Syrtis was the name given by the Romans to two gulfs off the North African coast; Syrtis Major which is now known as the Gulf of Sidra off Libya and Syrtis Minor, known today as the Gulf of Gabes in Tunisian waters. They are both shallow sandy gulfs that have been feared from ancient times by mariners. In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 27.13-18) it is described how St. Paul on his way to Rome was blown off course and feared that they would run aground on ‘Syrtis sands.’
The earliest modern reference to these gulfs that I can find in connection with Atlantis was by Nicolas Fréret in the 18th century when he proposed that Atlantis may have been situated in Syrtis Major. Giorgio Grongnet de Vasse expressed a similar view around the same time. Since then there has been little support for the idea until recent times when Winfried Huf designated Syrtis Major as one of his five divisions of the Atlantean Empire.
However, the region around the Gulf of Gabes has been more persistently associated with aspects of the Atlantis story. Inland from Gabes are the chotts, which were at one time connected to the Mediterranean and considered to have been part of the legendary Lake Tritonis, sometimes suggested as the actual location of Atlantis.
In the Gulf itself, Apollonius of Rhodes placed the Pillars of Herakles(a) , while Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (c. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkennah at the western end of Syrtis Minor. Lucanus, the Latin poet, located the Strait of Heracles in Syrtis Minor. Mifsud has pointed out that this reference has been omitted from modern translations of Lucanus’ work!
Férréol Butavand was one of the first modern commentators to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf, while more recently Alberto Arecchi placed Atlantis in the Gulf when sea levels were lower(b) . George Sarantitis places the ‘Pillars’ near Gabes and Atlantis itself inland, further west in Mauritania, south of the Atlas Mountains. Antonio Usai also places the ‘Pillars’ in the Gulf of Gabes.
In 2018, Charles A. Rogers published a paper(c) on the academia.edu website in which he identified Tunisia as Atlantis with it capital located at the mouth of the Triton River on the Gulf of Gabes. He favours Plato’s 9.000 ‘years’ to have been lunar cycles, bringing the destruction of Atlantis into the middle of the second millennium BC and coinciding with the eruption of Thera which created a tsunami that ran across the Mediterranean destroying the city with the run-up and its subsequent backwash. This partly agrees with my conclusions in Joining the Dots!
(a) Argonautica Book IV ii 1230
Férréol Butavand (1875-1938) was a French engineer and a keen archaeologist, being one of the early investigators at Glozel. In 1925 he published his La Veritable Histoire de L’Atlantide in which he expressed the view that Atlantis had been located on a series of sunken islands off Tunisia in the Gulf of Gabes. The area suggested by him would have included the Maltese Islands, part of Sicily and the entire east coast of Tunisia including the islands of Kerkenna and Djerba. Alberto Arecchi among others have recently revived and expanded on this idea.
Gulf of Gabés on the eastern coast of Tunisia was formerly known as Syrtis Minor. Today is contains the Tunisian oil reserves and has the distinction of having one of the few significant tidal ranges (max. 8 feet) in the Mediterranean, which exposes extensive sandbanks at low tides(b).
Inland from the Gulf are the salt marshes or chotts that originally constituted an inland sea, possibly Lake Tritonis, connected with the Mediterranean but due to a seismic upheaval a ridge was created separating them from the outer sea. A comparable event was the 2011 Fukushima earthquake which moved the seafloor 16 meters vertically and 50 metres laterally(a).
In the 19th century François Roudaire proposed the cutting of a channel from the Gulf of Gabés to the chotts, recreating the former inland sea(c).
His plan was supported by Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805-1894), who developed the Suez Canal. However, when Roudaire surveyed the chott nearest the sea, Chott el-Djerid, he discovered that it was in fact lying significantly above sea level. This forced him to revise the scale of the plan, which in turn began the erosion of support for the project, which was eventually abandoned.
It is interesting that the idea of creating a vast inland sea in the Sahara has been been raised again(d) in the context of the current climate change, which, if unchecked, will raise sea levels dramatically. The objective of this new inland sea would be to partly offset this sea level rise.
Férréol Butavand was one of the first to locate Atlantis in the Gulf of Gabés. In 1929 Dr. Paul Borchardt, the German geographer, claimed to have located Atlantis between the chotts and the Gulf. Dr. Anton Mifsud has drawn attention to the writings of the Greek author, Palefatus of Paros, who stated (cap. 32) that the Columns of Heracles were located close to the island of Kerkenna at the western end of Syrtis Minor.
Alberto Arecchi has built on the earlier work of Butavand and places Atlantis firmly in the Gulf(e) when sea levels were much lower as a result of an isthmus separating Eastern from Western Mediterranean.
George Sarantitis delivered three papers to the 2008 Atlantis Conference also locating the Pillars of Heracles in the Gulf of Gabés, which led to the ‘Atlantic Sea in modern Tunisia and Algeria, south of the Atlas Mountains and the site of Atlantis.
(d) Emancipatory Oceanic Macro-engineering Richard B. Cathcart (See Archive 5079)