1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Sfax

SFAX (Arabic Asfākis or Safākus, the cucumbers), a city of Tunisia, second in importance only to the capital, 78 m. due S. of Susa, on the Gulf of Gabes (Syrtis Minor) opposite the Kerkenna Islands, in 34° 43' N., 10° 46' E. Sfax occupies the site of the ancient Taphrura, of which few vestiges remain. The town consists of a European quarter, with streets regularly laid out and fine houses, and the Arab town, with its kasbah or citadel, and tower-flanked walls pierced by three gates. Many of the private houses, mosques and zawias are good specimens of native art of the 17th and 18th centuries. North-east of the native town is a camp for the European garrison. Sfax was formerly the starting-point of a caravan route to Central Africa, but its inland trade now extends only to the phosphate region beyond Gafsa, reached by a railway which, after skirting the coast southwards from Sfax to Mahares, runs inland past Gafsa. With Susa there is regular communication by steamer and motor car. Olive oil is manufactured, and the fisheries are important, notably those of sponges and of octopuses (exported to Greece). The prosperity of the town is largely due to the export trade in phosphates, esparto grass, oil, almonds, pistachio nuts, sponges, wool, &c. There is in the Gulf of Gabes a rise and fall of 5 ft. at spring tides, which is rare in the Mediterranean. Formerly the only anchorage at Sfax was 2 m. from shore; but a harbour, completed in 1900 and entered by a channel 1¼ m. long and 21½ ft. deep, now renders vessels independent of the tide. There are separate basins for fishing boats and a dock for torpedo-boat fiotilla. Round the town for 5 or 6 m. to the north and west stretch orchards, gardens and country houses. Dates, almonds, grapes, figs, peaches, apricots, olives, and in rainy years melons and cucumbers grow there without irrigation. Two enormous cisterns, maintained by public charitable trusts, supply the town with water in dry seasons.

Sfax is on the site of a Roman settlement. Many of its Arab inhabitants claim descent from Mahomet. The Sicilians under Roger the Norman took it in the 12th century, and in the 16th the Spaniards occupied it for a brief period. The bombardment of the town in 1881 was one of the principal events of the French conquest of Tunisia; it was pillaged by the soldiers on the 16th of July, and the inhabitants had afterwards to pay a war indemnity of £250,000. The population, about 15,000 at the time of the French occupation, had increased to 50,000 in 1906.