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ISD highres ISS002 ISS002-749-82 3.JPG
Jerba is located in Tunisia
Location Gulf of Gabès
Area 514 km2 (198 sq mi)
Largest settlement Houmt El Souk (pop. 75,904)
Population 163,726 (2013 Estimate)
Pop. density 309 /km2 (800 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Berbers, Arabs, Jews and Black African

Djerba (Arabic: جربة‎‎ About this sound ˈʒɪrbæ), also transliterated as Jerba or Jarbah,[1] is, at 514 square kilometres (198 sq mi), the largest island of North Africa, located in the Gulf of Gabès, off the coast of Tunisia. It had a population of 139,544 at the 2004 Census, while the latest official estimate (as at 1 July 2014) is 163,726.


Legend has it that Djerba was the island of the lotus-eaters[2] where Odysseus was stranded on his voyage through the Mediterranean Sea.

The island, which was called Meninx until the third century AD, includes three principal towns. One of these, whose modern name is Būrgū[citation needed], is found near Midoun in the center of the island. Another city, on the southeast coast of the island at Meninx, was a major producer of priceless murex dye, and is cited by Pliny the Elder as second only to Tyre in this regard. A third important town was 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.

Ghazi Mustapha Fort, Djerba, Tunisia

During the Middle Ages, Djerba was occupied by Ibadi Muslims, who claimed it as their own. The Christians of Sicily and Aragon disputed this claim with the Ibadites. Remains from this period include numerous small mosques dating from 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, whose times in power partially overlapped with those of the Lords: c. 1305–1308 Simon de Montolieu, 1308–1315 Ramon Muntaner.

In 1503, the corsair Oruç Reis and his brother Hayreddin Barbarossa took control of the island and turned it into their main base in the western Mediterranean, thus bringing it under Ottoman control. Spain launched a disastrous attempt to capture it in November, 1510. In 1513, after three years in exile in Rome, the Fregosi family returned to Genoa, Ottaviano was elected Doge, and his brother, Archbishop Federigo Fregoso (later cardinal), having become his chief educator, 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. Soon after, he carried out an invasion and occupation of the island and returned to Genoa with great booty.

Spanish forces returned to Djerba in 1520, and this time were successful in capturing the island. It was twice occupied by Spain, from 1521 to 1524 and from 1551 to 1560; again there were governors: 1521–1524 ..., 1560 Giovanni Andrea Doria.

On May 14, 1560, the Ottoman fleet, under the command of Piali Pasha and Dragut, severely defeated the "Holy League" of Philip II of Spain at the Battle of Djerba. From that time until 1881, Djerba belonged to the Ottoman regency of Tunis.

Subsequently, it came under the French colonial protectorate, which became the modern republic of Tunisia.

An archaeological field survey of Djerba, carried out between 1995 and 2000 under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania, the American Academy in Rome and the Tunisian Institut National du Patrimoine, revealed over 400 archaeological sites, including many Punic and Roman villas.[3]

Ecclesiastical history[edit]

The city Girba in the Roman province of Tripolitania (mostly in modern Libya), which gave its name to the island, was important enough to become a suffragan bishop of its capital's Archbishopric. Known Bishops of antiquity include:

  • Proculus (Maximus Bishop fl393)
  • Quoduultdeus (Catholic Bishop fl401-411) attending Council of Carthage
  • Euasius (Donatist Bishop fl411) rival at Council of Carthage
  • Urbanus (Catholic bishop fl445-454
  • Faustinus (Catholic bishop fl. 484), exiled by King Huneric of the Vandals
  • Vincentius (Catholic bishop fl. 523-525)

Titular see of Girba[edit]

The Ancient diocese of Girba was nominally restored in 1895 as a Latin titular bishopric of the lowest (episcopal) rank.

So far, it has had the following incumbents :

Administration and population[edit]

The island comprises three of the delegations within the Tunisian Département of Médenine. Named after the three towns which form their administrative centres, these delegations, with their 2004 Census populations and their estimated population as at 1 July 2013, are:

Name Arabic name Population
Census 2004
Estimate 1 July 2013
Djerba Houmet Souk جربة حومة السوق 64,919 74,808
Djerba Midoun جربة ميدون 50,459 58,575
Djerba Ajim جربة أجيم 24,166 25,558


Berber villages of Tunisia

Jerba Berber, a Berber language, called chelha by its speakers, is spoken in some villages, including Guellala, Iquallalen, Ajim, Sedriane, Sedouikech, Azdyuch, Mahboubine and Ouirsighen.

