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 seventh and the last 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 months of July and August as well, and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy the rest of 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:
- Letter from Tunisia: The Magnificent Amphitheater in El Jem…
- Aurélien: Refined Fashion in Sousse on the Mediterranean Coast… (fashion story)
- Letters from Tunisia: Sousse and Port El Kantaoui, meet the beauties of the African Mediterranean…
- Letters from Tunisia: Tunis and Sidi Bou Said, places you must visit…
- Letters from Tunisia: Kairouan, the holiest Muslim City on the African Continent…
- AURÉLIEN: Sahara Desert Elegance in the Heart of Tunisia… (fashion story)
- Letters from Tunisia: The Sahara, Oasis of Chebika and Nefta, the lost desert Jewels of North Africa
- Letters from Tunisia: Carthage, the Center of Ancient Power…
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 seventh and also the last blog post from the series of travelogues about Tunisia will be dedicated to the cities of Tozeur and Monastir, as well as the famous large Endorean salt lake in southern Tunisia – Chott el Djerid. As the title of the travelogue says, I saved the best for last! Tozer is a city in Tunisia on the border of the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, the largest of the five oases that make up the Djerid. Gradually built around its palm grove, it is the capital of the province of the same name. Located northwest of Chot el Djerid, near the border with Algeria.
A city with an important religious past, welcomes many scientists. Ibn Chabbat bequeathed him an irrigation system for palm groves, and the poet Abou el Kacem Chebbi composed his famous Ela Toghat Al Alaam there, in the midst of the French protectorate. The modern topography of Tozeur pays tribute to them, as well as the marabouts. The city experienced significant demographic growth, along with significant expansion, during the second half of the 20th century, with the sedentarization of the Bedouin. It moves from about 11,000 inhabitants to 37,365 inhabitants in a few decades, according to the 2014 census.
The architecture of its architectural heritage, especially that of its medina characterized by raised brick patterns, is unique in Tunisia, along with that of the neighboring city of Neft. Agriculture, especially the monoculture of dates of the Deglet Nour variety, represents its main resource, which represents a third of the production of dates in Tunisia. The brickyard is still in operation, for the needs of many construction sites. Since the 1990s, the municipality of Tozeur has been developing tourism, under the leadership of the then mayor, Abderrazak Cherait. This development is based, among other things, on the presence of an international airport and numerous hotels, on the promotion of heritage and filming locations, as well as on the organization of the Oasis International Festival.
“Tozeur” is the official transcription of the city’s name in Latin letters; another transcription of Tunisian Arabic was “Tuzer”. According to Vincent Batesti, the name of the city is pronounced “Tuzor”. Count Antoine-Auguste du Pati de Clam, officer, colonial administrator, archaeologist and member of the Paris Geographical Society, put forward four hypotheses about the origin of the name Tozeur: The first assumes that the name already existed in ancient Egypt in the form Tes-Hor, meaning “city of the sun “, which the Greeks later transformed into Apollonites; a colony from this city could bear the same name.
Another hypothesis indicates that it comes from the name of the pharaoh Tauserta – which means “powerful” in Egyptian – who ascended the throne after the death of her husband Seti II (pharaoh from the XIX dynasty and grandson of the famous pharaoh Ramses II). The city of Tozeur would represent the tribute that a Cushitic colony paid to this queen, who was the last representative of the dynasty. This hypothesis is confirmed by the architecture of Tozer, which is characterized by the use of earthen bricks dried in the sun and then baked. Ancient Egypt is known to have used such knowledge in its urban constructions.
A third hypothesis indicates that the word would be a Berber feminine form of the adjective “strong”, Taouser, which form would mean “strong”. In 205 BC, the Berber kingdom of Massinis extended to this city. Charles-Joseph Tiso also defends this etymology.
The last hypothesis assumes that the name Tozeur is one of the forms of the name Ucuur, which means “that of Asura” or “that which comes from Asura”, because the name of the city would be a tribute that the Assyrian would return the colony to its original homeland.
Tozeur is located along an elongated hill of several kilometers, which separates two salt lakes, Chott el-Jerid in the south and Chott el-Gharsa in the northwest. It is part of Jerida or Djerida, the most important of the five oases, on the borders of the Sahara desert. A small mountain range, Jebel Mora, is located east of the city. As such, Tozer is part of the Atlas fold, which stretches from Morocco to western Tunisia. The Tozeur region belongs to the southern Tunisian Atlas, which is characterized by chots composed of Upper Carboniferous sedimentary basins.
