Gabes Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of GabèsSituation and characteristicsGabès (Arabic Kabis), the "gateway to the South", lies on the Gulf of Gabès, known in antiquity as Syrtis Minor.
To the north are the fringes of the fertile Sahel, to the south lies the coastal zone known as the Littoral, merging on the landward side into the semi-desertic Djeffara plain which extends to the Libyan frontier.Gabès, an amalgamation of the two old villages of Djara to the north and Menzel to the south, is the chief town of a long coastal oasis in which there are nine other settlements. Within the oasis are more than half a million date palms and extensive plantations of fruit-trees (apricots, figs, olives, pomegranates). Its water comes from the oued which rises 10km/6mi away and from artesian wells.The town's economy depends not only on agriculture and fisheries but also increasingly on the large industrial plants established in recent years round the New Harbor to the north of the town (phosphate works, oil refinery, cement factory). The principal exports from the Old Harbor are local agricultural products. Other important sources of income are the traditional crafts of carpet-making, basketwork and jewelry.Thanks to the town's mild climate, even in winter, and to the attractions offered by the oasis and the magnificent sandy beaches there has been a considerable development of the tourist trade in recent years. There are musical and folk festivals in July and August, and the local holy man, Sidi Boulbaba, is commemorated at the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.HistoryThe Phoenicians established a trading post on this site between the steppe country, the desert and the sea, with a source of fresh water nearby. Thanks to its situation at the intersection of the caravan routes from the Sahara and the coastal road to the north the settlement rapidly prospered. Under the Romans it became the Colonia Tacapae. Soon, however, its situation turned from an advantage into a disadvantage, when successive conquerors passed through the area on their way to North Africa. Peace returned only in the seventh century under Arab rule, when Sidi Boulbaba, Mohammed's barber, settled in the town.During the Middle Ages Gabès enjoyed a second period of prosperity as a trading center for caravans from the interior of the continent. Under the French protectorate it was overshadowed by the more northerly towns of Sfax and Sousse.In the Second World War Gabès, lying between the German and Allied fronts (the Mareth Line), suffered frequent bombing and heavy destruction. Its economy recovered with the development of industrialization, and Gabès is now the leading industrial center in southern Tunisia.AccessGabès is on GP 1 (Sfax-Médenine), 405km/252mi south of Tunis. Rail connections with Sfax, Sousse and Tunis; station in Rue Mongi Slim. Bus services to and from Sfax, Sousse, Tunis, Kairouan, Médenine/Foum Tataouine, Gafsa, Tozeur, Kebili/Douz, Matmata, Djorf/Djerba and Ben Gardane/Tripoli; bus station (Gare Routière) on the northwest side of the town (Sfax road).
The oasis around Gabès offers a chance to see numerous small settlements. Visitors can tour the area by car or a horse-drawn carriage known locally as a caléche.
45km/28mi south of Gabès is Matmata, the best known and most visited troglodytic village in Tunisia. It is reached on MC 107, which runs via Matmata Nouvelle to the site of the underground dwellings. The little town (pop. 3,000) lies on the eastern slopes of the Dahar uplands at a height of 650m/2,130ft. Matmata Nouvelle, founded only in the 1960s, is now the center of the region, with shops, a school, a post office and a petrol station. 15km/9mi beyond Matmata Nouvelle is the cratered landscape of the old troglodytic village, most of which is now uninhabited. The inhabitants of the village sought shelter from the sun by constructing their curious underground cave dwellings. They first excavated a circular pit some 12m/40ft in diameter and between 6 and 12m (20 and 40ft) deep, round which living quarters (usually two-storied), store-rooms, granaries and stalls for animals were hewn from the rock. In this central courtyard, which was entered through a sloping tunnel and was used in common by the members of the extended family, was the oven (tabouna) for baking bread. Some of these underground dwellings have been converted into simple hotels; others now house small museums. The population live by agriculture. Rainwater is collected in ponds formed by the damming of depressions in the ground and distributed in small channels to the surrounding plantations of olives, dates, figs and corn. There is a good general view of the area from the hill to the west.
Chenini du Gabes, Tunisia
The most visited of the oasis villages is Chenini du Gabès (4km/2.5mi west of Gabès), which is famed for its beautiful basketwork. It is reached by leaving Gabès on the Sfax road, turning left just before the bridge over the Oued Gabès and thereafter following the signposts. On the outskirts of Chenini we come to the so-called Barrage Romain, a storage reservoir which regulates the flow of the Oued Gabès. There is believed to have been a dam here in Roman times, and this may have yielded the large blocks of dressed stone used in the present dam. Here too is a small zoo of desert animals, including gazelles, crocodiles and various species of birds. Above the reservoir, easily reached on foot, is the Chela Club Hotel, with a fine view from the plateau over the treetops of the oasis.
Gabès is predominantly a modern town. After a stroll along Avenue Habib Bourguiba, the main shopping and business street, and a visit to the Grande Jara, the souk quarter around the Great Mosque, it is worth looking in at the showrooms of ONAT (Organization Nationale de l'Artisanat Tunisien), with its demonstration of carpet-making and its display of craft products for sale. To the north of the oued lies the old quarter known as Petite Jara, with the 11th century Mosque of Sidi Driss (restored 1972) and the camping site. From Avenue Habib Bourguiba its continuation, Avenue Habib Thameur, descends to the harbor.
Mosque of Sidi Boulbaba
Gabès's principal sight is the Mosque of Sidi Boulbaba, situated on a hill to the left of the Matmata road, on the southwestern outskirts of the town. Here too is the tomb of Sidi Boulbaba, the Prophet Mohammed's barber, who retired to Gabès in the seventh century. The walls of the courtyard (which visitors may enter) are decorated with beautiful tiles and bands of inscriptions. Immediately adjoining is the former Koranic school (medersa), which now houses a small folk museum.
El Hamma du Gabes, Tunisia
27km/17mi west of Gabès is the oasis of El Hamma du Gabès, with a number of villages. The hot sulfurous springs (46°C/115°F) were already frequented in Roman times, when the "spa" of Aquae Tacapitanae was founded. There are remains of Roman basins. Market day is Wednesday.
The museum in Gabès (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires) has an interesting collection which includes everyday objects, traditional woven fabrics, local costumes and a bride's dress, jewelry and trousseau, as well as Punic, Roman and Byzantine antiquities.
10km/6mi west of Gabès, commandingly situated on a hill, is the Berber village of Tamezret.
Map of Gabes Attractions