Secrets From The Sahara The Ancient City of Kebili : Part 2 The city of no citizens : architecture and history
Day after day, my belief that the ancient city of Kébili is a mystery grows. This place carries in its innards a lot of secrets, it’s like a well of secrets, the more you dig and go deeper, the more you get amazed with the new things you discover. I believe that no matter what greatness will be discovered, there will always still something greater. Why ? because i believe that this place wants to always carry on something for the next generations to study, like it has always been the ligament and the convergence of generations and civilizations.
The quest in the memory of this city is an attempt to find who we really are, is an attempt to define our identity and provenance. It is a chance to shake hands with the place where a variety of civilizations, ethnicities, religions collided.
Levi Strauss says : « Objects are what matter. Only they carry the evidence that throughout the centuries something really happened among human beings ».
The ancient city of Kébili or the ancient city of Nefzawa, was recently abandoned, it’s rich with architectural significances. Unlike the other constructions of Nefzawa that has been extincted, like those made of clay and wood and palm timber, the ancient city of Kébili preserved the features and specifications of its buildings and constructions. Based on the written history and conventional oral narratives, also through looking at the magic and beauty and generosity of its walls, the effects of different civilizations can be obviously seen.
Ancient Kébili was berber-romanian then arab-islamic, it has been modified a lot of times according to the existing and it has been amended and adjusted over and over but that does not prevent you from having an exciting exploratory trip through its well constructed alleys.
The ancient city of Kébili was not just a bridge crossed by these different civilizations, no, they left their finger prints, they left signs proving that they were once there. The ancient city adopted and embraced these signs and patrimonial, merged and integrated them developing a new combined heritage linking the past with the present, to create something that lasts for the future.
It’s commonly known that the first inhabitants of the ancient city of Kébili were berbers because of its location near the sources of pure water and because it is surrounded with the oasis, then, it started to gather other races ( arabs, blacks, africans …etc). Ancient Kébili was in one of its eras a subject of Romans influence and that was from the year 146 B.C to 439 A.D, and the area of « Turris » was chosen to be the power center in which were built a city hall and a catholic church. During his tour in March the 15th, 1945, Pierre Morro has described that the ancient city of Kébili was built on romanic remnants which is seen on its columns that were once used as decorations for the roman forts and bastions.
The Roman-Christian situation continued in the ancient city of Kébili until it was conquested by Okba Ben Nafaa, he built a mosque that still has his name up to now in the nearby village Telmin, same structure of Okba’s mosque was used by Abdullah Ibn Abu Zaid Al Mahmoudi to built the mosque that is still used to that present moment in the ancient city. The Church’s traces still exist now in Telmin and we can see the effects of Christianity in terms of architectures through the arc shaped windows which were used in christian churches. Also recently, traces of a roman cemetery was found under the mosque of Okba. Studies proved that roman soldiers were buried there as a sculpted rock was found in the ancient city of Kébili that contains names of these soldiers.
Conflicts between the citizens of the ancient city of kébili has resulted to the destruction of the constructions and some citizens has sold their oasis to the outsiders, then in 1860, they reconstructed it using the same materials and the same techniques. With the french colonization, a big part of citizens moved to what is called now « El Bayez », in which was created a market, a barrack and an administrative center. Jews were concentrated in the eastern part of the market close to their stores.
The ancient city of Kébili was definitely abandoned in 1969. A city in the middle of the Oasis, surrounded by a high wall separated from the Oasis with a moat behind it, equipped with 5 main big doors as the only way to get in and out the city ; Door of Boody, Door of Zawya, Door of Rahba, Door of Chobak and Door of Ertana, the entries of the ancient city’s houses were all opening to the inside and they were all located in a way to make the mosque the center of the city. A well built defensive city against any outside attack.