This region is known for its lush oases in the middle of the desert and is of geological and geomorphological interest. Sebkhas, characterized by fine moist saltwater sediments in winter, and cracked surfaces of mud with salt and gypsum crusts in summer, cover the bottom of the chota, where very sparse vegetation is found. The city, which covers 1,256 hectares, is surrounded by a palm grove that is connected to its urban center, an area of about 1,000 hectares, which covers about 400,000 trees. The main plant species that grows naturally in Tozeur is prosopis, a fodder and bee plant that reaches a height of five meters at the age of fifteen.
The region has an ancient settlement, especially during the prehistoric civilization of the Capsians and, like the whole of North Africa, it is based on a Berber origin, even if the local tradition does not claim it: it is really positioned on the Arab that makes the connection with the prophet Muhammad. The first scientific descriptions of Tozeur date from the end of the 19th century, and these writings are marked by an obsession with the search for Roman ruins. The history of Jerrid remains rather poorly known, Pati du Clam’s Chronological Fastes of Tozeur in 1890 being the main source available on Tozeur’s past.
In ancient times, Tozer quickly became an active center of the trans-Saharan caravan trade, frequented by the Carthaginians. In 148 BC, he is cited by Ptolemy, who calls him “Tisouros”. The Romans, in full conquest of the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, settled there in 33 BC, the city was then named “Thusuros” in the Peitinger table. Apart from that, only the testimonies of Pliny the Elder remain, lyrical but precious, describing the heavenly beauty of this place. The city became a post office on the Saharan Limes, on the Roman road leading from Gabes to Biskra, specializing in the trade of dates and slaves. From the Christian influence under St. Augustine, there are remains of the church taken over by the El Qasr Mosque, located in Bled el Hadar, and certain rites such as the Sidi Juba which consists of the baptism of boys before circumcision.
The arrival of Muslims in VII. century coincides with the peak of agriculture and trade. During the Middle Ages, the Tozeur region was called “the land of Castile”, as mentioned by the famous Arab geographer Al-Bakri, who also points out that Tozeur, surrounded by a large stone wall, is a metropolis. This name comes from a series of fortified villages called castella. Over time, Tozeur and its surroundings became a refuge for various dissidents (Christian Donatists, Shiites and Kharijites). The protesting spirit of the inhabitants, who had developed a strong identity, encouraged them to encourage the twelve-year rebellion led by Abu Yazid against the Fatimid regime (935-947). They also established principalities independent of the central government, which were eventually reconquered by the Hafsids.
By the 12th century, Tozer was a flourishing cultural center. The city welcomed many theologians which led to the development of an oral tradition that was among the richest in the Maghreb, as well as a poetic tradition that continued until the 20th century, especially through the great poet Abu el Katsem Shebi. We also owe to Ibn Chabbat — whose real name is Abou Abdallah Ibn Ali Ibn Al Chabbat Al Touzri, born in 1221 in Tozeur — the conception and realization of important avant-garde works on palm cultivation and the significant improvement of the water distribution system that still functions in several an oasis in southern Tunisia.
Its 12th-century plan is on display at the Dar Cherait Museum. This irrigation plan, through the seguia, ensures a free distribution of water measured by the gadous (hydraulic hourglass) whose name comes from the Latin cadus (water clock), which itself comes from the Greek kados. In the 13th century, the city was destroyed by the Hafsids and then rebuilt outside the oasis. The city experienced a great economic boom, until its peak in the 14th century.
In the 16th century, the el Hadef family arrived in Tozer from today’s Algeria and took control of the city. She created neighboring houchs (traditional residential houses). Since the place of passage of trade caravans remained the same, the place of exchange and negotiation was located in front of the district of Uled el Hadef, which gradually became the most important part of the city. Zebda, of Arab origin, arrived in the 17th century and created another urban group. Ouled Sidi Abid settled at the same time in the northwest of Ouled el Hadef district, with which they were allies.
In the period from 1984 to 1987, the National Tourist Service renovated certain streets in the medina. In the early 1990s, the Tunisian government and Abderrazak Cherait developed tourism, using a priority national development plan aimed at reducing congestion on Tunisia’s coasts. In 1990, Abderrazak Cherait created the first theme park complex in Tozeur, a museum and a luxury hotel, Dar Cherait. A dozen luxury hotels have been created to attract tourists, with turnkey stays, and its development has been noticeable since 1994.
