Gafsa Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of GafsaSituation and characteristicsGafsa, situated on the border between the steppe country and the desert, is the principal commercial and communications center of southwestern Tunisia.
It lies in a large upland oasis with some 300,000 date-palms, huge plantations of olive-trees and artificially irrigated fruit orchards.Nearby are large deposits of phosphates and iron ore.The town's economy is centered on the marketing of agricultural produce and the production of woven fabrics in traditional designs. Many families live by making and selling fine carpets as well as white-and-red striped woolen blankets, and many men find employment in the phosphate mines at Metlaoui, 42km/26mi east. There is a large market on Tuesdays.HistoryThe Gafsa area was already settled by man in the eighth millennium B.C. The culture of that period is known as Capsian (from Capsa, the Latin name for Gafsa), after the type site on Djebel Assalah (3km/2mi from the town). In the second century B.C. there was a Numidian settlement here, which was conquered and destroyed by Marius in 106 B.C. The town was refounded under the Roman Empire and developed into an important garrison town and spa. In the reign of Trajan it was given the status of a colonia. In 540 it was fortified by the Byzantines and renamed Justiniania. It was again destroyed by the Arabs in 680 and thereafter was slow to recover. The old Kasbah, built by the Hafsids in 1434, was captured by the Turkish corsair Dragut in 1556.The discovery of phosphate deposits in the early 20th century brought a rapid economic upswing. The phosphates are now processed in Gafsa, Sfax and Gabès to produce artificial fertilisers, fluorine and phosphoric acid.In the Second World War the town suffered severe destruction during fighting between German and Allied forces. In 1980 it was the target of a guerrilla attack, allegedly supported by Libya, in an attempted coup d'état.After the destruction it suffered during the Second World War Gafsa was rebuilt with wide avenues and spacious squares and is now a town of mainly modern aspect, with few remains of the Roman period.AccessGafsa lies at the intersection of a number of important roads: GP 15 from Kasserine; GP 3, coming from Kairouane and continuing to Tozeur; GP 14 from Sfax; and GP 15 from Gabès. It is 146km/91mi northwest of Gabès, 106km/66mi south of Kasserine and 93km/58mi northeast of Tozeur.Rail connections with Metlaoui/Tozeur, Gabès and Sfax/Sousse/Tunis; station (Gafsa-Gare) 3km/2mi southeast on the Gabès road. Bus services to and from Metlaoui, Tozeur, Nefta, Kairouan/Tunis, Sfax and Gabès; bus station (Gare Routière) in the town center.
At the southeast end of Avenue Habib Bourguiba can be found Gafsa's principal tourist sight, the Roman Pools (Piscines Romaines). There are two 4m/13ft deep pools linked by a small tunnel and fed by thermal springs at a temperature of 25°C/77°F. The massive blocks of dressed stone of which the pools are constructed date from the Roman period, and some of them bear inscriptions. When there are any tourists about the local children jump into the pools from the top of the walls or from the surrounding palm-trees in the expectation of a suitable reward. In the water live blue-lipped mouthbreeders (cichlids), a species of fish which incubate their eggs in their mouths. Beside the larger of the two pools stands the old Turkish Bey's Palace, with arcading borne on columns with antique capitals.
El Guettar, Tunisia
El Guettar is a small oasis village 18km/11mi south of Gafsa on the Chott el Guettar. The palm-groves here, which yield high-quality dates, are still irrigated by the traditional foggaras, otherwise found only in the Nefzaoua oases on the southeast side of the Chott el Djerid. The water flows through underground channels, the line of which is marked by a series of vertical shafts, with a built-up mound of earth at the point where the channel emerges from underground. The advantage of this system is the reduction in the amount of water lost by evaporation. Many of the underground channels, however, are now blocked.
A short distance southwest of the Roman Pools in Gafsa, through the narrow streets of the rebuilt old town is the Great Mosque (Grande Mosquée), its minaret a prominent landmark. Originally dating from the 14th century, it was rebuilt in the 1960s. The ground-plan, with 19 aisles, each of five bays, is reminiscent of the Sidi Oqba Mosque in Kairouan. The prayer hall has numerous antique columns, blue tile decoration and a beautifully carved minbar (pulpit). From the minaret there are fine views of the town, the oasis and the hills to the north.
The focal point of Gafsa is Square Bourguiba on the east side of the town, with numerous shops and cafes flanking the gardens in the center. On the northeast side of the square (which is actually triangular) runs Rue Mohammed Khadouna, and on the west side is the smaller Place de la Victoire, the hub of the busy old town. Parallel to Rue Mohammed Khadouna on the west side of the town is Avenue Habib Bourguiba, lined with government offices and public buildings.
In Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Gafsa is the Kasbah, built in 1434 by the Hafsid ruler Abou Abdallah Mohammed on the foundations of a Byzantine fortress. It was badly damaged in 1943 when a German ammunition depot exploded, but it has now been restored to its original appearance. Incorporated in it is a new building housing the Law Courts (Palais de Justice).
The Lalla oasis, 7km/4.5mi southeast of Gafsa, is scenically the most attractive. It is reached by leaving Gafsa on the Gabès road and taking a road on the left immediately after crossing the railroad. Above the Oued Melah is a small café from which there is a fine view of the oasis.
The Gafsa oasis, consisting of three large groves of date-palms, encircles the town on the south, east and west. Because of the local climate the dates are of inferior quality and are used only as animal fodder. The more important crops are fruit (apricots, oranges, lemons), figs, vines and vegetables.
Adjoining the Roman Pools in Gafsa is a small museum displaying Roman mosaics, partly originals and partly large-scale reproductions of mosaics in the museums of Sousse and Tunis.
The best view of Gafsa and the oasis is from the Mida Hill, which is reached from the Tozeur road.
On the west side of Gafsa, just off the Tozeur road, is the ONAT (Organization Nationale de l'Artisanat Tunisien) shop, with demonstrations of weaving.
Sidi Ahmed Zarrouk
Six km/4mi northwest of Gafsa, off the Tozeur road, is the little oasis of Sidi Ahmed Zarrouk, with thermal baths (sulfurous water) and a hotel.
Gafsa is a good base from which to visit the upland oases of Chebika, Tamerza and Midès.
Map of Gafsa Attractions