Kerkennah Islands Attractions Iles Kerkennah
Boat servicesFrom Sfax there are, depending on the season, between two and five car ferries daily to Sidi Youssef, at the southwestern tip of the island of Gharbi; the crossing takes 75 minutes. From Sidi Youssef there are several buses daily to places in the interior of the island.Situation and characteristicsThe attractive Kerkennah Islands lie off the Tunisian coast between 20 and 40km (12.5 and 25mi) east of Sfax. The archipelago consists of seven islands with a total area of some 180sq.km/70sq.mi. Only the two principal islands, Gharbi and Chergui, are inhabited. They are linked by a 1km/0.75mi long causeway built in 1961 on Roman foundations.LandscapeThe islands are predominantly flat (highest point 13m/43ft) and sandy. There is little farming, for rainfall is low (200mm/8in. a year) and the ground-water is of poor quality. As a result of the high humidity of the air the extensive palm-groves seen on the road from Sidi Youssef at the southern tip of Gharbi and El Attaia in the northeast of Chergui bear practically no fruit. The most useful part of the palms is the leaves, which are used in the construction of the V-shaped fish-traps to be seen in shallow water all round the islands.EconomyThe inhabitants of the islands' thirteen villages live mainly by fishing, sponge-diving and the sale of their craft products. Recently the tourist trade has established a foothold on Chergui, with a new holiday complex at Sidi Fredj, west of the village of Ouled Kacem on the southwest coast of the island. The sandy beaches, most of them still almost unfrequented, offer excellent conditions for diving.
The smaller island of Gharbi (chief place Mellita) measures only 14km/8.5mi by 6km/4mi.HistoryThe Kerkennah Islands were known to the Greeks as Kyrannis and to the Romans as Cercina. It is established that they were already occupied in Punic times, for Hannibal chose them as his place of banishment after his defeat in the battle of Zama in 202 B.C. In Roman times Sallust made the islands his base during Caesar's conflict with Pompey. In later centuries they became involved in the conflicts between Arabs and Christians, and later still suffered during Spanish punitive expeditions against the corsairs who infested the North African coasts. The villages were destroyed and finally abandoned because it was no longer safe to live in them. The ancestors of the present population came to the islands from the mainland only in the 17th and 18th centuries. They emerged into the light of history again during the Tunisian struggle for independence. The future trade union leader Farhat Hached was born here, and in 1945 Habib Bourguiba escaped from French custody on Chergui and took refuge in Libya.
From Sidi Youssef a good road runs the length of Gharbi and Chergui. At Mellita are the ruins of a Turkish defensive tower. The road then continues to Remla (petrol station, bank, shops), El Kellabine, El Abassia and the village of Ech Chergui, from which Bourguiba escaped to Libya. Visitors can see the hut in which he spent the night and the boat which he used. The road is signposted "Résidence du Salut du Président Bourguiba".
Chergui, also known as Grand Kerkennah, is 22km/14mi long and up to 10km/6mi wide at its northern end.
El Attaia, Tunisia
At the northeast corner of Chergui is El Attaia, the chief place on the Kerkennah Islands.
Tour of the Kerkennah Islands
The Kerkennah Islands have no features of great historical or artistic interest, but they are worth a visit for the sake of the peace and relaxation they offer.