Tunisia’s Kelibia, a peaceful fishing town that offers perfect getaway

August 13, 2017
Beach cafés in the coastal town of Kelibia. (The Tunisian Ministry of Tourism)

Kelibia - Ahill-top fortress, vis­ible from afar, tow­ers majestically over scattered buildings in Kelibia, beckon­ing visitors to enjoy the wealth of nature and history in the beautiful coastal town. Only an hour’s drive east from Tunis, Kelibia is a peace­ful fishing village with luscious, white, sandy beaches and a vibrant cultural life.
The town has a lot to offer visitors, particularly those looking to avoid crowded tourist areas elsewhere. Its well-preserved, natural beaches are perfect for a quiet getaway.
It is also an ideal spot for fresh seafood. Walking down the streets, visitors are sure to see an array of small motorbikes with yellow boxes on the back transporting the daily catch of fish from the port to restau­rants. Early in the morning at the port, fishermen prepare their nets and boats set off to sea.
Situated near the tip of Tunisia’s north-eastern Cap Bon Peninsula, the town boasts of a history that dates to prehistoric times and in­cludes Punic, Byzantine and Roman epochs.
“The town of Kelibia has wit­nessed the alternation of many civilisations,” said Habib ben Bou­baker, a professor of history and ge­ography and a member of the Asso­ciation of Safeguarding the Medina and Heritage of Kelibia. “There are even prehistoric ruins in the sur­roundings of Kelibia. This is to say that the origins of the town are an­cient, as it was the cradle for many civilisations.”
Much of the town’s history has yet to be discovered and excava­tions continue to uncover more in­formation on the area’s ancient civi­lisations. Among the sites that have been discovered and preserved are churches that date to the Roman period.
In 2007, during construction to expand a youth hostel, a synagogue with a still-intact mosaic dating to the seventh century was discov­ered, ben Boubaker said.
Another hallmark of Kelibia is the fortress. Built on a 150-metre rock formation, the fort dominates the Gulf of Cap Bon. Its oldest parts contain Roman elements, while the bulk of the fortress dates to the sixth century.
“The symbol of Kelibia is the fort that played an important role in both war and peace times. The fort was originally a military castle and has many other important ruins. There is so much that remains un­discovered in the fort’s surrounding as it is still today a digging site for ruins,” said ben Boubaker.
“There were even the ruins of an entire village at the foot of the for­tress that is still being studied and examined.”
Made up of square towers and accessible by a gate at the front, the fort contains characteristics of many civilisations, including Ro­man military vestiges, a Byzantine church and Ottoman basins. Marked by a beautiful lighthouse, the fort provides a panoramic scene of the town. There are places on the fort where the Italian Island of Pantel­leria, 70km from the northernmost tip of Kelibia, is visible.
Kelibia also offers clear waters and beautiful beaches that draw visitors from all over.
“The beautiful beaches, the scen­ery and the relaxing atmosphere are all reasons that make Kelibia an attraction,” said Omar Jenhani, a founding member of the Cultural and Environmental Association of Kelibia.
“The beaches are one of the finest in the whole world. There is also a certain aspect of freedom that the town offers to its visitors.”
“The town is alive and active at night, which helps people enjoy their time and walk around feeling safe,” Jenhani added. “There are so many beautiful and undiscov­ered places in Kelibia where one can enjoy the serenity of the beach with a view of the forest in the back­ground.”
The town is renowned for an abundance of fish and its prominent fishing port. Kelibia is home to Tu­nisia’s National Fishing School.
Cultural events are also part of Kelibia life. The International Film Festival of Kelibia marked its 32nd edition in August. The festival, or­ganised by the Tunisian Federa­tion of Amateur Film-makers, cel­ebrates national and international alternative cinema with films from 22 countries entered in the interna­tional competition. The festival pro­motes films tackling social, political and economic issues.
“Kelibia has a vibrant cultural scene with the International Ama­teur Film Festival,” said ben Bou­baker, adding that prominent cultural figures visit the town throughout the year.
“Kelibia was the capital of ma­louf music and has one of the oldest musical groups that play this tradi­tional music type,” he said. “This also made the town famous for its cultural role.”
Wherever one wanders in Keli­bia, beauty and serenity are appar­ent. Visitors can swim in the town’s world-renowned waters, savour fresh seafood and sip coffee in one of the many scattered beach cafés. It is a beautiful and relaxing desti­nation that has maintained cultural and historical authenticity.