El Ghriba

Continue reading Walking up the cobblestone path to the synagogue’s entrance, visiting men and women come to a huge wooden front door. There they don kippah skull caps and shawls before entering the main room, a large hall covered in mostly blue kaleidoscopic tiles. Sunlight streams in through red, yellow, green and blue stained glass […]


Samuel McNeil


ST McNeil


On Jazirat Djerba in Tunisia, past tall palm trees, cyclists carrying baguettes and old men wearing chechiya, stands the oldest synagogue in Africa, El Ghriba, a gleaming white two-storey structure with bright blue trellises topped by the nation’s red and white crescent and star. Near the Libyan border in Tunisia’s southeast, Djerba is no stranger to the history books: Odysseus called it the Island of the Lotus Eaters after the Trojan War, while Hayreddin Barbarossa’s corsair fleet moored in the island’s natural harbour.

The synagogue lies low to the ground, built in the modest Djerban style of the Malikite tradition. The three main buildings made from white concrete closely resemble other Tunisian religious structures, like mosques, zaouiat or the tombs of local Sufi saints, except there is no minaret or dome. A large anterior courtyard mirrors the arcades of a mosque’s sahan. But El Ghriba’s uniform exterior hides a complex inner beauty.

Once there was a woman struggling to have a child. So, she came to El Ghriba with a prayer-egg

This article appears in the issue40 Buy Now