18 Jan 2016

Guellela: the world of pottery

I am amazed at the number of cultural experiences you can have on the little island of Djerba. Just when I thought I had exhausted them all, I got to enjoy another one. A short drive from Houmt Souk is a town called Guellela. This town is known for its pottery. As soon as we entered the town, pottery shops lined the streets. Pots, vases, and dishes of all shapes and sizes were stacked in piles and laid out on the ground. There were four foot high pieces built into the walls, seeming to be used as an integral part of construction. Most of the pottery was unpainted, showing off the rich red clay used to make it.

Our first stop was the Guellela Museum. It was built on the highest point of the island, overlooking Guellela and the beautiful Mediterranean. This enormous museum is split into more than 25 exhibits, all connected to a courtyard which is perfectly landscaped with trees and flowers.

As you make your way through each exhibit, you are introduced to Tunisian Berber culture, from weddings, to clothes, to music, to religion. Traditional music plays throughout the museum, providing ambiance for the different sections. There are also a few exhibits about the the Jewish community on the island. Djerba takes great pride in the fact that Muslims, Christians, and Jews live together on the island in peace.

One of the exhibits towards the end of the museum is full of Arabic calligraphy. If you go in the morning, the calligrapher is sitting there, ready to write your name in Arabic for a small price. His pieces are done on papyrus, fabric, animal skins, and paper, each more beautiful than the last. I had my name written and decided it looks much more beautiful in Arabic than Roman script.IMG_0883

Art in Tunisian culture extends beyond just their beautiful calligraphy. The museum has paintings, mosaics, pottery, jewelry and embroidery. Each piece is exquisite and screams of the beautiful creativity man has been blessed with.

Our second stop was just up the road from the museum at a local pottery stop. The first thing I noticed was the two camels sitting at the entrance. One was small (for a camel) and we learned he was only two months old.

We continued walking and then started our tour of the place. We went into the clay pit and learned that the clay used for pottery is six meters underground. They light candles on the steps down because, if the air is compromised, the candles will go out. This is their indication that they need to exit quickly.

Then our tour guide showed us how to make a pot. In just a few minutes, he sculpted a beautiful pot with almost nonchalant ease. He then led us to the kilns and explained how they worked.

Once our tour was complete, we were led to their gift shop and again got to enjoy all the pottery. I couldn’t resist and came away with two hand-crafted candlestick holders.

Guellela is an intriguing part of Houmt Souk that has retained its tradition and culture in an ever-changing world. It is worth a trip by whoever comes to Djerba. Guellela provides a day of enjoying art and creativity and learning something new about Tunisian culture.

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