At the top of the town, the castle-like Kasbah, with its crenelated battlements stands guard over the town.
There are shady cypress trees near the gate, so if it is closed, sit, wait and catch the breezes. The guardian will turn up soon.
Apparently begun by the Byzantines in the 6th century, using roman building materials, the fort was added to by the Ottomans, and last used by the Tunisian Army before its conversion into a museum.
There are prison cells, once used for housing Ottoman criminals and French political prisoners. Tunisia's founding President, Habib Bourguiba may once have been a resident.
Of the cannons, particularly a fine bronze one left by the Bey of Algiers, the guardian was most proud.
There are fine views down to the town from the battlements. A tip for the guardian would be appreciated.
The reason why the town is here in the first place is due to these springs which can be found right in its centre. The springs supplied water to the nearby Roman baths which feature a hexagonal hall as well as the cisterns.
This very early church was first built as far back as the 4th century and has been restored since. It was built on the sire of a Pagan temple during Roman times and features a large naive, two side aisles and an apse which was added in Byzantine times, even though I couldn't get inside.
I think this is the synagogue but I wasn't too sure. Anyway, Le Kef had a thriving Jewish community and this building is all that remains of their culture even though it lies in the middle of the former Jewish quarter. I couldn't get inside but you be able to find someone who has the key if you ask around.
The Grand Fort lies just behind the Petit Fort and was first built by Mohammed Pasha in 1679 before being enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries. It was used until recently as a barracks by both the French and Tunisians and even today is used to house a large TV/radio ariel, given its dominance over the surrounding area.
The Petit Fort (Small Fort) was built in 1601 and was the first part of the Kasbah to be built. It commands the best views over the town if you walk along its upper part and is protected by four corner towers.
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 by both the French and Tunisians. The Kasbah contains two forts - a small one built in 1601 and a larger one built in 1679 but there has been some kind of stronghold here since the 5th century B.C. When you arrive, you may have to find the guy who has the key so as to let you in and when you find him, he'll show you around and give you a guided tour in French only!
In front of the Kasbah is the former Great Mosque, Djemaa el Kebir, built in the 8th century on the site of an earlier building thought to have been a Basilique. The Basilique may have been built in the 4th century as some sort of storage depot for precious items such as silver and grain. It was turned into a church by the Byzantines before becoming a mosque. In the gardens and inside the building are fragments of stone, remains of mosaics and stelae.
This gleaming white buildings was built at the beginning of the 17th century and features cupolas and a 19th century octagonal minaret. It was named after the town's Fez-born patron saint who, along with his family, is buried here. Unfortunately, I couldn't get inside as there was some kind of celebration going on outside.
The Kasbah was used, until recently, as a barracks by the French and their buildings are still in evidence lying just to the north of the Kasbah itself. The barracks were then used by the Tunisian army who were based here until 1992. You get a good view of them if you climb up on the Grand Forts roof.
The old town walls stretch roughly for a kilometre along the rocky slope to the north of the town and incorporate the Kasbah which commands a dominate presence over the town. The towns only surviving gate, out of the original five built, is the Bab Ghedive which gives access to Christian and Muslim cemeteries and some underground Roman cisterns.
This museum is located near the northern end of the town near the wall and is housed in the Zaouia of Sidi ben Aissa which was built in 1784. The exhibits include traditional costumes, brides dresses and jewellery including some heavy silver necklesses weighing 1.5-2kg!, a Berber nomads tent, everyday objects, domestic pottery, woven fabrics and horse trappings. More photo's can be found in my travelogues.
Admission: TD2 plus TD1 for camera.
This is another museum which is as worthwhile for the building itself as it is for any particular exhibit. Housed in an eighteenth century zaouia, its cool harmonious interiors and courtyards are an excellent example of islamic architecture's handling of space.
Although non-muslims can't enter, Sidi Bou Makhlouf is one of the most impressive small mosques in Tunisia, painted a glaring white with two unusual domes. Right next to the mosque is Le Kef's best cafe, also named Sid Bou Makhlouf, which has the best atmosphere, traditional decor inside, and seats in the pleasant square outside during the day. Chicha here is particularly good, and there were a couple of Tunisian women sitting outside, so foreign women should have no problems here.
You can however enter the small tomb beside the mosque, if the guardien claps eyes on you. He doesn't do much, apart from tell you that the tomb is for (surprise, surprise) Sidi Bou Makhlouf, and point at the donations box, with a strategically placed pile of high-denomination notes lying optimistically on top. Pay as much as you would for a museum, no more than a couple of dinars...Straight after showing me around, the guardien came out and ordered himself a chicha. Now, I wonder what happened to my donation?...
In the same square is a Roman basilica, supposedly a museum too, but it was locked with at least 3 padlocks and a hefty looking chain when I tried to visit. You can peer into the courtyard from the kasbah above, but obviously that's not quite the same.
Once you've seen the sights listed above, spend the rest of your time exploring the stairways and alleyways of the old town. You can't really get lost, as Le Kef is only a small town; from any point, head downwards and sooner or later you'll find yourself at the bottom on Avenue Bourguiba. Things to look out for include a brick church dating from the 6th century (locked on my visit), a synagogue (I never found it, and locals were convinced there was one but couldn't tell me where...apparently you can go inside and it has been preserved as a monument to Le Kef's Jewish population), a shopping street on a stairway, hidden cafes, the city wall at the top end of town, and Bab Ghedive. Bab Ghedive is the gate at the very top of Le kef, and to pass through it means leaving the town completely. Just outside is a well where local villagers fetch water, and there are supposed to be a few more Roman remains scattered around the fields, although it was getting dark by the time I wound up here, so I left it to water collectors and barking dogs.