Nefta Oasis lies in west Tunisia among barren, rolling hills of sand. It overlooks the Chott Djerid, a vast saline depression.

While the surrounding land is baked by the desert sun, water emerges from 152 springs beneath Nefta's soil. These springs are not fed by local rain, but from water falling on distant hills which percolates down through the sand until it reaches a layer of porous rock and then seeps horizontally underneath the desert.

The land is irrigated by springs called artesian wells in places where the water-laden, porous rock lies close to the desert's surface. Over 950 hectares (2,347 acres) of desert have been made fertile by Nefta's artesian wells.

A palm-embroidered hollow named La Corbeille, which is French for "the open basket", lies immediately to the north of the oasis. Spring water issues forth from dozens of cracks and fissures in the steep brown slopes of this crater-like depression.

Date Palms

Nefta's fertile gardens are nourished by an intricate network of seguias, or irrigation ditches. Orderly rows of date palms grow in square plots of land. Around one third of the trees belong to the Deglas variety. These are reputed to be the finest dates in the world. The palms are not only used to produce dates. Leaves are cut into strips which, after drying, are used to weave baskets and other containers. Date stones are ground up and fed to livestock, while the sap is made into a wine known as "lagmi". When the palms stop producing, which may be after 200 years, their wood is used as timber.

Chott Djerid

The notorious Chott Djerid, a vast seasonal lake, lies to the south of the oasis.  It alternates from water to mud to parched plain every year. In autumn, the water table that underlies Nefta's artesian wells rises dramatically and floods the Chott. In the spring, the water table drops and the lake becomes a swamp of salty mud. The summer sun bakes the surface to a hard crust, creating the illusion of a firm plain. Underneath, however,  the ground is soft.

Sufi Religious Center

For more than a thousand years, Nefta has been an important religious center for the Sufis, a mystical Islamic sect. The founder of this center at Nefta, Sidi Ibrahim, arrived at Nefta soon after Moslems conquered the region in AD 670.

Tunisian Sufis established zaouias, or religious fraternities, throughout the country, especially in rural areas. At the zaouias, local people were offered shelter, education and justice for their grievances. At Nefta, the Zaouia of Sidi Ibrahim overlooks La Corbeille. It contains the tomb of Sidi Ibrahim, his son and numerous disciples.

Nefta Oasis' reputation as a holy site brought other men of religion, such as Sidi Bou Ali, there afterwards.