Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Discover El-Kef

El-Kef is a town located in northwestern Tunisia, approximately 170km west of Tunis and some 35km from the Tunisian-Algerian border. It's situated at an elevation of 780 m on the slope of a hill.
El-Kef occupies the site of an old city founded in the fourth century BC, and became a Roman colony in the second century AD. However, this region has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and was mentioned in ancient historical accounts of the first Punic War (264-247BC) by writers including Pliny and Diodorus. They recount the Carthaginian army's request for support from the locals of El-Kef during the war, but were unable to pay their mercenaries after losing to Rome. The mercenaries eventually rose up against the Carthaginians, but were suppressed by the army led by Amilcar, the chief of the Carthaginian army and the father of the legendary Hannibal.

Kef Basilica

Sicca, the old name of El-Kef, was punished by Julius Caesar following the civil war in Rome (46BC), during which Sicca supported Pompey, the opponent of Caesar. Following his triumph, Caesar annexed the town, and it became a part of a province known as Africa Proconsularis. The town was subsequently renamed Sicca Veneria.
At the end of the seventh century, Arabs called the town Chakbanaria and in the seventeenth century it became El-Kef: the Rock.
The Deys, the monarchy of the Husseinite Beys, were in conflict with the regency of Alger and the French occupation, and El-Kef played an important role due to its position between the Tunisian hinterland and the Algerian border.
Despite its rich attractions, El-Kef is little-frequented by tourists and, like other towns and cities in the interior, has been somewhat neglected by the national government in recent decades. The main attraction of El-Kef is its medina. The old city is very rich in monuments from several eras.
The kasbah of El-Kef, the city's castle, has been witness to several conflicts that occurred between the Regency of Tunis and the Regency of Alger in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries. The kasbah was built by Ottoman rulers in the seventeenth century and has been renovated more than once. The stones date back to Roman times and it is possible to observe Latin inscriptions in the blocks. Excavations have discovered a number of Turkish clay pipes made in Izmir.
The current design of the kasbah dates to the beginning of the nineteenth century and the current gate was built during the French occupation (1881-1956). The kasbah was used as a base for the French army during World War II.
The Sidi Boumakhlouf Zaouiya is a shrine built in the seventeenth century. It houses the tomb of Sidi Abdullah Boumakhlouf, the patron saint of the city. An octagonal minaret with glazed ceramic panels rises above the shrine's three domes, each of which have different dimensions.
El-Kef is also a symbol of the religious tolerance that has helped shape Tunisian society. The city's architecture bears witness to Jewish and Christian communities which lived in the city until recently.
The Dar Kouss church was built in the fifth century. At 30 meters in length and 14 meters in width, it is one of the biggest churches, built in the early-Christian era. The church was used by French settlers in the first half of the 20th century, although it is no longer in use as a place of worship.
The synagogue of El-Kef is known as the Ghriba "the mysterious." Although the actual age of the building is not known, the current design dates back to the seventeenth century. The Jewish community came to Tunisia in several waves from the Arab conquest in the seventh century until the arrival of the Moorish in the seventeenth century. As the community dwindled in the second half of the 20th century, the synagogue fell into ruin until it was fully restored in 1994. Nowadays one room of the building is open and contains photos and several items that belong to the Jewish community, including a torah parchment.
El-Kef is easily reached from Tunis by the A3 highway. It's surrounding countryside is rich in monuments and archaeological sites. A good time to visit is in summer during the festival of music and theatre that is organized in the kasbah.
Ghriba Synagogue