Why the Name: Sfax ?

View of Sfax from Ksar Ben Romadhane (Source: Wikipedia)

I have always loved the name of the second city of Tunisia, Sfax… think about it for a second: S-FAX… the name does not seem to sound one bit Arabic… it would seem so reminiscent of Rome…


Well, it is said that a  Cucurbitaceae gourd plant (such as a cucumber) gave its name to the city of Sfax, or rather that fakous which means cucumber in a local Tunisian language (most likely Berber) gave rise to the name Sfax.

Bab Diwan and Old view of Sfax in 1954

Thomas Shaw who visited Tunis in 1732 claimed in his book Observations geographiques sur le royaume de Tunis, Voyages de M. Shaw dans plusieurs provinces de la Barbarie et du Levant, ed Jean Neaume, La Haye 1743, P. 249, that, “Sfakès is the city of cucumbers.”

However, in his book Fastes chronologiques de la ville de Sfaks, Antoine du Paty de Clam, mentioned that Sfaks could be decomposed into s fa ekez, meaning in Berber, « the one who extends the surveillance » and whose Greek translation is equivalent to Taphrouria (look-out post or monitoring station or surveillance post) transcribed to Taphrura by historians such as Ptolemee.

View of the Medina in Sfax

Other historians have assumed that the name of Sfax must have originated from the name of the governor of the city, Sfâ. According to them, the governor of the city went to visit the Sultan of Mahrès (Mahares) to solicit his help in building the city’s ramparts to protect it from invasion; he exposed his plan on a cow hide that was drying under th sun. In response, the sultan gave him a pair of scissors while saying, “Sfâ qoçç” or “Sfâ cut!”

So which meaning do you think it is?

The city was founded in AD 849 on the ruins of the Roman city of Taparura. It is located on the Mediterranean, and is a major port. The main industries are phosphate, olive, nut (almond) processing, leather, wool, fishing, and international trade. After the capital Tunis, it is the second most populous city of Tunisia. Rich of its prehistoric, Roman, and Islamic heritage, Sfax is a vibrant port city full of life. If you ever visit Sfax, do not forget to visit its museums, enjoy the history, and the city, and maybe look for a fakous?

Who/What did we Celebrate in Africa in 2014?

Beji Caid Essebsi, new President of Tunisia
Beji Caid Essebsi, new President of Tunisia

Like every year, I have to tell you about the good things that happen in Africa, and all the things we celebrated. Here are 10 of them.

1. I have to say it again: Blaise Compaore’s demotion. Blaise Compaoré was booted out of office in 2014. Thomas Sankara‘s murderer taught that he will be eternal in power, and on October 30th 2014, the people of Burkina Faso said ENOUGH!

2. Presidential Elections finally took place in Tunisia, 3 years after Ben Ali‘s toppling at the beginning of the ‘Arab Spring’, and the election of the people’s choice as president: Beji Caid Essebsi. We are glad the people of Tunisia’s choice was respected.

Some members of the South African Team - MTN Qhubeka(Source: bicycling.co.za)
Some members of the South African Team – MTN Qhubeka(Source: bicycling.co.za)

3. Mrs Catherine Samba-Panza was sworn in as interim president of the Central African Republic on 23 January 2014. She was chosen as a neutral person to lead the country of the conflict that rages in the area; she is the first woman appointed in such a position in the history of the country.

4. For the first time in the history of Cycling, there was an African team competing in a great race. 6 Africans (two Erithreans and 4 South Africans) ran in Spain for the South African team, MTN-Qhubeka.

5. Two African teams advancing into the last round of 16 at the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup for the first time in the history of the FIFA World Cup: namely, Nigeria and Algeria. Even though both teams were eliminated in the last round of 16, Algeria particularly put up a good fight against Germany (who went on to win the World Cup) and made us proud.

6. The African version of Robocop designed by two female engineers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of them being Thérèse Inza.  This is a traffic cop who regulates the traffic, and even gives tickets to the cab drivers, and those who do not want to follow the code of the road.

