeeze into a small gap, cross a path that is only one person wide, and then walk through the slippery sandy land.

Helen
Helen
6 months ago

Dear Marko, this travelogue is interesting to you because you have combined interesting places where numerous Hollywood productions were filmed. Tunisia is beautiful and should definitely be visited.

Patrick
Patrick
6 months ago

Marko, this series of travelogues from Tunisia is excellent, I wonder if you know what the temperatures are like in October? Can he then stay longer in the Sahara and desert areas? Thank you for these recommendations, I know they have two Star Wars sets in Tunisia, too bad this one is abandoned.

Fredrik
Fredrik
6 months ago

Dear Marko, I completely agree with you, Chebika Oasis in a large desert in a paradise, this place is at the border with Algeria, very close to the border, surrounded by deserts, this place is beautiful, there are waterfalls, it is definitely worth coming!

Abel
Abel
6 months ago

The quiet and comfortable Chebika oasis is simply a rare desert collection, a touch of green reflected in the eyes, always shocking our nerves. It lies in the stretch of mountains, a wonderland in the wild mountains, the town’s buildings made of clay, destroyed by the relentless flood, is now a deserted city.