Modes d'expressions

The Djerbian, who is an excellent worker and a good trader, knew how to show his artistic side in his daily life and during festivities and diverse occasions. In addition to the crafts of weaving and pottery where the creative artist mixes with the craftsman, other modes of Djerbian cultural expression are illustrated through native music and vernacular architecture.

Djerba’s musical heritage is divided into two parts.
One part is reserved to singing and comprises songs relating to work. These are sung by women without rhythmic accompaniment during certain activities like harvesting, olives picking, and weaving wool spinning. There are also songs, Essouth or Ethawwahi, relating to festive occasions sang by women during wedding ceremonies. These are slow songs sung by a group of 4 women two of whom sing and the other two repeat. There exist other songs with instrumental accompaniment for festive occasions like marriage. It is limited to Darbouka among women, while another instrument called Elghita is added to Darbouka among men.

An instrumental music part is manifested specially during traditional marriage ceremonies that accompany certain distinctive rites through recitals performed by a group of Ettabala with zghara dancers. Among the instrumental pieces played by this musical group we can cite Elfezzaai or Ettehriba which is performed by a drummer with the aim of inviting people to attend the ceremony. Essaltni or Essoltani is played at the beginning of the evening ceremony, and Elbarbri which is played especially during the ritual visit to the olive tree. There exist other instrumental pieces specific to artisanal activities. Among these we can cite Elharbi Errwai which is played with an epic murmur during well digging to exhort workers to make more effort and entertain them at the same time, given the hardness of the work.
The architectural landscape of the island is described in simplicity and soberness with the sculptural and massive aspect it presents as well as the unifying white color characterizing it. In this landscape, light plays with the volumes and claws at the rough texture of their white envelopes which seem to be modeled by hand. “Djerba’s architecture is a tactile one as opposed to visual architecture. Nothing is similar to what is in here: every plan and every line were modeled as if they were caressed with human hands.” [Pierre Poly]
Another specific notion resides in the choice of colors. The white color of walls and the green or blue color of the openings are the only colors that are perceived drowning in a beach of natural greenery. It is through these colors and a perfect integration to the site under the effect of contrast that the Djerbian architecture is identified. The lime white color which is appropriate for intense luminosity is the best means to reflect sunrays and reduce heat absorption. Likewise, inside buildings, this whiteness helps achieve a better light distribution. The openings in the different buildings are rather small in order to be protected against intense sunlight and heat in the region. They are oriented and used according to functional needs.
It is through the adoption of a massive form that is closed and converging towards an empty space that the conservative Djerbian character is revealed. It is only based on the orientation vis a vis the sun and not form that the hierarchy of spaces is organized. At the level of each sub-space form constitutes a function, a constructive technique, and a symbolic expression. Thus, in these vernacular Djerbian spaces, form is dictated by socio-cultural and physical forces that give birth to architectural expression, scale, and proportions.

Djerbian spaces are typical through their modesty and their plainness. But this characteristic does not exclude the existence of a certain number of unique and varied ornamental models that use only pure geometrical forms like triangles, lozenges, circles… Although these models are geometrical, like a great part of decorations in Islam which forbids any human or animal representation, they stand out of classical Islamic decorative arts. The Berber influence on them is more present through its symbols and realization.
This unobtrusive decoration in inscriptions and ornamentations is found in all buildings on the island whether they were meant for habitation like the houch, or for production or cult. It gives an idea about the date of edification of the monuments as well as social and political information that helped researchers and archaeologists to a great extent.

Places of cult architecture :
Djerbian mosques that give evidence of the inspiration provided by the immediate natural environment are impregnated with a local Berber soul almost independent of artistic trends of the centre. This led to a type of mosques that is proper to the island of Djerba. It needs to be mentioned that Djerba mosques are of a striking diversity given the fact they are the result of a whole series of constraints that are each time different. Their number today is important with largely more than 250. It is told that their number used to be the same as that of the days of the year. The existence of hundreds of mosques and places of worship dug into the earth of the island is perhaps the expression of an ancient Berber tradition, given that they are among the oldest in Djerba. Two types are distinguished: those that are totally pitted in the natural rock of the site with an organization that recalls that of the Berber troglodytes like Ghar Magmag, and those that are partially dug in the ground and for which the use of common local construction materials is noted.

Concerning the synagogues on the island a unique architectural model is predominant. Almost the same type of ornamentation is found in them. The Djerbian synagogue comprises two adjoining rooms: one is covered and the other is not. Both are oriented towards Jerusalem and serve for praying. The first room is used during summer during Easter while the second is used in winter. But, necessity often obliges the community members to use both of them at the same time for common praying.

