I read once in a travel guide that Djerba is “not an island of towns and villages, but of individual homes”. It might have been true once, when there was only one “visible” city (Houmt Souk) and two villages (Hara Sghira and Hara Kebira). But there’s more to that, as in Djerba even houses are half hidden to the view.
Our top 5 must-sees in Djerba island
Djerbahood graffiti town
Djerbahood is also Hara Sghira Er Riadh, a authentic and traditional jewish village of white walls and blue doors with the traditional Djerban architecture.
In 2014 street art artists from all around the world decided to transform the village into an open-sky museum, asking the villagers to use their traditional white walls and cupolas as canvas for over a hundred pieces. Today, Djerbahood has is an essential cultural attraction in Djerba and Tunisia.
Some of the art is easy to spot while other pieces are more hidden and subtle. Portraits, cats, intricate calligraphy graffiti and many more cover the walls across the town together with messages of peace and tolerance.
El Ghriba synagogue
According to the tradition, the synagogue of El Ghriba was establishment by a group of cohanim, priests from the Temple of Jerusalem, who settled on the Djerba island after the destruction of the First Temple of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. Thus making it one of the oldest synagogues in the world.
The tradition has it that these refugees brought with them a door and a stone from the altar of the destructed Temple, which now are part of the synagogue.
The synagogue, which can be visited (not on Sabbath), is also home to one of the biggest Jewish pilgrimages in the world. The annual festival takes place during several days and includes two popular processions that take place in Harah Sghira
The Museum of arts & traditions Guellala
The island of Djerba has some unique traditions, some of which are quite different even from Tunisian traditions. The museum shows some of the most iconic ones, like djerban weddings, through different scenes.
It also shows the way of producing traditional crafts, like weaving or grinding grains.
While we recommend a guided visit, it’s got some boards in English explaining what you see. And all of the items certified by historians and ethnographers, which is an extra plus.
And, if you are not yet convinced to visit, it offers a great chance to see traditional djerban houses and granaries from the inside.
Borj el Kebir fortress
The fortress of Borj El Kebir in Houmt Souk (also known as Ghazi Mustapha tower) was initially built on the XIII century by the Sicilians-Aragonese. It became later an Spanish fortress until the Ottomans pushed the Spaniards out after a bloody battle.
They say that after the battle, they cut the heads of the losing soldiers and built a tower with their skulls. The tower was taken down on the XIX Century and the skulls given proper burial.
The fortress can be visited inside, with some great views over the town and the coastline. There are also some roman remains, from the Roman stronghold that used to be here before the fortress was built.
The market at Houmt Souk
A walk by the old town at Houmt Souk is a great plan for shopping lovers: from the traditional djerban fabrics to the gold of the jewish jewellers and the many traditional crafts from Tunisia. Specially if you like bargains!
But don’t just visit the crafters souk, just a few steps away you will find the fish, meats and fruits markets. From spices to the fresh catches of the day, it’s worth a visit just for the colors and the tastes you can find.
Don’t forget to buy Tunisian dates by the kg. They come in branches, as they are better kept this way and the quality we found was superb (best ones are translucid.)
Did I say 5?
There are more things you can do/ see in Djerba, like visiting the flamingo island or the beaches. You can even visit two Star Wars locations (one being Obi Wan Kenobi’s house from Episode V in Mellita.)
Another great plan is finding out about local artists, who are transforming traditional crafts into high-end and original products. Something you can do at the Zouk too, or at the shops in Djerbahood and Er Rhiad.
We did something quirky by visiting Meson e Arts Dar Jilani, the house of an artist who takes what others would see as waste and transforms it into beautiful pieces of art. He also did a special piece for me right at the moment (see the woman in magenta? it’s me 🙂 )
Some extra info
Djerba is a pretty big island, the size of Ibiza. While mostly flat, you will need a car to move around (or book some guided tours). You could also move around by taxi, which is inexpensive, but make sure you agree the price before boarding.
How to get there
By car: There are two main routes to access Djerba island, by ferry and by road. Depending on where you are going, the ferry access can be faster.
By plane: Djerba has its own airport (DJE), which connects with Tunis-Carthage (TUN) airport and other airports in Tunisia and Europe via Tunisair.