Residents demanded, for example, that goats be banned from roaming freely in the streets. In the late 1990s, the Tunisian state promoted the notion of heritage in Tozeur. Various developments and a festival funded by Cherait make Tozeur a popular tourist destination.
Tourist activity disrupts habits, putting an end, among other things, to residents bathing in a large spring, because their privacy can be violated. According to information gathered by press correspondent Benoit Delmas, tourism has globally enriched Tozer residents during the year 2000.
According to the urban planning plan, the architectural heritage of the city of Tozer has become an economic issue. It is an important pillar for the tourism industry. Old descriptions of travelers passing through Tozer are contradictory, Deffontaine in 1754 speaking of “houses of mud”, while Gilles Daumas in 1845 described “one of the most beautiful towns in Jerrid with well-built houses”. Charles de Foucault drew these houses, which can be seen in his Maison ancien d’El Tozeur, kept in the National Library of France. Iconographic documents circulating at the beginning of the 20th century show that the apartments of Tozeura were large and well-maintained. The average size of apartments has evolved, the large residences of traditional patriarchal families have become smaller, in favor of the proliferation of multi-storey structures, since 1980.
The district of Ouled el-Hadef, which dates its oldest remains from the 14th century, is considered the most interesting and traditional of Tozer. Accessible from Avenue Farhat-Hached and Avenue Habib-Bourguiba, it forms the old town or medina of Tozeur, one of the best-preserved medinas in all of Tunisia. It starts on Kairouan Street, at the level of the Museum of Popular Art and Tradition, and ends on El-Walid Street, with the madrasah of Sidi Abdullah Bu Jemr. The inhabitants of this district are quite poor according to Daher, Ouled el-Hadef is now less a place of life than a place of landscape.
It is surrounded by a high wall of small rectangular bricks, quite bright, without windows, whose function is to preserve the privacy of the inhabitants. Its facades decorated with patterns in terracotta bricks are presented in documents from the beginning of the 20th century. This district is entirely built with traditional clay bricks, giving an architecture with a cachet valued for tourism: with the medina of Neft, this style is unique in Tunisia. The small arched streets of this district form a veritable labyrinth.
Medina Tozeur has a palm wood mashrabiya that is considered exceptional, as well as one of the oldest doors in Tunisia, also made of palm wood. The poorest residents have palm wood doors, which are cheaper, only the richest can afford “real” wooden doors. This door used to have a knocker for each type of person: men, women and children, that is, up to three knockers that emit a different sound, two if the family had no children: their role is to identify who is at home. A door for the appropriate family member to open. Green doors indicate the presence of religious places. The neighboring mosque is the Sidi Abdesalem Mosque. In Medina, there is a bey’s house, which served as a set for the filming of the film The English Patient.
The souk is located in the south of the city, it forms the city center of Tozeur, so it is the souk that most often corresponds to the name “Tozeur”. It revolves around the central square of Ibn-Chabbat, where the market and the post office are located. It is located near the historical districts of Tozeur, Ouled el-Hadef and Zebda; the architecture here is less traditional than in the medina further east. The city’s main mosque, the Farkous (or Ferkous) Mosque, although recent, has the tallest and most distinctive minaret in Tozeur. There is another mosque in the souk, which is located near the tourist office, the Sidi Mouldi mosque, whose minaret, similar in style to that of the Farkous mosque, was restored in 1944. The souk is dedicated to both walking and shopping, and the local expression “descending the souk” is synonymous with “strolling”. The souk was renovated in the early 2000s.
Chott el-Jerid is the largest salt plain or Tunisian sebkha with an area of about 5,000 km. Chott el Djerid is a large endoreic salt lake in southern Tunisia. The name can be translated from Arabic to English as “Lagoon of the Palm Land”. On May 28, 2008, the Tunisian government proposed the site for future classification on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The bottom of Chott el Djerida is between 10 and 25 meters below sea level. The width of the lake varies greatly; at its narrowest point, it is only 20 km in diameter, compared to its total length of 250 km. Sometimes its parts appear in various shades of white, green and purple. The narrow eastern entrance to Chott is also known as Chott el Fejej. It is the largest salt pan in the Sahara desert, with an area of over 7,000 km2, while some sources state 5,000 km2. The locality has a typical hot desert climate.