- Domestic architecture :
The houch is the actual habitation and the essential component of the Djerbian Menzel.  It is established following the Mediterranean habitation with patio and presents a fortified aspect with its square ‘towers’ or gorfa. The houch constitutes a complex entity that reflects the relational system of the Djerbian family and fulfills the function of the actual habitat with its daily life diverse needs. Like any other component of the Menzel, the houch seems to answer the material and spiritual needs of its inhabitants in addition to its spatial organization and the distribution of the entities constituting it.
Every houch has many service premises like the one reserved for guests, Makhzen edhiaf, the kitchen, Matbakh, and the water closet, Bit-erraha. These are rarely adjoined to the habitation and often edified at a distance from the house to avoid any bad odor or dirt.
Weaving workshops are also part of the major components of the Djerbian Menzel, but they can also be grouped in proximity of urban agglomerations. The workshop is composed of one long and narrow room of one level. It is half-buried so that the temperature inside is fresh in summer and warm in winter. The access to the workshop is usually oriented towards the south with some stairs to reach the ground. Lighting is ensured through the door, one window on each of its sides, and one or two other windows on the opposite wall. This building is recognizable through its specific triangular façade. Whatever the origin, this triangular fronton, a slightly strange element, vaguely Greek, and apparently with no practical utility, has surely a great symbolic importance. It is one of the originalities of the weaving workshop. Among these constructions, some are covered with a series of oblique small vaults leaning on each other in pairs perpendicularly to the principal axis of the workshop and perfectly espousing the triangular form of the fronton. We can also find workshops that are covered with cradle-shaped vaults. To face the forces of the vaults and the thick walls pushing towards the outside, the Djerbian builder sustained his edifices with flying buttresses and pillars of different forms placed at the outside.

The majority of the fondouks, destined for foreign merchants and their merchandise, were realized between the VIth and the IXth Centuries. These vast buildings can be compared to inns or caravanserais which are places where merchandises are stored and passing merchants are lodged. At the beginning, these fondouks and the great mosque formed the center of the actual small town of Houmet Essoug. During the XIXth and the first half of the XXth Century many of these fondouks were the dwellings of European families, mainly Maltese and Italian, who used to practice fishing and other crafts on the island. Today, the majority of these constructions witnessed a change of purpose. Some were transformed into modest hotels or youth hostels and some others were rehabilitated to serve commercial and artisanal purposes.

Olive oil has always constituted an important wealth for the island. Djerba’s basement contains a multitude of traditional oil-works that cover the needs of the whole island. These production units used to be all subterranean. Some are invisible from the outside because they are pitted in rocky layers, which gives them the appearance of caves. Others are distinguished with a more developed architecture given that they are entirely built under the ground. It is question of a very functional layout that allows for a spacious covered space thanks to cupolas and vaults. The lateral pressure of these is directly absorbed by the soil. The plan is not uniform but rather variable following the terrain configuration and the importance of the oil-works. In Midoun, you will have the opportunity to discover El Fsili Oil-Works which has been preserved, arranged, and open to the public.
The pottery workshop is partly buried. It is built on the basis of a structure of cut stones distributed in arched bays and arranged in a parallel direction in order to support the cover. The local style cover is made up of palm tree trunks cut in halves and covered with seaweed, Talga or Dhria. The whole cover is then covered with consolidated clay layer. The external walls are built in local travertine adjoined with mortar and clay. The bearing walls are erected either with arches of cut stone or with the debris of big potteries. The only door of the workshop is also the unique source of light. It always faces the south in order to have regular lighting and shelter from dominant winds. The ovens are built with local bricks close to the workshops. A layer of big jars is put on the external walls to ensure a certain thermal insulation.

- Defensive architecture :
Political instabilities and the attacks of invaders, who found in the island a peaceful base for their fleets, were at the origin of the construction of certain fortresses and watchtowers along the Djerbian coast and inside the island. They date back to different epochs and can be grouped under three categories:
1. The Borjs.
2. Internal fortress mosques      
3. External fortress mosques  
It is for this reason that a specific mosque style is found almost everywhere inside the island of Djerba. We are talking here about religious edifices endowed with elements allowing them to play a military role. They can be distinguished based on many aspects that form their defensive equipments: thick walls, loopholes, machicolations, minarets, etc. The impressive number of mosques can be interpreted as a sign of the defensive preoccupations of the inhabitants since they often played, on this island, the role played by the fortified castles in Europe during the middle ages. In case of an attack, the believers used to group inside the mosque’s enclosure.

- Mode of construction :
The Djerbian have, above all, relied at most on the use of the diverse materials offered by nature on the island. These materials are divided into two categories complementing each other. Mineral materials like stones, clay, and sand, and binding agents. Lime can be cited among the binding agents that are used for daub or mortar, and plaster or jibs which is very much used in the confection of vaults and cupolas. Clay comes into construction in two ways: as a raw binding agent, or as a raw material for certain pottery elements like flat or round bricks and also for a sort of varnished tiles under the form of flakes.

Besides, there are vegetable materials like tree trunks which serve as poles and pillars. Palms are used either as they are to cover and fill in partitions, or crushed to make ropes of different sizes necessary for attaching wooden elements or braiding filling mats.

The Djerbian also resorts to dry seaweed which offers an efficient insulator and fortifies the palm tree trunks used to cover terraces. Iron and wood are imported materials. Iron is used in accessories, wire mesh, while wood is used for doors, windows, and coffering.

Given the almost exclusive use of local materials until recently, masons on the island were constrained to create adapted construction modes. Based on a deep knowledge of the possibilities of every material used, they developed simple yet efficient procedures. Many of the buildings on the island are hundreds of years old and are still standing. As it is the case in any vernacular architecture, the Djerbian builder has undoubtedly gone through researches and trial-and-error periods to reach solutions that transmitted from one generation to another. Unfortunately, some of these procedures were forgotten and replaced little by little by new modern techniques.

In Djerba, three types of roofs are employed simultaneously: terrace roof, vault, and cupola. They are often used for only one volume like for the room, Eddar. This denotes an important social and symbolic dimension in their architecture.

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