Guellala Museum & Town

Page update - Jan 31, 2023

The people of the Djerba Island value their identity and heritage. Not surprisingly, there are three museums devoted to the island's history and folk traditions. The Leela Hadria Archaeological Museum and the Djerba Heritage Menzel were covered in detail recently and now let's talk about the Ethnographic Museum in Guellala.

About the town of Guellala in brief

Guellala is a small town of just 10,000 inhabitants. It is located on the south coast of Djerba Island, 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) from the capital, Houmt Souk, and 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from Djerba-Zarzis International Airport.

Despite its modest size, the town is famous throughout the country. Since the earliest days of Tunisian history, it has been famous for its potters. Even the name 'Guellala' itself translates from Berber as 'potters'.

During Roman rule, the town was called Haribus, a Romanised Punic (Carthaginian) word for "heres" which translates to "clay vessel". It is clear from these translations of the name that Guellala was an important center of pottery during the reign of Carthage in North Africa (6th-3rd centuries BC).

This economic specialization of Guellala is not accidental. There are deposits of high quality clay near the town, discovered by the Berbers 3,000 years ago.

The "calling card" of Guellala is the enormous oil containers which can be seen everywhere: in the local museums, pottery shops, and souvenir shops. They could be so big that they could hold up to 300 liters of olive oil. For an example of such an amphora, see the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge.

The art of pottery in Guellala has survived until today, although it is in recession, even though there is a demand for Tunisian pottery from tourists. Back in the 1950s, there were more than 400 artisans working there, now there are about 50 left. The market is under pressure from cheap ceramics from China, hence the recession in production. Guellala is considered one of the two biggest centers of pottery in Tunisia, the other being Nabeul in the northern part of the country.

Not surprisingly, it is the location chosen for the largest museum on the island, showing visitors the traditions and culture of the people of the Djerba Island.

About the Guellala Museum in brief

The hill 54 meters (177 feet) high, which is the highest point on the island of Djerba, was chosen for the museum. The main museum building was completed in 2001. It was built using white stone, which was brought in from the mainland.

The museum building follows the configuration of a classic Djerbian house. A square shape with a large garden in the center was chosen. People of Djerba have lived in houses with this structure for centuries. All the halls are arranged along the perimeter and visitors walk through them in a clockwise direction.

Life-size figures in the halls show scenes from the life of the Djerbians. You can see traditional ceramics and other everyday items and clothes. We'll tell you about the most interesting things in detail in the second part of this page. Before you can see it, you have to get there somehow.

Where is it located and how to get there

The vast majority of tourists come there as part of organized groups. A popular tourist excursion on the island is the 'Djerba Island Sightseeing Tour' (or similar name), which shows tourists the Roman Road, the Pottery at Guellala, the El Grib Synagogue, and the Guellala Museum, before ending with a visit to the tourist market at Houmt Souk.

However, you can also get there by taxi. Tunisian taxis are inexpensive, and the ride from any hotel in the resort area (highlighted in green on the map to the right, click on the map to enlarge) will not cost more than 25 Tunisian dinars. The journey time is no more than 30 minutes. Get into any taxi, pay by the meter, say the word 'Guellala' and the driver will immediately understand the place. See the actual cab fares in our review "Taxi in Tunisia". For the current exchange rates, see our review "Money in Tunisia".

Ticket and tour prices

It costs between USD 20 and 35 for an adult to join an excursion. The exact price depends on the level of greed of the tour seller. For a child, it's USD 10 to 18.

If you go with the excursion, you do not need to buy the ticket, and everything is already included. Independent tourists need to buy the ticket.

Admission to the museum now costs 10 Tunisian dinars (note: this page was updated in January 2023). Until 2017 it was free, then a fee of 7 dinars was introduced, then it was increased to 10 dinars.

There is a separate photo permit fee of 3 dinars. You need to buy this permit if you take photos with professional equipment. You don't need the permit to take pictures with a smartphone. Prior to 2017, the permit cost 2 dinars. You'll get a small ticket as a souvenir (see photo).

An important point! The photo permission is not included in the excursion price.

In the museum, you can ride a camel or have your photo taken in national dress for a fee. The prices for such entertainment are 1 or 2 dinars. Stock up on coins.

Opening times

In winter: 8 am to 6 pm (8-00 to 18-00).

In summer: 8 am to 8 pm (8-00 to 20-00).

If you are traveling on your own, we recommend the afternoon. From 9 am to 12 pm noon, large tour groups come there and some of the rooms are crowded. In the afternoon, you'll be walking around the museum almost alone.

