The Oasis, Gabès
Every visitor should drive through the extensive oasis to the north and west of Gabès, in which there are a number of small settlements. The trip can be done by car, but a more leisurely form of transport is a horse-drawn carriage (calèche), which can be hired at the entrance to the town, near the bus station. To avoid any misunderstanding the fare should be agreed before setting out. The water supply for the oasis, which covers an area of some 2,000 hectares/5,000 acres, comes from the Oued Gabès and numerous artesian wells. Serious difficulties have arisen, however, as a result of the low rainfall of recent years and the heavy consumption of water by industry. The water table has fallen markedly and it has been necessary to draw water from a depth of several hundred meters. This is the only oasis in North Africa lying directly on the sea. The resultant high humidity of the air reduces the yield of the date-palms and the quality of the dates, and accordingly the economy of the oasis depends mainly on its market gardens and fruit orchards. This was also the case in Roman times, as Pliny the Elder reports in his "Natural History":"When you reach the Syrtes and Leptis Magna you come to an African city called Tacapae ... In the shadow of the tall palms grows the olive, under the olive the fig-tree, below this the pomegranate and the vine, and under the vines corn and vegetables; one plant grows in the shade of another, and all bear fruit in the same year." The picture is still basically the same as in Roman times. The market gardens and fruit orchards are mostly in the center of the oasis, while the date-palms are concentrated mainly on the fringes. The principal horticultural crops are vegetables, tobacco, pepper, grapes, indigo, pumpkins, bananas and melons; the main types of fruit are peaches, apricots, pomegranates, olives and citrus fruits.