Tozeur Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of TozeurSituation and characteristicsTozeur is the chief town of the Bled el Djerid, the "Land of Palms", with a large and busy market on Tuesdays.
The inhabitants earn their living from trade, farming and craft industry, the products of which are exchanged in the market for the products of the nomads of the surrounding area. Only the trade in dates is of more than local importance; the top quality deglat en nour ("fingers of light") dates in particular are mainly exported.Typical local craft products are carpets, silk and woolen fabrics, clothing, leather articles and jewelry.In recent years, as in other oases, there has been a considerable development of tourism. New hotels are being built and new roads laid out.HistoryThe history of Tozeur goes back a long way. Situated between the desert and the steppe country, it must have been from time immemorial an important staging-point on the caravan route from the Sahara to the northeastern Mediterranean coast. The town is first mentioned in Roman times, together with other oases in the Djerid, under the name of Thusuros, as an important bastion in the defense of the southern frontier of the province of Africa. Other strong points on this line were Nepte (Nefta), Aquae (El Hamma) and Thigae (Kriz). In Christian times Thusuros became an important center, the see of a bishop, as we know from a letter written by St Augustine to the bishop of Thusuros and other named bishops. There are, however, no remains of the Christian period in Tozeur. During the period of Vandal rule (fifth century onwards) many Christians were martyred here. The Byzantines, who gained control of the area in the sixth century after brief but violent encounters with the local Berber tribes, re-established the bishopric and, like the Romans before them, built a fortress to defend their southern frontier against the desert nomads.In the middle of the seventh century the town was taken by the Arabs and after a long, hard struggle was Islamised. Under Arab rule Tozeur enjoyed a long period of peace during which, as the "gateway to the desert", it developed into an important staging-point on the caravan routes. The town prospered, and a number of well known Koranic schools (medersas) were established here. The caravans also brought many black slaves to Tozeur, which became an important slave market. Many of the town's present-day inhabitants are the descendants of black slaves (the Haratin).The heyday of the town was in the 14th century, when it is believed to have had three times its present population. Its wealth, however, made it the target of increasingly frequent raids by the nomads and of oppressive taxation by the Ottoman authorities who now controlled Tunisia. As a result the economic decline of the town began in the 15th century, and in the following century it was visited by a devastating epidemic of cholera in which half the population died. Thus when Tozeur was taken by the French in 1881 without a fight it was an insignificant little oasis town. Thereafter it was developed on modern, European lines, though retaining its traditional style of brick architecture.AccessTozeur lies on the northwest side of the Chott el Djerid, 93km/58mi southwest of Gafsa, 89km/55mi west of Kebili, 23km/14mi northeast of Nefta and only 58km/36mi from the Algerian frontier. From the airport, 6km/4mi southwest on GP 3, there are weekly flights to Tunis and Paris. There are also charter flights to Tozeur during the holiday season. The railway station, to the west of Avenue de la République (the road to Gafsa), is the terminus of the line from Tunis via Sousse and Sfax. From the bus station, at the intersection of Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Rue de la Liberté, there are regular services to Tunis, Gafsa, Kebili, Nefta, Douz and Hazaoua, the most westerly town in Tunisia, situated on the frontier with Algeria.Oasis FestivalThe Oasis Festival is held at the end of November and beginning of December, with a program which includes parades, folk dances and camel races.
The Oasis is an important date palm agricultural area. Other kinds of fruit trees are grown in the shade of the towering palms.
The old town of Tozeur (Ouled Hadef) lies between the Gafsa-Nefta road, Avenue Habib Bourguiba and Rue des Jardins. It is a maze of narrow and irregular lanes and handsome old houses with decorative brick facades in traditional style. The geometric patterns of the house- fronts are similar to the designs of many Berber carpets. Frequently the upper floors of the houses, borne in round-headed arches, extend over the street to touch the houses on the other side, forming tunnel-like passages which provide shelter from the sun.
