Tunisian Tourism Gradually Bouncing Back
By Dr Ricky Ghosh Dastidar
Tunisian tourism is steadily on the rise again despite a string of jihadist attacks to the country in recent years. According to Tourism Minister, Selma Elloumi, there has been a 34% increase in tourist arrivals to Tunisia from Europe over the past year and hopes were further raised by this year’s Ghriba Pilgrimage, which attracted 3,000 visitors to the Island of Djerba. The annual Jewish pilgrimage to the oldest synagogue in Africa suffered a setback in 2002, when terrorists blew up a vehicle at the event resulting in the deaths of 21 people. Prior to the attack, as many as 8,000 pilgrims used to visit annually. However, this year’s figure was approximately 1,000 more than last year and included visitors from France, Spain, USA and even Israel, despite their government warning its citizens against attending. There was a strong security presence across the site, with a helicopter flying overhead to ensure that the event passed without incident. The atmosphere inside the synagogue was joyous and visitors prayed, lit candles and traditionally wrote wishes for their future on eggs.
The El Ghriba Synagogue is believed to have been founded in 586 BC by Jews fleeing the destruction of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and it has long been a destination for pilgrims. There are currently around 1,500 Jews living in Tunisia and the Tourism Minister was keen to stress the harmony in which people of different religions have lived on the island for many centuries. The success of this year’s Ghriba Pilgrimage led Prime Minister Youssef Chahed to declare; “Security has come back to Tunisia”.
The Island of Djerba, on which the El Ghriba Synagogue is located offers other attractions such as sandy beaches, museums and even a crocodile farm, with 400 Nile Crocodiles on show. This species of crocodile is one of the biggest in the world, as they can reach up to 7 metres in length and 1 tonne in weight. Although the species is known as the deadliest (they are widely thought to be responsible for over 300 attacks on humans every year), luckily on this farm you can view them clearly from a safe distance. More information about the park can be found on the following website: http://www.djerbaexplore.com/eng/animalia-djerbaexplore.html.
The main town on the Island of Djerba is Houmet Souk, which literally translates as “The Market Neighborhood”. It is a popular tourist destination and best known for its traditional souk, in which many bargains can be found with some skillful haggling, and the Aghlabid Fortress. The town is close to most of Djerba’s main hotel resorts, including the impressive Radisson Blu Palace (https://www.radissonblu.com/en/resort-djerba), and a taxi to the town generally costs between 5 – 7 Tunisian Dinars (approximately £2).
Tunisia is also famous for possessing some of the world’s finest surviving Roman ruins. The ancient site of Carthage is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and easily accessible from the centre of Tunis. Carthage was founded in 814BC, later becoming the heart of an extraordinary civilization and trading empire throughout the Mediterranean. In 146 BC, the original Carthage was destroyed by the Romans who established a second namesake city, Roman Carthage on the ruins of the first.
Another must-see site is the picturesque blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said, located just 20 kilometres away from Tunis. Perched on top of cliffs overlooking the Bay of Tunis, the village offers spectacular views of the emerald sea, the mountain of Bou Kornine and the southern beaches. The village has long been a sanctuary for artists and writers and famous visitors to Sidi Bou Said include Simone De Beauvoir, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee.
Sidi Bou Said
Tunisia is only a two-and-a-half hour flight away from London and offers an awe-inspiring range of attractions, such as 700 miles of beaches and 3,000 years of history. It is a country with year-round sunshine, friendly people and luxurious resorts and is now relatively safer to visit than it has been in recent years. More information about the country can be found at: http://www.discovertunisia.com/en/ and direct flights to Tunisia, as well as internal flights to the Island of Djerba can be booked through: www.tunisair.com.