The Port of Sfax lies on the northern shores of the Gulf of Gabes off the Mediterranean Sea in east-central Tunisia about 270 kilometers southeast of Tunis, the nation's capital. The Port of Sfax is the capital of the Sfax Governorate and an important transportation hub, major port town, fishing port, and the base for ferries traveling to the nearby Kerkenah Islands.
The second largest city in Tunisia, the Port of Sfax is also a growing commercial and industrial center. The port is Tunisia's major phosphate exporting port, but it also exports sponges, olive oil, and esparto grass from the surrounding agricultural region. Its hinterland also contains several oil fields. In 2004, over 265 thousand people lived in the Port of Sfax.
The Port of Sfax was founded in 849 AD on the site of two ancient Roman settlements, Taparura and Thaenae (now Thyna), and it was an early center of trade for nomads.
The town of Sfax was an independent city-state by the late 10th Century. Roger, King of Sicily, conquered the Port of Sfax and held it for eight years until local forces liberated the Port of Sfax. The Spanish occupied the Port of Sfax briefly during the 16th Century.
A stronghold for the Barbary pirates, Venice attempted to invade the Port of Sfax in 1785 to stop the piracy but was not successful.
In the late 1800s, France conquered Tunisia and the Port of Sfax and made it part of their empire. Construction began on the modern port in 1895.
In the early 20th Century, potash was discovered in the hills near Gafsa, and the Port of Sfax became an important harbor and rail hub. The port was improved so that larger ships could enter the port, and the railway allowed cargoes to be distributed across Tunisia quickly. These developments encouraged faster growth of the city and attracted commerce, making the Port of Sfax a significant regional center.
The Axis powers made the Port of Sfax a major base during World War II until they were defeated by the British in 1943. During the war, the port and much of the town were destroyed by Allied bombs.
After the war, Tunisia was returned to the French Empire, gaining independence soon after in 1956. The Port of Sfax was rebuilt, and the town was divided into two sections. The old city contains a 10th Century mosque and a citadel that is encircled by the original 9th Century ramparts.
Modern Sfax covers a lot of reclaimed land. The fishing port is now hundreds of meters out from the original shore, and there is a huge area of land to the east that was not there before the war.
In the late 1960s, concerns grew that the medina (old town) was deteriorating, and a program was begun to restore major parts of the medina, the results of which are clearly visible today. The Sfax City Hall is now located in a hotel built by the French in 1906 on reclaimed land. In its first floor is a museum containing artifacts from the old Roman town of Taparura, upon which the Port of Sfax was built. While they are barely visible, the town of Sfax still contains remnants of the early Roman city, most of them incorporated into later buildings or the Port of Sfax's oldest gates.
Today, to the northeast of the old medina, a new area of land is being reclaimed from the sea. Called Project Taparura, the project to remove decades of pollution left on the land and in the sea began in the 1990s. The area, covering 260 hectares, will contain a public beach, residential and commercial properties, and parks and gardens.
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