Kerkennah Islands seen from space
|Area||160 km2 (62 sq mi)|
Kerkennah Islands (Arabic: جزر قرقنة) are a group of islands lying off the east coast of Tunisia in the Gulf of Gabes, at . The Islands are low-lying being no more than 13 metres (43 feet) above sea level. The main islands are Chergui and Gharbi. The archipelago has an area of 160 square kilometres (62 sq mi) and a population of 14,400 (2006).
Kerkennah's main town, Remla (on Chergui) has a population of 2,000. The population of the islands significantly decreased during the 1980s due to drought. The islands were unable to provide suitable irrigation systems and, with clean water rapidly running out, many islanders were forced to leave for mainland Tunisia, the nearest town being Sfax.
Kerkennah has a lengthy, but simple history. The natives of Tunisia and Kerkennah originally settled there, but during the spread of the Roman Empire, Kerkennah was used as a port and look-out point by the Romans, to keep note of off-shore activity. In 2 B.C, Augustus exiled Sempronius Gracchus, a lover of Julia the Elder, to the islands for 14 years for his shameful indiscretions with his then married daughter.
Among the Catholic bishops whom the Arian Vandal king Huneric summoned to Carthage in 484, was a Bishop Athenius of Cercina, the seat of the bishopric being in the most easterly island of the group. No longer a residential bishopric, Cercina is today listed by the Catholic Church as a titular see.
The islands are warm and dry, with strong prevailing winds. This is mainly due to its positioning in the Gulf of Gabes, with strong sea winds (Gharbi), carried over the mainland, making them hot and dry. What little water vapour there is, is lost over cooler Tunisia first. This causes the general ecology of the island to mainly consist of tall xerophytic (and often halophytic) flora, such as palms and saltbushes.
The land is arid, as if desertification was imminent. Agriculture, therefore, is not a key industry of Kerkennah, the islanders rely more on a self-sufficient basis, such as owning chickens and goats for their own personal consumption. Fishing, including a lot of octopus fishing, is also a key industry of Kerkennah, where it is exported to mainland Tunisia and other nearby countries.
Relative to the mainland and as a result of the lack of tourist-attracting "endless" sandy beaches, tourism is limited in Kerkennah. Many mainland Tunisians spend their holidays in Kerkennah, and many more affluent Tunisians often build private second homes on the island. The Kerkennians have a negative view of road building on their island; apart from the main roads linking the port and main towns, there are only dirt tracks, which is how they desire it to stay. This causes a far from homogeneous appearance. There are some British and German tourists, but German tourism declined after a severe storm hit Kerkennah one year. Such storms are rare for Kerkennah, but temperatures remain high, with a minimum of 15 °C (59 °F) and often reaching 48 °C (118 °F).
The north includes a port known as Kraten.
- G.-L. Feuille, v. Cercina, in Dictionnaire d'Histoire et de Géographie ecclésiastiques, vol. XII, Paris 1953, col. 160
- Stefano Antonio Morcelli, Africa christiana, Volume I, Brescia 1816, pp. 140–141
- Annuario Pontificio 2013 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013 ISBN 978-88-209-9070-1), p. 866
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