Tour of the Island, Djerba
There is an interesting tour of the island of Djerba which begins at Er Riadh.
The most notable Jewish building on Djerba is the La Ghriba ("Wonderworking") Synagogue 1km/0.75mi east of Er Riadh (closed on Saturdays). In its present form this modest-looking building dates only from the 1920s, but its origins go much further back. There are many legends about its foundation: one story is that the site was chosen when a "holy stone" (perhaps a meteorite) fell to earth here. The interior has fine paneling, old candlesticks, valuable Torah scrolls and other cult objects. The rabbis, who live in the pilgrim hostel opposite the synagogue, ensure that all visitors take off their shoes and wear a head covering (which can be hired for a modest sum at the entrance). Every year, 33 days after Easter, La Ghriba is the scene of a great pilgrimage of Jews from all over the Maghreb.
11km/7mi south of Er Riadh, near the south coast, lies the village of Guellala, the pottery center of the island. Ancient Haribus (a name derived from heres, a jar) was famed for its pottery, which was dispatched all over the Sahara; and the main street of the present-day village is still lined with potters' shops offering their wares to tourists. There are said to be some 450 potters in this scattered village, and it is well worth visiting at least one of their workshops. The traditional products of the Guellala potters are unglazed storage jars modeled on the ancient amphora. These can still be seen, but the main output now consists of items designed to appeal to tourists, with a predominance of painted pottery. The clay used by the potters is excavated from shafts up to 80m/260ft deep, dried out for two or three days and then broken up and mixed with water (fresh water for red pottery, salt water for white). The pottery is left to dry for 60 days and is then fired for four days in semi-underground kilns, in which it remains for another ten days to cool gradually.
Er Riadh, Tunisia
8km/5mi from Houmt-Souk is Er Riadh, formerly known as Hara Seghira (the "Little Ghetto"), the island's second Jewish community. (The first was Hara Kebira, the "Great Ghetto", on the southeastern outskirts of Houmt-Souk.)HistoryIt is known that numbers of Jews came to Djerba after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, though according to other sources the first Jews arrived at a much earlier date - in the sixth century B.C., following the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. In the 16th and 17th centuries there was a large influx of refugees from Andalusia, who were able to live in peace on the island, for the people of Djerba were very tolerant of other religions. A hundred years ago Jews accounted for 10% of the island's population, but the establishment of the state of Israel after the Second World War led to large-scale emigration, and there are now no more than 1,000-2,000 Jews on Djerba.
At the south end of the island is El Kantara. Little trace is left of the once important Roman town of Meninx which occupied the site. In the remains of a large Christian basilica was found a cruciform font, now in the Bardo Museum in Tunis. El Kantara lies at the end of the causeway (6.4km/4mi long, 10m/33ft wide) linking Djerba with the mainland, which rests on Roman and perhaps even older foundations. Parallel with it runs the pipeline which supplies the hotels in the northeast of the island with water from the mainland.
5km/3mi inland is Midoun, surrounded by gardens, fruit orchards and groves of date-palms. It is the largest market town on Djerba, with a population of 7,000 (market on Friday). The market square, now lined with souvenir shops, is the central point of the picturesque old Medina. The population includes many descendants of slaves brought here from the Sudan. During the main holiday season there is a "fantasia" every Tuesday, with a representation of a traditional wedding celebration (complete with dromedary, folk dancing and equestrian games but without a bride).
From Houmt-Souk MC 116 runs southwest through a thinly populated region of olive-trees and later palm-groves, coming in 22km/14mi to Adjim, on the site of ancient Tipasa (of which there are few remains). It is now a sponge-fishing center. There is a regular car ferry service between Adjim and the mainland (Djorf).
From Houmt-Souk a road runs west to Mellita Airport and, 3km/2mi beyond this, the most northwesterly point on the island, with an old fortress of 1745 now containing a lighthouse. From here a narrow and little used road goes down the coast to Adjim.
Plage Sidi Maharès
9km/6mi east of Houmt-Souk is the Plage Sidi Maharès, the oldest and best developed resort area on the island, extending for some 13km/8mi to Ras Tourgueness with its 54m/177ft high lighthouse. Regular bus services to and from Houmt-Souk and Midoun.
From El Kantara the coast road leads east to a long narrow peninsula, at the southern tip of which is the Bordj Castille, a fort originally built in the 13th century and enlarged in the 15th.
El May, Tunisia
3km/2mi southeast of La Ghriba is El May (pop. 5,000), with the picturesque 16th century Ibadite mosque of Umm et Turkiya (non-Muslims not admitted). From here a minor country road runs west to join a larger road to Guellala.
Between Aghir and Ras Lalla Hadria is the Plage de la Séguia, a 5km/3mi long stretch of sandy beach interrupted here and there by rocks, with many hotels. There are regular bus services to and from Houmt-Souk and Midoun.
4km/2.5mi southwest of Midoun is Mahboubine, with the El Katib Mosque (1903), a small-scale copy of the Haghia Sophia.
6km/4mi east of Guellala is Sedouikech (pop. 4,000; market on Tuesdays), another potters' village.