A history of the island

The island of Djerba was formerly known by different names. Homer mentioned it in the VIIIth Century B.C. in his Odyssey during Ulysses’ visit to the island calling it the island of Lotophagi (or Lotophaguses) or lotus-eaters. During the Vth Century B.C. it was called the Phla Island, but starting from the IVth Century B.C. the name Meninx appeared to designate both the capital and the island. This name survived until the appearance of the name Girba which was mentioned on an inscription that was discovered during the excavations of the Ghazi Mustapha fort which dates back to the third Century A.D. The name Girba became Djerbah then it became Djerba and remained the name of the island till today.
The island witnessed a commercial expansion since the VIIth Century B.C. and it was a transit point between sub-Saharan countries and the Mediterranean under the aegis of Carthage. But with the arrival of the Romans to the island towards 46 B.C., the economical life prospered even more given the interest given by the new conquerors to agriculture, especially to olive trees and the exploitation of their oil. Many of Djerba’s rites and customs were inherited from that epoch and some of them are still kept till today. During that epoch the roadway relating the island to the continent was edified and a dense plantation of olive trees was realized. It was during the first three centuries of the Christian era that the island witnessed its greatest economic expansion.
The Vth Century A.D. witnessed the Vandal invasion in 455 A.D., which hit Djerba like the remaining of the country. Then the Byzantines invaded the island in 534 A.D. until the arrival of the Muslim Arabs.



Djerba was conquered by the Arabs in 667 A.D. under the reign of Muawia Ibn Abi Sofiane by Ruwayfaa Ibn Thabet Al Ansari. Thus, the majority of the island was converted to Islam, particularly to a puritan doctrine called Ibadism which was one of the Muslim spiritual doctrines. It professes a sober religion and a strict return to the sources of Islam. Its name comes from that of one of its founders: Abd Allah Ben Ibad Al Murri Al Tamimi. Historically, it is linked to Kharidjism although it was politically and ideologically different.
The island witnessed successive Christian expeditions during the XIth and the XIIth Centuries A.D. Then hard times continued since Djerba was the scene of some of the episodes of the conflict in the Mediterranean which opposed the Ottomans and the Spanish during the XVIth Century A.D.
The famous Turkish pirate Kheyreddine Barbarousse, together with his brother, took Djerba as a base for their manoeuvres in the Maghreb following the order of the Hafsid sovereign. Consequently, the Spanish triggered an expedition against Djerba in 1520 and it was recovered by the Ottomans in 1524 under the command of their governor in Tripoli, Darghouth Becha.
The conflicts that opposed the Ottomans to the Spanish on the ground of the island stopped only after the decisive battle of 1560 during which Darghouth Becha achieved victory thanks to the help of the Djerbians. It was the end of a dramatic episode of Djerba’s history during which it was pillaged and massacred.
After the victory of the Turks in 1560, the local powers were shifted from the Smoumni’s who had reigned for more than three centuries, to a new family, the Ben Jloud who were allied to the Turks. This lasted from 1560 to 1759. The Ben Ayyed family succeeded to the Ben Jlouds during the Husseinid epoch. The political system changed from the Mechyakha, the status of the pious and learned man who arbitrates between the citizens, to the Gayed, the governor of the island who is charged by the Bey to collect taxes.
The island, which remained tied up to the Turkish governor of Tripoli until 1605, became part of the Tunisian province. Thus, it was subdued, like the remaining of the country, to the Muradi, and Husseinid dynasties, respectively until the establishment of the French Protectorate in 1881.
During the French Protectorate the Djerbian largely contributed to the Tunisian National Movement. After the independence, the island has become one of the most important touristic poles.

 
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The young man of Byrsa

The young man of byrsa temporary exhibition heritage museum traditional djerba (18 may - 30 septembre 2013)

 

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