How much time to plan

The museum has many rooms and an interesting gift shop. There is a cafe near the entrance where you can sit down for a cup of coffee. If you want to see all the stands at a normal pace, plan for one hour. If you want to take a leisurely walk, spend time in the garden, and sit in the cafe, plan for two hours.

The most interesting scenes and exhibits

The big advantage of the museum is the explanatory captions in English. If English is not native for you, then use a smartphone app to read and translate the captions, which are now widely available on the Apple Store and Google Play. The explanations make visiting the museum a lot more fun.

On an organized tour, everything is a bit easier, as your native language speaking guide will explain everything and answer questions.

Almost half of the stands are dedicated to wedding scenes and preparations for the wedding. A wedding on the island of Djerba has always been an important social event. No one was even invited, as everyone from the village, township, or district of the town was automatically considered to be invited.

The celebration was a village-wide affair. The money for the wedding was collected by the entire family, with each relative helping out in whatever way they could.

See the photo near. You can see a groom, bride, mother of the groom, and the bride's sister at the time of the wedding. Click on the photo to enlarge it. Note that the groom's face is not blazing with joy.

The wedding was an important social event. The islanders' everyday life did not involve daily interaction with people outside their family. A wedding was an occasion to meet a potential bride or groom, learn the latest news, or simply socialize with new people.

The bride was locked indoors for several weeks before the wedding, there her skin became whiter, it was considered beautiful that way. Her hair was prepared, her clothes were picked out. All these procedures are shown on several stands in the museum. See the mini gallery below.

The traditional wedding dress was extremely expensive, passed down from generation to generation. Even today, the dress costs an average of 10,000 Tunisian dinars. The Guellala Museum boasts a collection of wedding dresses from different regions of Tunisia. See them in the small gallery below.

Tourists are shown a traditional door with several door hammers. This is very interesting, as there were three hammers on a traditional door.

The right one at the top for men, the left one at the top for women, and the one at the bottom for children. When a guest approached the door, he/she knocked with the corresponding hammer, each hammer producing a different sound. The hosts understood whether the guest was a man, a woman, or a child. It was a very convenient system.

It is possible to knock on these hammers, at least guides on excursions do it without problems and with pleasure.

There are a few stands dedicated to the Jewish community of the island of Djerba. The people of Djerba are proud of their tolerance and the Muslims and the Jews have always lived there side by side. Arabs, Berbers, Jews have lived together peacefully for hundreds of years. See some photos below.

On the stands at the Guellala Museum, you will see medieval fortune-tellers, healers, artisans, officials, revolutionaries and a host of other characters. See the mini photo gallery below.

Outside the main building, you can see how the Djerbians pressed oil and made cloth and clothes. There is even a live camel, which tourists are happy to take pictures with.

At the end of the exhibition, you can visit the souvenir shop. In addition to the usual range of souvenirs, they sell large mosaic paintings that are very nice, but expensive.

Tips for the tourist when visiting the Guellala Museum

- The toilet is at the end of the exhibit, look for the sign "WC". See the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge it. In the morning, when the many tour groups arrive, there is a huge queue for the toilet;

- In the cafe near the entrance, the prices are twice as expensive as in the establishments in town. A can of soda is 2 dinars. We recommend you take water and a snack with you;

- It is forbidden to climb the stands and take pictures with the figures, though many tourists do. If you dare, be careful not to break anything;

- Guides of organized tours do not show even half of the museum, as they have a limited amount of time. Do you want to see the whole museum? Then come on your own;

- Look around. There's also plenty to see around the stands - paintings, ceramic vases, chests and other exhibits;

- Theoretically, you can save money by taking public transport. There are louages (shuttle buses) along the tourist area. They go to Houmt Souk and the airport. The routes are infrequent and irregular, so this is not recommended. Buses 12, 14, 16 or a louage can be taken from Houmt Souk to Guellala;

- Going to Guellala at lunchtime is on the one hand inconvenient, as tour groups arrive at this time. But on the other hand, it is an opportunity to spend the time of peak sun activity indoors. We talked about the activity and the dangers of the sun in the review "Dangers for tourists in Tunisia";

- You can take a taxi to the museum one way (without the return trip). You can usually get a taxi back without any problems as taxi drivers are on duty outside the museum. And even if there is no taxi driver, just wait a bit for the nearest taxi to bring tourists to the museum;

- You can only pay in Tunisian dinars at the museum's cashiers, cafe and souvenir shop. There is no currency exchange near the museum. Conclusion: exchange US dollars, UK pounds and Euros for Tunisian dinars in advance. Read our in-depth review "How to change currency in Tunisia profitably".

Have a nice walk around the Guellala Museum, and read our other interesting pages about Tunisia (see the pages list below). © 2020-2024