centuries of cultural mixing give it a definite identification

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El Kef is a metropolis constructed into the southern face of Jebel Dyr mountain, which is linked to the Excessive Atlas mountains within the north-western area of Tunisia that borders on Algeria. The breeze that sweeps off the mountain and thru town’s streets presents reduction from the new climate and turns into a part of the identification of a metropolis whose riches are little identified to the remainder of the world.

El Kef isn’t on the listing of excursions organised for worldwide guests who flock to Tunisia yearly to take pleasure in sunny seashores and native tradition. Town’s magnificent pure and constructed heritage can be all however lacking from tutorial analysis publications.

A courtyard with a large tree in the middle of old  buildings.

The Medina of El Kef.
Majdi Faleh

Tunisia has not recognised the worth of El Kef’s historic and cultural variety, nor promoted the area as a world heritage asset. Town’s festivals for jazz and quick movie are promoted, however there’s unrealised potential for financial development and various tourism by means of El Kef’s many heritage websites.

As architects and cultural heritage specialists who train and conduct analysis about north Africa extra broadly and El Kef particularly, we want to spotlight a few of these unrecognised nationwide treasures right here.


Due to its steep geography, El Kef has a novel round sample with completely different heights that distinguish historical and fashionable city zones. It has its origins as an historical Numidian metropolis earlier than it turned Roman and Byzantine colonies, starting in 241BC. It was then an Arab-Islamic medieval centre (688-689) and later fell below Ottoman Rule (1700s-1800s) earlier than French colonialism and Tunisian independence. The social, financial and cultural dynamics of this historical past have left a tangible imprint on the city setting.

A large square fortress looms above high walls.

El Kef’s Kasbah of Ottoman heritage.
Majdi Faleh

El Kef’s heritage websites, many unrecorded, are proof of centuries of non secular cohabitation, with notable Jewish, Christian and Muslim populations in addition to the multitude of Sufi currents. Town was dwelling to famend Sufi saint Sidi Bou Makhlouf. Via meditation and asceticism, Sufism in Islam (at-taṣawwuf) embraces the philosophy of divine knowledge and love which can be current on the planet to grasp God and the character of humanity. The expansion of Sufism within the 1500s inspired the constructing of mausoleums, marabouts and mosques that at the moment are an important half of El Kef’s cultural panorama.

From its medieval historic core atop Jebel Dyr to the up to date grid-layout neighbourhoods, the sloping metropolis’s wide selection of architectural types embrace Mediterranean, Roman, Byzantine, Arab/Islamic, and colonial influences.

An ancient courtyard with a curved centrepiece.

St. Peter’s Basilica.
Majdi Faleh

It’s historical past that offers El Kef its distinct identification. Serving as a hub for Tunisian theatrical arts, town cultivates a mix of tangible and intangible heritage.

The Plateau of Jugurtha

The Plateau of Jugurtha (Jugurta), 70km south of El Kef, is a crucial pure heritage website, protecting 80 hectares and at an altitude of 1,200 metres. It’s a mesa (flat-topped mountain) that has been linked to many legends.

The mountain is alleged to have stopped the Romans of their lengthy battle with King Jugurta of Numidia. The Kingdom of Numidia emerged across the third century BC in modern-day Algeria and components of Tunisia and Libya. Its king, Masinissa, dominated between 201 and 148BC. He’s stated to have constructed his first fortress on the mountain in 200BC.

A table-like mountain in a vast landscape.

Desk of Jughurta.
Wikimedia Commons

The world was additionally vital through the Aghlabid period (800-909), a interval marked by the dominance of this Arab dynasty who as soon as conquered components of Italy. In different accounts, the fortress was used by native inhabitants through the Fatimid period (909–1171). The Egyptian Fatimid caliphs had been identified for his or her patronage of the humanities and structure. Within the 1700s, it’s recounted that rebels, led by Senan, one of many chiefs who valiantly resisted the Bey of Tunis for an prolonged interval, seized this expansive rock, utilizing it as their fortress.

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Jugurta has many water reservoirs (mejel) and its distinctive geological formation nonetheless preserves the fossilised stays of historical creatures, together with sharks. Historical graves provide insights into burial practices and business actions a very long time in the past. Related tombs exist all through the El Kef area.


The city of Jerissa is to be discovered 50km south of El Kef. It was traditionally on the traditional route between the Islamic metropolis of al-Qayrawān and the Mzab Valley in Algeria.

With its colonial buildings, it developed across the largest iron mine in Tunisia. Jerissa was as soon as often known as Petit Paris (Little Paris), a reputation favoured by the French colonials. It was a various little city with miners from Italy, Malta, Spain, Algeria, Morocco and Senegal – and all non secular teams. One can nonetheless see the few architectural parts of the French colonial metropolis.

A sepia photograph of an old town, larger buildings on either side and a dozen or so houses between them.

View of Jerissa in 1907.
Picryl/Wikimedia Commons

One in all Jerissa’s predominant assets is antimony, a semi-metal used within the electronics business, important for the standard kohl make-up. At the moment Jerissa is all however forgotten regardless of its wealthy historical past.

What needs to be carried out

An official improvement plan for the websites described right here – and lots of extra apart from – is way wanted. It may assist develop tourism. Defending the various and wealthy heritage of El Kef would increase the cultural, financial, social and environmental qualities of the area.

Accountable tourism might want to mirror a way of consciousness in regards to the wants of native communities so that every one can reap the advantages of the historic riches of El Kef and its surrounds.


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