The best view of the oasis in Tozeur is to be had from the Belvédère, a viewpoint on the Ras el Aioun (alt. 20m/65ft), a pile of boulders 3km/2mi west of the town on the edge of the oasis. At the foot are the numerous springs (aioun), including one at a temperature of 30°C/86°F, from which the rocks take their name. From the top there are fine views of the town, the oasis and the surrounding desert.AccessLeave Tozeur on Avenue Abou el Kacem ech Chebbi, which runs southwest from the Hotel Oasis, passing the Hotel Continental, the Hotel Djerid and the tourist information office (ONTT). 200m/220yds beyond the ONTT office the road (asphalted) takes a sharp turn to the right. From here a sand track runs through the palm-grove along the right bank of the oued to its source at the foot of the Belvédère, where there are a small camping site and a café.
Bled el Hader
Just before the Hotel Continental a track branches off Avenue Abou el Kacem ech Chabbi and runs south to the little hamlet of Bled el Hader, which is believed to occupy the site of ancient Thusuros. In the center of the village is the mosque of Sidi Bou Ali. Of this five-aisled 11th century mosque there now remain only the ruin of a fine minaret and the mihrab of 1193, now incorporated in the new prayer hall adjoining. In the cemetery to the right of the minaret is the marabout (tomb) of Ibn Chabbat, creator of Tozeur's water distribution system. At the end of the village is an old zaouia, now occupied as a dwelling-house. There are also numbers of old houses with handsome brick facades in traditional style.
Tozeur is famous for its brick architecture, exuberantly patterned in a variety of geometric designs formed from local kiln-fired clay or mud bricks measuring 25 by 10 by 4cm (10 by 4 by 1.5 inches). This "Tozeur style" is found also in neighboring towns such as Nefta. The division of the town into an old town (the Medina) and a new town is not so marked as in other Tunisian towns, since the buildings in the new town, apart from the large hotels, are mostly brick-built in the traditional style. Theold town (Oued Hadef) lies to the south of the Gafsa and Kebili roads and to the east of Avenue Habib Bourguiba and the market square, Place Ibn Chabbat.
In the northern outskirts of Tozeur, beyond the railroad, can be found the Desert Zoo (Zoo du Désert) of Si Tidjani, a citizen of Tozeur who was famed throughout Tunisia as a snake-catcher. In a series of cages, well kept but sometimes very small, are displayed various animals of the desert, now rarely or never met with in the wild. They include desert monitors, sand and horned vipers, scorpions, fennec foxes, jackals, birds of prey and a dromedary which drinks Coca Cola.There is another, smaller zoo in the palm-grove to the south of the town.
Zoo du Désert (Paradis)
400m/440yds from the marabout, outside the village of Abbès, are the Zoo du Désert, another small desert zoo, and "Paradis", a small but interesting botanic garden. Here visitors can see desert animals and the plants of the oasis, including acacias, aloes, cactuses, henna, hibiscus and pomegranate trees. There is a small cafe "teas" made from various kinds of flowers.From here it is possible either to continue to the shores of the Chott el Djerid or to return to Tozeur by way of the hamlet of Sahraoui.
In Rue de Kairouan in Tozeur, housed in the Koubba of Sidi Bou Aissa, is the small Folk Museum (Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires, or Musée ATP for short). The exhibits, displayed in three small rooms and a courtyard, include Roman columns and fragments of statues from ancient Thusuros, local craft products both ancient and modern, furniture and furnishings, coins, pottery, jewelry, wedding garments, everyday objects and old Koranic inscriptions.
The hub of the new town of Tozeur is Place Ibn Chabbat, named after the 13th century imam who laid down the water distribution system for the oases. Flanking the square are the market hall built during the French protectorate, dominated by the minaret of the Great Mosque, the post office, banks, cafes and restaurants. In this area too are the larger hotels, mainly on Avenue Abou el Kacem ech Chabbi, along the south side of the new town.
Abbes Marabout of Sidi Ali Bou Lifa, Tunisia
2km/1.25mi south of Bled el Hader is the hamlet of Abbès, at the far end of which, on the left, is the marabout of a local holy man, Sidi Ali Bou Lifa, topped by a mighty dome. In front of the marabout, which attracts large numbers of pilgrims, is a large and much revered jujube tree, said to have been planted by the holy man himself.
Map of Tozeur Attractions