Djerba: cultural landscape, testimony to a settlement pattern in an island territory, reflects how the local communities adapted to life in a water-scarce environment.
Between the 9th and the 18th century, the island was divided into small, clustered neighbourhoods called houma that were self-sufficient. The main centre for trade on the island was Houmt-Souk, and there were two urban residential neighbourhoods for Jewish communities (Hara Sghira and Hara Kbira). Notable remains among the 31 locations further include the synagogue of Ghriba, the church of St. Nicolas and many mosques.
Community Perspective: reviews of Djerba have not been flattering so far, but they pre-date the final inscription which seems more focused than the "crappy traces of archeology" of the Tentative Site.
Map of DjerbaLoad map
On our Tunisia journey this April, we visited the island of Djerba. Visiting all the country’s WHS’ we wanted to add on a visit the only site which will supposedly be forwarded (next year). Not knowing too much about the island upfront thus we decided to stay a day (and two nights) to explore it. Even though the island is far from small the mentioned elements in the site description are limited, so with all due respect to the island’s nature, history, culture and trade traditions, there is not much to see!
The nature - is semi-desert like impression all over, except for then inhabited areas. Sandy and rocky, some scattered palms and some slightly cultivated fields. The description says it’s a “dispersed habitat illustrating a great capacity of adaptation”, but we failed to see the beauty or the uniqueness.
The history - is more interesting, but the tangible part is limited.
The culture - is albeit more visual. There are heritage museums showing off the lifestyle and clothing and their way of managing daily life.
The trade traditions - is also partly “documented” through the heritage museums and some of the buildings.
The collection of scattered elements is meant to represent the heritage and we spent our time visiting a collection of them. We used a handy app called “Djerba Guide“.
The most interesting element was the venerable synagogue of Ghriba from the 19th century. The exterior is decent, not flashy. The interior though, is more interesting (3 pictures). Even though we haven’t been visiting many synagogues it looks interesting, and it is historic. According to legend it’s the oldest in Tunisia and the founding claims that either a stone or a door from Solomon's Temple or the Second Temple is incorporated in the building.
Borj El Ghazi Mustapha (one picture) is an ancient castle in Houmt Souk and built on the site of an old ribat from the early days of Islam. It is the largest and best-preserved local castle and is from the 14th century. A nice site to visit, but it doesn’t appear unique.
The Numidian mausoleum of Henchir Bourgou is nothing more than a small piece of a ruin, not even recognisable as a piece of a wall. It could have been anything! It’s probably old, but it’s hard to see the origin.
As it is also a sub-site of the TWHS “The royal Numidian mausoleums” we were disappointed. This can’t possibly be the main element of that TWHS!
The archaeological site of “the opulent ancient city of Meninx” is a serious of stones lined up in the semi-desert like surroundings. You can see there is patterns on the stones, but there is impossible to see where they “belong”.
There are many mosques, even one underground (which can be visited). Those mosques are not anything like other mosques we have visited before, they are more modest end simple. A good thing, but hardly universal value.
Both in Houmt Souk and Guellalla (the ceramics city) there are heritage museums. The first one small, but the second one is bigger and more interesting, although just modest.
Our final attempt was to look closer at the town Houmt Souk. The “fondouks”, the trading posts or buildings, looks nice although they now are converted to hotels, restaurants or cafes. You can imagine their origin.
The OUV on Djerba is hard to understand. The only maybe is the old synagogue of Ghriba.
Since we are “a driving couple” we took our rental down south from Tunis, through five WHS’, and the TWHS’ of Sfax and Oasis of Gabes. From Sfax it’s a 3 ½ to 4-hour ride and from Gabes it’s slightly more than two hours.
We approached the island through the ferry from Jorf entering the west side of Djerba, a ferry ride of 20 min. We had practically no wating time, but we heard later that we were lucky.
We left the island through “The roman road”, the artificial mainland connection at the south end.
We stayed a night in a lovely 5 room Dar called Dar Bibine (www.darbibine.com) in the town of Erriadh run by an expat couple from Belgium. The town has numerous building walls with street art which was interesting although the art is modern.
### Randi & Svein Elias
Update Sep 2023: This was actually inscribed even though it wasn't recommended to be, but naturally the process these days is so chilled that pretty much anything is inscribed as World Heritage. Anyhow, the main reason for my update is that the sites I posted about were not included even though I thought Meninx would have something if expanded on and what a surprise that the weird "rock" wasn't inscribed. Instead they only inscribed mosques, mosques, and more mosques. Now before you get a fitty about me being anti-Muslim or something that's not my rant here at all: they are just so-so old mosques and aren't worth to be WH. The state party basically just spun this into "many people lived her over many years as you can see by religious devoted", well, that's not special and many places in the world have old, better, and more valuable mosques (or other cultural buildings). So, big thumbs down but whatcha gonna do - don't expect anything special on your day tour around Djerba and enjoy the beach resorts instead! Previous review for the tentative site is below.
Absolutely horrible. Djerba is great for beach resorts but trying to include the crappy traces of archeology around is just pathetic. I would give it half a star. That "thing" in the top right corner is actually a site! The Meninx remains may be sort of interesting but you only see these symmetrically placed rocks... Seriously?! If you are on Djerba with a car then by all means have a look around but doing a tour, as I saw another couple do, is just a waste of money. You are better off visiting the Mos Eisley Cantina than mosques and towers.
I visited Djerba for holidays in February of 2009. I was very surprised now when I saw that it was to be nominated as a WHS since I found the island neither very beautiful (it is totally flat) nor archeologically or architecturally interesting. I didn't even feel the need to take any pictures! We made a tour of the island and the most memorable place was the synagogue but even this didn't impress me much. More impressive was an excursion into the desert but naturally this was on the mainland. All in all it seemed very touristy and with few historic monuments. I doubt this has changed much since.
2023 Advisory Body overruled
ICOMOS advised Referral, as what is left is too fragmented to constitute a cultural landscape. Not all components are protected by legislation. No integrated management system for the series.
2021 Incomplete - not examined
The site has 31 locations
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World Heritage Process
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