Due to the harsh climate with an average annual rainfall of less than 100 mm and daily temperatures that sometimes reach 50 °C or more during the summer with intense solar radiation, water evaporates from the lake. In summer, Chott el Djerid almost completely dries up, and numerous mirages appear. It is located between the towns of Tozer and Kebili. During the winter, small tributaries of water can be seen emptying into the lake.
Because the floodplain is highly variable, the values shown for the area of the lake (or its basin, which is almost always dry), can vary widely. Some sources give values up to 10,000 km². Similarly, the figures given for altitude vary between 10 meters above and 25 meters below sea level. Fresh water irrigation schemes are currently being implemented in the region to help eliminate salt from the soil and increase productive area.
The lake can be crossed on foot and even by car, but it is very dangerous because the salt crust is not always solid. In winter, when the lake is full, it can be crossed by boat. Piles of salt on its edges are collected for the processing of salt production. Relict populations of West African crocodiles persisted in Chott el Djeridu until the beginning of the 20th century. Pink flamingos are known to use the shores of the lake as nesting sites in the spring.
Chott el Djerid is the namesake of Djerid Lacuna, an endorheic hydrocarbon lake on Saturn’s moon Titan that contains liquid methane and ethane instead of water.
Monastir is a coastal city in the Tunisian Sahel, in central-eastern Tunisia, located on a peninsula southeast of the Gulf of Hammamet, twenty kilometers east of Sousse and south of the capital of Tunisia. In 2014, the population of the municipality reached almost 100,000 inhabitants. The city has been the capital of the province of the same name since 1974.
The name of the city comes from the word “monastery” (in Latin monasterium) even if it is still a matter of debate. According to Hasan Hosni Abdelwaheb, the name is of Arabic origin, only borrowed from the Greek term monastrion, meaning monastery and widespread in the Byzantine Empire to describe fortifications built on the Mediterranean coast. Before the Muslim conquest and immediately after the decline of the ancient Punic-Roman city of Ruspina, Monastir was a city built by a community of Christian monks, recognized by their abbey, which occupied a completely autonomous monastery. After the conquest, the Muslims kept the name.
The Ribat of Monastir was built by the Wali of Hartham Ibn Ayun on the orders of the Abbasid caliph Harun ar-Rashid in 796 as a means of defense against the attacks of the Byzantine fleet in the Mediterranean. It represents, along with the ribat from Sousse, one of the two most important fortresses on the coast of the Sahel. According to messages related to local history and dating from the beginning of the 10th century, it is a merit to stay in this ribat known as the Great Fortress. The three-day guard service at the monastery ribat is then considered a great religious action, because Muslims are obliged to protect their homeland.
This merit was reinforced during the Crusades. The fortress was perceived, both among fighters and ascetics, as a place of pilgrimage and meditation for religious holidays such as Achura or Ramadan. On the upper floor of the southeast wing was a small mosque with a mihrab. It is now used as a museum displaying items from the region and from Kairouan. Among the important monuments of the city is the Great Mosque in Monastir, a stone building of sober architecture built in the 9th century and then expanded during the 11th and 18th centuries. In the city of Monastir there is also a mausoleum which was ceremonially opened in 1963 by the then president Habib Bourguiba. The building, framed by two minarets 25 meters high, is surmounted by a golden dome, which is itself surrounded by two green domes. The entrance door and the gate that separates it from the rest of the cemetery are two examples of Tunisian art.
Monastir has a Museum of Islamic Art, opened on August 5, 1958 and located on the first floor of the south wing of the ribat; it includes nearly 300 works (fragments of wood, funerary stelae, brilliant ceramics) and is visited by almost 100,000 visitors every year. The Monastir summer festival is organized every year as part of the ribat and lasts from three to four weeks, offering many musical, theatrical and even cinematographic performances. A few kilometers from the city center, the cultural center of Monastir, founded in 2000, hosts various cultural events.
Within it, several cultural societies, which mainly deal with painting, music and theater, carry out their activities. This center replaces the old cultural center located in the very heart of the city; retains some essentially student activities. The Association of Monastic Writers is an association whose premises are located in the town of Čraka of the old town. It welcomes several members and organizes various cultural meetings.
My dear travelelrs, we have come to the end of this seventh 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 Tozeur, Monastir, Chott el Djerid Lake 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,
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.