Nefta Travel Guide

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Nafta is a town and oasis in Tunisia , close to the Algerian border, and just north of the shott .

Desert oasis town. Considered by most Sufis to be the spiritual home of Sufism ; a mystical branch of Islam . Large number of mosques and shrines commemorating many of Sufism's prophets and spiritual leaders. Close to the border with Algeria . 10 miles past Nefta towards Algeria is a daily market that sells Tunisian 'desert roses'; actually crystalline formations of rock that resemble roses in shape.

Nefta is a pilgrimage center to which pilgrims travel throughout the year. There is a Folk Festival in April and a Date Festival in November/ December.

Nefta is the religious center of the Bled el Djerid, the "Land of Palms", with more than 24 mosques and 100 marabouts. The marabouts still attract pilgrims from all over southern Tunisia and even from Algeria. This great veneration of the marabouts reflects the continuing vigor of Sufism, the movement which grew up in the 12th century around Sufi Abu Madian (d. 1197 ). The name of the Sufis came from the simple woolen garment (suf) they wore.

They believed that the adherents of Islam, a religion of the desert, should show particular modesty of behavior and asceticism, and were much given to mysticism, the veneration of holy men, spiritual contemplation and meditation. Sufism is also marked by religious forms taken over from the pre-Islamic, animistic religions of the Berber population which orthodox Islam seeks to repress - belief in spirits, witchcraft, fortune-telling, the efficacy of amulets, etc. Regional variants of Sufism were propagated by holy men, who frequently founded their own brotherhoods, with centers for the teaching of disciples. They are credited with numerous miracles and revered for their holiness, and their tombs (marabouts) are places of pilgrimage, attracting varying numbers of pilgrims according to their reputation. In the past these holy men were also appealed to as judges in the conflicts which frequently occurred between the nomadic tribes and the settled population of the oases. Nefta is the last stronghold of this Sufism, and is sometimes called, not without justification, the "Kairouan of the South". The marabouts venerated here are scattered about throughout the old town of Nefta and the oasis.

The town

Nefta is divided into two parts by a small oued and a depression at its northern end. To the east of the oued is the new town, with the old souk quarter at its southwestern corner; to the west, on the slopes of a hill, is the old town. The main road from Tozeur runs through the new town as Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which then crosses the oued and skirts the old town. At its western end a street branches off on the right, ascends the hill, goes round the old town and the sand-bowl and returns to Avenue Habib Bourguiba. Nefta is a town of cube-shaped, flat-roofed houses huddled closely together, with Tozeur-style decoration. In some of the streets the upper storys of the houses, borne on round- headed arches, project over the street, forming a kind of tunnel which offers protection from the sun. It is planned to restore the old town in the very near future.

History

The history of the oases of the Djerid reaches far back into the past. They are believed to have been settled by Numidians, but only their Roman names have been preserved, such as Thusuros (Tozeur), Aggasel, Nepte (Nefta), Thigae (Kriz), Aquae (El Hamma) and Capsa (Gafsa). The Romans and later the Byzantines built forts in the oases to provide protection against raids by desert nomads. In Byzantine times Nefta and Tozeur were Episcopal Sees . In the mid 7th Century Nefta was conquered by the Arabs and, in spite of fierce resistance, converted to Islam. In subsequent centuries it prospered as an important staging-point for caravans (for a time the most important in Tunisia). Its decline began in the 15th century as a result of more frequent raids by the nomadic tribes and the general falling off in the caravan trade. With the coming of the French in 1881 , however, it took on a fresh lease of life.

Part or or all of this text stems from the original article at: Wikipedia

Contributors

October 30, 2006 change by giorgio

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