Generally, road maps fail to report the Galite off the northwest coast of Tunisia, some sixty kilometers northeast of the town of Tabarka. It’s curious. It’s especially sad, but it’s like that!
It is true that this territory has been practically uninhabited for half a century. It is equally true that during all this time he was considered a military perimeter. Is this a reason for amputating the country of so small a part of its territorial integrity, even at the level of cartography alone?
In short, in the same way as the Kerkennah, Djerba archipelago or one of the sixty islands and islets which are found along the Tunisian coasts on their north and east Islands of the Galite constitute maritime outposts of the Tunisian territory. Recently, it is true, they are increasingly polarizing the attention of visitors while waiting for the promoters of ecological, cultural and leisure tourism.
We are talking about islands, because we are dealing with a small archipelago. In fact, it is more a piece of enchantment floating in the Mediterranean than it is. It is formed of six islands and islets and includes the Galite proper, the Galiton, the Fauvelle and the islands Cani. The whole extending on about 800 hectares and stretching on a line long of about ten kilometers.
The main island, the Galite, is 5.3 km long and 2 km wide at a maximum altitude in the center of 391 m. It is – and it is the only – equipped with a landing stage (the quays of an old fishing port) where the National Maritime Guard has a border post. It is the Galathea of the Ancients and was, in antiquity, a Phoenician point of call, Punic and then Roman. At the foot of Mount Garda (361 m high, to the east of the island) there still remain Punic burials, remains of Roman buildings, abandoned quarries and caves that bear witness to this past occupation.
In order not to have been inhabited permanently for centuries thereafter, the Galite was used as a point of relaxation for the European coral fishermen who operated on the northern coasts and the Algerian east from the XVI Century, hence the presence in the island of certain installations which could date back to that time.
It is with the French protectorate that a small colony of Europeans occupies the island permanently. In 1906 there were 174 inhabitants, including 67 French and 107 Italians. At the end of the 1930s, the presence on the island of some Tunisian shepherds was reported. The leader Habib Bourguiba was exiled there in the fifties by the colonial authorities who wanted to cut him from his supporters.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the local economy was based mainly on fishing, especially lobster, which was exported large quantities to the European market. Food crops and vineyards provided some basic self-sufficiency in staple foods, supplemented by scanty goat farming on rather arid land and in random climatic conditions. The nationalization of agricultural land held in Tunisia by foreigners in the early 1960s convinced the last inhabitants of the island after the country’s independence in 1956 to leave the country and settle in Europe.
Since that time, the archipelago has literally been kept on the margins of national life, except in defense matters. The Army maintained a garrison there to perpetuate national sovereignty. Deserted by civilians who maintained a certain form of economic and social life, the island has gradually returned to its natural state. The various civilian installations have gradually disintegrated and the cultivated plots have returned to fallow. During this period of near-abandonment, considerable damage was inflicted on this environment that was considered fragile. Depredations were committed by the shepherds, who were loaded by a large sheep farmer to graze his cattle there: damaged graves and damaged premises, not to mention the damage caused to the vegetation cover by the herds.
In recent years, the state has taken things in hand. The garrison of the National Army installed in the Galite has been entrusted with the task of restoring the land for agricultural rehabilitation to a community of farmers who will be settled there as soon as the action reached its term. The repopulation of the island should prelude to the materialization of a dream so often cherished: the opening of the archipelago to tourism. And it has arguments to advocate for this choice: wild beauty of landscapes, a saved environment, a historical and archaeological heritage, riches underwater, etc.
Day trips are now organized to the main island during the summer season from Tabarka by licensed operators. Private visits are subject to the authorization of the competent authorities (governorate, National Guard) of Bizerte whose archipelago is administratively responsible. You have to do it well in advance (inquire about deadlines). Tahar Ayachi
Different packages are available from operators on site and via the internet. Excursions ranging from 1 to 3 days offer an array of options: fishing, baptism, boat trips ….
In the region, daily packages are between 30 and 50D per person. Excursionists propose sea excursions with a sea program, “snorkelling” and include meals often composed of seafood.
Diving clubs offer baptisms. They know the corners and nooks of the seabed, wrecks, and places not to be missed. Only know that the site of the Galite is protected. On a radius of 3.5 km, it is forbidden to hunt. In fact, the monk seal focus is protected. A threatened variety
Those who love fishing will be delighted. They can exercise their talents as fishermen by hook-and-line or trolling. On their charts, they will be able to add tuna, toothed, lich, limon the grouper, sea bream etc.