1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bizerta

BIZERTA (properly pronounced Ben Zert; Fr. Bizerte), a seaport of Tunisia, in 37° 17′ N., 9° 50′ E. Pop. about 12,000. Next to Toulon, Bizerta is the most important naval port of France in the Mediterranean. It occupies a commanding strategical position in the narrowest part of the sea, being 714 m. E. of Gibraltar, 1168 m. W.N.W. of Port Said, 240 m. N.W. of Malta, and 420 m. S. by E. of Toulon. It is 60 m. by rail N.N.W. of Tunis. The town is built on the shores of the Mediterranean at the point where the Lake of Bizerta enters the sea through a natural channel, the mouth of which has been canalized. The modern town lies almost entirely on the north side of the canal. A little farther north are the ancient citadel, the walled “Arab” town and the old harbour (disused). The present outer harbour covers about 300 acres and is formed by two converging jetties and a breakwater. The north jetty is 4000 ft. long, the east jetty 3300 ft., and the breakwater—which protects the port from the prevalent north-east winds—2300 ft. long. The entrance to the canal is in the centre of the outer harbour. The canal is 2600 ft. long and 787 ft. wide on the surface. Its banks are lined with quays, and ships drawing 26 ft. of water can moor alongside. At the end of the canal is a large commercial harbour, beyond which the channel opens into the lake—in reality an arm of the sea—roughly circular in form and covering about 50 sq. m., two-thirds of its waters having a depth of 30 to 40 ft. The lake, which merchant vessels are not allowed to enter, contains the naval port and arsenal. There is a torpedo and submarine boat station on the north side of the channel at the entrance to the lake, but the principal naval works are at Sidi Abdallah at the south-west corner of the lake and 10 m. from the open sea. Here is an enclosed basin covering 123 acres with ample quayage, dry docks and everything necessary to the accommodation, repair, revictualling and coaling of a numerous fleet. Barracks, hospitals and waterworks have been built, the military town, called Ferryville, being self-contained.

Fortifications have been built for the protection of the port. They comprise (a) the older works surrounding the town; (b) a group of coast batteries on the high ground of Cape Bizerta or Guardia, 4 m. north-north-west of the town; these are grouped round a powerful fort called Jebel Kebir, and have a command of 300 to 800 ft. above sea-level; (c) another group of batteries on the narrow ground between the sea and the lake to the east of the town; the highest of these is the Jebel Tuila battery 265 ft. above sea-level.

The Lake of Bizerta, called Tinja by the Arabs, abounds in excellent fish, especially mullets, the dried roe of which, called botargo, is largely exported, and the fishing industry employs a large proportion of the inhabitants. The western shore of the lake is low, and in many places is covered with olive trees to the water’s edge. The south-eastern shores are hilly and wooded, and behind them rises a range of picturesque hills. A narrow and shallow channel leads from the western side of the lake into another sheet of water, the Lake of Ishkul, so called from Jebel Ishkul, a hill on its southern bank 1740 ft. high. The Lake of Ishkul is nearly as large as the first lake, but is very shallow. Its waters are generally sweet.

Bizerta occupies the site of the ancient Tyrian colony, Hippo Zarytus or Diarrhytus, the harbour of which, by means of a spacious pier, protecting it from the north-east wind, was rendered one of the safest and finest on this coast. The town became a Roman colony, and was conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century. The place thereafter was subject either to the rulers of Tunis or of Constantine, but the citizens were noted for their frequent revolts. They threw in their lot (c. 1530) with the pirate Khair-ed-Din, and subsequently received a Turkish garrison. Bizerta was captured by the Spaniards in 1535, but not long afterwards came under the Tunisian government. Centuries of neglect followed, and the ancient port was almost choked up, though the value of the fisheries saved the town from utter decay. Its strategical importance was one of the causes which led to the occupation of Tunisia by the French in 1881. In 1890 a concession for a new canal and harbour was granted to a company, and five years later the new port was formally opened. Since then the canal has been widened and deepened, and the naval port at Sidi Abdallah created.