History of Djerba's Jewish community[edit]

A Jewish minority has dwelt on the island continuously for more than 2,500 years.[4][5]

This community is unique in Jewish history for its unusually high percentage of Kohanim (Hebrew; the Jewish Priestly caste), direct Patrilineal descendants of Aaron, the first Biblical high priest. Because of this, the island is known among Jews as the island of the Kohanim. One of the community's synagogues, known simply as El Ghriba synagogue, is one of the most famous synagogues in the world. This is because it has been in continuous use for over 2,000 years.[6][7] The Jews were settled in two main communities: the Hara Kabira ("the big quarter") and the Hara Saghira ("the small quarter"). The Hara Saghira identified itself with Israel, while the Hara Kabira identified with Spain and Morocco.[8] In the aftermath of World War II, the Jewish population on the island declined significantly due to emigration to Israel and France. As of 2011, the permanent resident community on the island numbered about 1000,[5][9] but many return annually on pilgrimage.

On April 11, 2002, Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for a truck bomb attack close to the famous synagogue, killing 21 people (14 German tourists, 5 Tunisians and 2 French nationals).[10] Although tourists ceased visiting Djerba for some time after this event, normal activity has since resumed.


Djerba has a mild climate for the region and fertile soil however until the introduction of the current levels of advanced irrigation and piped water supplies one month, October, tended to supply on this coast approximately 25% of its total rainfall (see table below) and summer day-time temperatures regularly reach very high levels, making early human habitation less favoured than the north of the country. Its largest city is Houmt El Souk, with a population of around 65,000. Known for its beaches and sunsets, the island is a popular tourist destination, particularly with French, German and Italian tourists. 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 that, in 1976, the town of Ajim was used as the setting for the Mos Eisley exterior scenes in the first Star Wars movie.

Djerba is noted as a center of the Ibadi sect of Islam.


Climate data for Djerba
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 28.3
Average high °C (°F) 15.9
Daily mean °C (°F) 12.5
Average low °C (°F) 8.9
Record low °C (°F) 0.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 28.5
Average precipitation days 4 4 3 3 2 1 0 0 2 4 4 4 31
Average relative humidity (%) 69 67 66 66 65 66 63 65 69 68 67 70 67
Mean monthly sunshine hours 207.7 207.2 244.9 264.0 313.1 321.0 375.1 350.3 276.0 248.0 213.0 204.6 3,224.9
Mean daily sunshine hours 6.7 7.4 7.9 8.8 10.1 10.7 12.1 11.3 9.2 8.0 7.1 6.6 8.8
Source: NOAA[11]
Djerba mean sea temperature[12]
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
16 °C (61 °F) 15 °C (59 °F) 16 °C (61 °F) 17 °C (63 °F) 19 °C (66 °F) 22 °C (72 °F) 26 °C (79 °F) 28 °C (82 °F) 27 °C (81 °F) 25 °C (77 °F) 22 °C (72 °F) 18 °C (64 °F)

Migratory Bird Sanctuary[edit]

Djerba Bin El Ouedian is a wetland and habitat for migratory birds. It is located at 33 ° 40 'N, 10 ° 55 'E. On November 7, 2007 the wetland was included on the list of Ramsar sites under the Ramsar Convention, due to its importance as a bird refuge.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ ^ Transliteration from
  2. ^ Polybius; Strabo 1.2.17.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Teich, Shmuel (1982). The Rishonim. Brooklyn, NY: Mesorah Publications. ISBN 0-89906-452-3. 
  5. ^ a b International Religious Freedom Report 2007: Tunisia. United States Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (September 14, 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ Hotel Meninx, Ile de Jerba - Hotel Reviews, Photos, & Rates - VirtualTourist
  7. ^ Tunisian Cleric Says Jews are Apes - Middle East - News - Israel National News
  8. ^ Spector, Shmuel; Wigoder, Geoffrey (2001). The Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust: A-J. New York: NYU Press. p. 312. ISBN 978-0-8147-9376-3. 
  9. ^ Ettinger, Yair (2011-01-17). "Sociologist Claude Sitbon, do the Jews of Tunisia have reason to be afraid? - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper". Retrieved 2012-10-04. 
  10. ^ Tunisian bomb attack trial opens, BBC
  11. ^ "Jerba Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved January 24, 2015. 
  12. ^ "Djerba Climate and Weather Averages, Tunisia". Weather2Travel. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  13. ^

Sources and External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Girba". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

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