Lupita Nyong'o
Lupita Nyong’o

7. There were 3 Africans nominated at the Oscars in main categories this year: Chiwetel Ejiofor(Nigeria) in the ‘Best Actor’ category, Barkhad Abdi (Somalia) in the ‘Best Actor in a Supporting role’ category and Lupita Nyong’o (Kenya) in the ‘Best Actress in a Supporting role’ category. Lupita made us proud by winning the Academy Award for ‘Best Actress in a Supporting role’ for her role in 12 Years a Slave. She was also named the ‘Most beautiful Woman’ by People magazine (I never really understood that People Magazine award: as if they had searched through the 3.5Billion women in the world before giving this award!) and ‘Woman of the Year’ in Glamour, and was announced as the ‘New Face’ of Lancôme, a first for a Black woman.

8. Nigeria became Africa’s # 1 economy after rebasing its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1990 to 2010 constant prices. Nigeria just surpassed South Africa as Africa’s top economy, and the world’s 26th largest economy.

9. U.S President Barack Obama hosts 50 African Heads of State and government officials at the historic US-Africa Leaders Summit.

George Weah
George Weah

10. George Weah, the only African to have won a FIFA World Player of the Year (in 1995) and won Ballon d’Or, won a senate seat in Liberia yesterday Dec. 29th. The 2005 presidential contender (he had won the first round of the elections then) of Mrs. Johnson-Sirleaf won the senate elections against Robert Sirleaf (President Johnson-Sirleaf’s son). This was a landslide victory; it is a step forward, and progress is always to be acclaimed!

Tunis: Why the Name?


Today, we will be talking about the beautiful city of Tunis, the capital of TunisiaWhere does the name Tunis come from?  Is Tunisia, the name of the country whose capital is Tunis, just a derivative of the name Tunis?

Well for starters the city of Tunis is built on a set of hills that go down towards the lake of Tunis.  Tunis was born at the crossroads between the basins of lake Tunis and the Séjoumi.  Situated on a large Mediterranean Sea gulf (the Gulf of Tunis), behind the Lake of Tunis and the port of La Goulette (Halq al Wadi), the city extends along the coastal plain and the hills that surround it.  At the centre of more modern development (from the colonial era and later) lies the old medina.  Beyond this district lie the suburbs of Carthage, La Marsa, and Sidi Bou Said.

Map of Tunisia
Map of Tunisia (from World Atlas)

Tunis is the French transcription of a name, which is pronounced tûnus, tûnas or tûnis (with û sounding like an ‘ou’ in French) in Arabic.  The three pronunciations were indicated by the arab geographer Yaqout al-Rumi in his book Mu’jam al-Buldan (Dictionary of countries).  The last pronunciation tûnis is the most used of the city’s name tûnisi ou tûnusiThis vocable is defined to mean “to lie down” or “lying down”, and by extension “spending the night,” or “spending the night at”, or “getting somewhere and spending the night.” Among many of the derivatives of this term, one can find tinés (pluriel de ténésé) which indicate “the idea of lying down,” and by extension “the fact of spending the night.”

Ancient Tunisia
Ancient Tunisia

Thus the name Tunis probably had the meaning of “night camp” or “bivouac” or “stop.”  In the ancient toponymy of Roman Africa, several towns carry similar names such as: Tuniza (modern-day El Kala), Thunusuda (modern-day Sidi Meskine), Thinissut (modern-day Bir Bouregba), Thunisa (modern-day Ras Jebel) or Cartennae (modern-day Ténès in Algeria).  All these berber localities were located on roman roads, and probably served as road houses, or stops.  From the name Tunis, arose the country name Tunisia.  The name gained prominence among French historians and geographers, by analogy with the word Algeria derived from Algiers. Today Tunis is well-known for its beauty, its people, and its sunny days; it is one of Africa’s best touristic spots. Enjoy the video below, which gives a quick historical view of Tunis and Tunisia.