Fort Santiago Chikly is a story that remains largely untold in Tunisia.
Chikly, a 3.5-hectare island, is designated as a natural reserve due to its ornithological richness, since it is the nesting ground of the most important colony of small Egrets (Egretta Garzetta) in the northern section of Lake of Tunis.
In addition to its natural charm, the island has always provided an alluring habitat for human beings, as demonstrated by the archeological remains of the Phoenicians, Punes, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Spaniards, and Ottomans.
Fort Santiago Chikly is located on Chikly islet. It was once a former Roman fortification that was renovated by the Spanish Governor of Goletta, Luys Peres Varga, between 1546 and 1501. Around the year 940 AH (1533 AD), the Spanish built an island fortress that was later conquered by the Ottoman military, though it was destroyed in the same year upon the arrival of the Ottomans led by Sinan Pasha and Ali Uluc, following the defeat of the Spanish leader Juan de Zama Quera in a battle in which 50 soldiers surrendered due to hunger.
The island was known as Chikly Santiago during the Spanish occupation. Before El-Hajj Mustafa Dey rebuilt it in 1070 AH/1600 AD, it had been abandoned and demolished. It was utilized as a jail by certain Beys. This island was added to the list of historic sites in 1922.
It was renovated in 1660 by the Dey of Tunisia “El-Haj Mustafa Laz” (1653-1665) and converted into a hospital for infectious disorders during the reign of Hammuda Pasha. Fort abandonment occurred in 1830.
Chikly Island was used as a quarantine area for ships returning from the Far East via the Suez Canal, just as Ghar al-Milh and La Goulette had been since the 17th century.
In December 1993, the Tunisian Ministry of Culture recognized the island a site of National Cultural Heritage. Teams from the National Institute of Heritage and the University of Madrid are now restoring the fort under a Tunisian-Spanish collaboration agreement.
In 1995, archaeological efforts succeeded 1994’s purification and cleaning efforts. Mosaic artworks from the Byzantine and Roman periods (4th and 5th centuries) have been discovered.
The University of Madrid and the Tunisian National Heritage Institute are working together to rebuild the fort. In 1994, workers dug and cleaned the area in preparation for archaeological digs the following year. They discovered Roman and Byzantine mosaics and maps from the fourth and fifth century.
One can reach the Fort Santiago with a breathtaking view of the entire of Tunis from the lake’s center after a 9-kilometer walk on a landform. Biking would be a great option to reach the actual fort.
The fort is also close to the main airport, thus planes land and take off from there at incredibly low altitudes, together with wild birds.
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