Native name: Girba جربة
Djerba is located in Tunisia
Djerba (Tunisia)
Location Gulf of Gabès
Area 514 km2 (198.5 sq mi)
Largest city Houmt Souk (pop. 70,000)
Population 139,544 (as of 2004 Census)
Density 271.5 /km2 (703.2 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Berber, Arabs, Jews and black African

Djerba (Arabic: جربةǦirba), also transliterated as Jerba or Jarbah,[1] is, at 514 km², the largest island of North Africa, located in the Gulf of Gabes, off the coast of Tunisia.



Djerba has a mild climate and a well cultivated soil. Its largest city is Houmt-Souk, with a population of around 60,000. The island is a popular tourist destination, particularly for Australian, New Zealand, and Czech tourists, and is known for its beautiful beaches and dramatic sunsets. It is one of the few remaining places in Tunisia where a Berber language is still spoken. Another factor drawing some tourists to Djerba is the 1977 location of the Mos Eisley exterior scenes in the first Star Wars movie, filmed in the town of Ajim.

Djerba is noted as a center of the Islamic sect Al-Ibadhiyah and is also noted for its Jewish minority, which has dwelt on the island for more than 2,500 years, although the Jewish population has declined due to emigration to Israel and France since 1967. Most of the Djerba Jews belong to Cohanim, a tribe in Judaism, and have remained loyal Cohanim for centuries. The El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba is over 2,000 years old and is as such the oldest and one of the most famous in the world.

Djerba also has a a sizeable minority of Maltese Catholics, who established themselves on the island as sponge-fishers. olkol remains a Roman Catholic titular see in the ecclesiastical province of African Tripoli.


Legend has it that Djerba was the island of the Lotus-Eaters where Odysseus stranded on his voyage through the Mediterranean.

The island, called Meninx until the third century AD, included three principal towns. One of these, whose modern name is Būrgū, is found near Midoun in the center of the island. The remains of a large town dating from the fourth century BC are signalled by high mounds and dense pottery, as well as by a major tomb, possibly that of a member of the Numidian royal family. Another city, on the southeast coast of the island at Meninx, was a major producer of murex dye, cited by Pliny the Elder as second only to Tyre in this respect; substantial amounts of coloured marble testify to its wealth. In the third century the same town appears to have been called Girba, whence the present name of the island. At least two bishops of Girba are known, Monnulus and Vincent, who assisted at the Councils of Carthage in 255 and 525 (Toulotte, Géographie de l'Afrique chrétienne Proconsulaire, Paris, 1892, pp. 353 and 380). Their cathedral can be identified with ruins to the southwest of Meninx. A third important town, on the south coast near the modern pottery village of Guellala; was probably the ancient Haribus. The island was densely inhabited in the Roman and Byzantine periods, and probably imported much of the grain consumed by its inhabitants. A collapse can be seen after 650 A.D., when the Justinianic plague may have struck the port of Meninx.

Ghazi Mustapha Fort, Djerba, Tunisia

During the Middle Ages, it was occupied by members of the Kharejite sect, known as the Ibadites. The Christians of Sicily and Aragon disputed its possession with the Ibadites of the island. Remains from this period include numerous small mosques dating as early as the twelfth century, as well as two substantial forts. The island was controlled twice by the Norman Kingdom of Sicily: in *1135 - 1158 and in *1284 - 1333. During the second of these periods it was organised as a feudal lordship, with the following Lords of Jerba: 1284 - 1305 Roger I, 1305–1307 and 1307 - 1310 Roger II (twice), 1310 Charles, 1310 Francis-Roger III; there were also royal governors, partially overlapping with the lordship terms: c.1305 - 1308 Simon de Montolieu, 1308 - 1315 Raymond Montaner.

In 1513, after three years in exile in Rome, the Fregosi family returned to Genoa, Ottaviano was elected Doge, and his brother Federigo Fregosi (archbishop, later cardinal), having become his chief counsellor, was placed at the head of the army, and defended the republic against internal dangers (revolts of the Adorni and the Fieschi) and external dangers, notably suppression of the Barbary piracy: Cortogoli, a corsair from Tunis, blockaded the coast with a squadron, and within a few days had captured eighteen merchantmen; being given the command of the Genoese fleet, in which Andrea Doria was serving, Federigo surprised Cortogoli before Bizerta, effected a descent on the island of Djerba and returned to Genoa with great booty.

It was also twice occupied by Spain: 1521 - 1524 & 1551 - 31 July 1560; again there were governors: 1521 - 1524 ..., 1560 Giovanni Andrea Doria. The island was temporarily the base of the Turkish corsair and admiral Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in the 16th century. On May 14, 1560, the Ottoman fleet under the command of Piyale Pasha and Turgut Reis severely defeated the Holy League of Philip II at the Battle of Djerba. Djerba belonged to the Ottoman regency of Tunis until 1881, subsequently under the French colonial protectorate, which became the modern republic of Tunisia.

An archaeological field survey of Jerba, carried out under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, the American Academy in Rome and the Tunisian Instiut National du Patrimoine between 1995 and 2000, revealed over 400 archaeological sites, including many Punic and Roman villas.[2]

In the Ghriba synagogue bombing on April 11, 2002, a truck full of explosives was detonated close to the famous synagogue, killing 21 people (14 German tourists, 5 Tunisians and 2 Frenchmen). Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility. For a time tourists ceased visiting Djerba, but normal activity has since resumed.

Administration and population

The island comprises three of the delegations within the Tunisian Departement of Médenine. Named after the three towns which form their administrative centres, these delegations (with their 2004 Census populations in brackets) are Djerba Houmt Souk (64,919), Djerba Midoun (50,459) and Djerba Ajim (24,166) - the island's population at the Census thus totalling 139,544.


See also


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. 

  1. ^ ^ Transliteration from
  2. ^ E. Fentress, A. Drine and R. Holod, eds. An Island through Time: Jerba Studies vol 1. The Punic and Roman Periods. Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary series 71,2009.

External links

Coordinates: 33°47′N 10°53′E / 33.783°N 10.883°E / 33.783; 10.883

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