Le Kef Tourist Attractions
Chief town of the governorate of Le KefSituation and characteristicsThe old town of Le Kef (kef = "rock"), known in Arabic as Chikka Benar, is picturesquely situated on the slopes of Dir el Kef, an outlier of the High Tell.
It is the market center of the surrounding upland region, with a busy market on Thursdays.The upper town, crowned by the Kasbah, has so far been little affected by tourism, though there are plans to develop its tourist potentialities. If this should come about Le Kef will make a good base from which to visit some of Tunisia's most important ancient sites lying within easy reach, including Dougga, Bulla Regia and Maktar.HistoryNothing is left of a settlement established by the Numidians on this commanding site. The place came under the influence of Carthage at an early stage. At the end of the First Punic War (241 B.C.) Carthage resettled here numbers of mercenaries who had mutinied in Sicily - a move which sparked off the bloody Mercenary War of 240-237 B.C. Among them were Elymians from the Sicilian city of Eryx, who brought with them their cult of the goddess Sicca Veneria, and the town, now renamed Sicca Veneria, became an important center of the cult.The goddess worshipped as Sicca Veneria was identified with the Carthaginian Astarte, the Greek Aphrodite and the Roman Venus. Temple prostitution featured prominently in the cult; but although Elissa, the legendary founder of Carthage, is said to have brought the cult with her, along with eighty hierodules (female temple servants), Le Kef is the only place in Punic Africa where traces of the cult have been found; and the town's Arabic name of Chikka Benar or Chakbenaria still recalls the ancient Sicca Veneria.The Romans took over the town, preserving its Punic name of Sicca Veneria. In the reign of Augustus it was raised to the status of a colonia, and during the second and third centuries it achieved great prosperity. As early as 256 it was the see of a bishop.After the Vandal raids the town lost much of its population, and after the Arab conquest it was abandoned, to be refounded only in the 16th century under the name of Le Kef. As a frontier town it was long disputed between Algiers and Tunis. Its massive Kasbah was built by the Algerians towards the end of the 17th century, but Tunisian control was finally established in the 18th century. During the Second World War the town was for a time the seat of the government of the French protectorate.AccessLe Kef lies on GP 5, 170km/106mi southwest of Tunis and 42km/26mi east of the Algerian frontier. Regular bus services to and from Tunis, Tabarka, Maktar, Kairouan and Kasserine; bus station (Gare Routière) in the lower town.
Kalaat es Senan (Table de Jugurtha), Tunisia
To the south of Le Kef is a prominent tabular hill, Kalaat es Senan, known as the Table de Jugurtha, in the form of a truncated cone flanked by rock walls rising vertically to a height of 70m/230ft. A path leads to a flight of steps hewn from the rock which goes up to the plateau. Half way up is a Byzantine arched gateway. At a height of 1,271m/4,170ft are the remains of a Byzantine fortress, a number of cave dwellings and the marabout of Sidi Abd el Jouad. From here there are magnificent wide-ranging views.AccessGP 5, then GP 17, signposted to Kasserine. Beyond Tadjerouine take a road on the right which heads towards the Algerian frontier. Just after the mosque in the village of Kalaat es Senan (pop. 2,000) a road runs up to Ain Senan; then a narrow road on the left leading to a hamlet from which the footpath runs up to the plateau (2 hours' climb).
The old town of Le Kef, on the slopes of the hill, is dominated by the massive bulk of the Kasbah, from which remains of the old town walls run east to the former Presidential Palace. At the foot of the old town is the lower town, built during the French protectorate, with the railway and bus stations. Le Kef's main street, Avenue Habib Bourguiba, bisects the two parts of the town, half way up the hill. From its east end (where it turns southwest towards the new town) Rue de la Source leads to a mosque beyond which is a small excavation site. Here too begins the old town, a maze of tortuous streets and stepped lanes.
Dar el Kous
In Rue Farhat Hached, which leads east from Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Le Kef, is a three-aisled early Christian church dedicated to St Peter and now known as the Dar el Kous (restored). Until Tunisia became independent services were still held in the vaulted narthex of the church. Over the lintel of the doorway, on the right-hand outer wall, are Christian symbols. The raised apse, excellently preserved, is similar to that of the fortified church at Haidra.
The Turkish Kasbah in Le Kef was built by Mohammed Bey of Algiers in 1679 on Byzantine foundations, using stone from ancient buildings. Much altered in subsequent centuries, it was used until recently as a barracks. It is now being restored to house a cultural center and an archeological museum. There is a fine view from the tower, and even more extensive views of the town and the surrounding plain from a bastion higher up to the northeast.
To the north of the former Presidential Palace in Le Kef is the Zaouia of Sidi ben Aissa (1784), now occupied by the Folk Museum (Musée Régional des Arts et Traditions Populaires). The exhibits include traditional costumes, brides' dresses and jewelry, a nomad tent, everyday objects, domestic pottery, woven fabrics and horse trappings.
Djemaa el Kebir
In front of the Kasbah in Le Kef is the former Great Mosque, Djemaa el Kebir (restored), built in the eighth century on the site of an earlier building. It is now used for social and public occasions. In the gardens and inside the building are fragments of stone, remains of mosaics and stelae.
Mosque of Sidi Bou Makhlouf
Below the Kasbah in Le Kef are the beautiful Mosque and Zaouia of Sidi Bou Makhlouf, with two ribbed domes and an octagonal minaret (16th century). The interior has delicate stucco ornament and attractive tile decoration; the dome of the three-aisled prayer hall is borne on antique columns.
On the east side of Le Kef, south of the walled Presidential Palace (Habib Bourguiba's first wife came from Le Kef), is the Zaouia Qadriya or Zaouia Sidi Mizouni (1834), with a large dome surrounded by four smaller ones. Fine view.
To the north of Le Kef are eleven Roman cisterns, each measuring 11m/36ft by 6m/20ft.
Opposite a long abandoned synagogue in Le Kef, is the 17th century mausoleum of Husain ben Ali, father of the first Husseinite ruler.