The Great Mosque
The Great Mosque is one of the highlights of Kairouan. We bought a ticket at the mosque entrance which gave entry to many of the sights in Kairouan as well as the mosque. We had seen many mosques during our trip but this was the first time we had been allowed inside.
We were allowed walk around the courtyard but not into the prayer room, which is off-limits to non muslims. Even though it was only 9.30 am there was already a tour group here. Luckily they had finished as we arrived so we had the place more or less to ourselves. Seeing the inside of a mosque for the first time was an interesting experience and the fact that it was Kairouan's Great Mosque, one of the most important in the country, made it extra special.
There has been a mosque on this site since the 8th century, making it one of the oldest in Tunisia. Much has been added over the centuries but always in good taste in an architectural sense, so it is difficult to tell what came first and what was added later. The minaret is the outstanding feature of the mosaue. Also veryu prominent are the wells. Water was very important to the mosque and it very clever how they managed to get so much of it. We looked into the prayer room, with its numerous columns, which have given rise to some interesting traditions and stories over the years.
Zaouia of Sidi el Ghariani
We walked back towards the entrance gate, dodged the carpet sellers and went to the Zaouia of Sidi el Ghariani which is to the right of the main medina gate (as you approach from the south). The guy at the gate gave us and the Aussie girl we had met earlier in the Great Mosque and her guide a quick tour. His English was very limited but the Aussie girl had no French so we had to take that tour. He told us about the history of the Zaioui and of the man in whose honour it was built, Sidi el Ghariani. His tomb is in one of the rooms at the side. We were allowed enter the room and take pictures of the tomb but the actual chamber was off limits to non-muslims. Many muslims came in to pay their respects to him while we were visiting. At the end of our tour the man asked for a donation to the upkeep of the Zaouia. Hmm, I think it will be going straight to him. I didn't know what he was asking until the Aussie girl told me he wanted money. So we gave him a dinar.
Streets of Kairouan
The medina of Kairouan is one of the most beautiful medinas that I have visited in Tunisia. It is an ensemble of narrow and winding streets where everything is blue and white. I have to say that this time (December 2008) the medina looked better kept than during my first visit in Kairouan, in September 2007. Maybe they have done some restoration works to prepare the city for the great event in 2009. Take your time and get lost in the medina: it has nice squares, some little mosques and hidden beautiful palaces to be discovered. The strong lights and shadows (especially in summer time) will also delight the photographers.
The Medina of Kairouan is the focal point of this Holy City. And it’s also a pretty old one, for the first walls of which there is any recollection were constructed in the 8th century. Unfortunately, they are not visible any more, for they have been replaced many times, and those of today are almost 1000 years younger than the original ones - they date back to the 18th century, in fact.
Here’s what you can see, or at least a bit of it. I will (someday, hopefully) write tips for individual attractions, but in the meantime the list is as follows:
- The Great Mosque
- Zaouia of Sidi Sahab
- Mosque of the Three Doors
- Zaouia of Sidi Abid el-Ghariani
- Bab ech Chouhada
- Bab el-Khoukha
- Bab Tunis
- Zitouna Mosque
- Bab Jedid
The Great Mosque
With massive walls surrounding it, the oldest mosque in Africa is unmissable.
The present building (although much restored and somewhat changed over the centuries) was started in 836AD, but its minaret has lower layers dating from 730AD. the prayer hall and arches are stuffed full of Roman columns and capitals, and two inscribed Roman stones form part of the minarets lower courses.
There's a courtyard with clever drains leading to huge underground cisterns to catch rainwater.and wellheads to draw it up again, and two sundials (one for morning, one for afternoon).
Although you can't enter the prayer hall itself, you can peep through the intricate wooden doors at the wealth of columns inside, each with its wooden block to absorb the shock of earth tremors.
You'll need to cover bare shoulders and knees. There are jallabas on offer if you have brought nothing suitable.
A holy and historical place to visit. Open Mon > Thurs, Sat and Sun from 8am to 2pm, and on Fridays from 8am to 12 midday. Entrance fee.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
This is without any doubt the most important spot in Kairouan! The construction of this Mosque dates back from the 670. It was destroyed a couple of times but the main structure is still from that period so we can consider this mosque as the oldest mosque in North Africa and an important centre of pilgrimage.
There is a small room on the left of the entrance with some informative displays that can be a good introduction to your visit. Some interesting things inside are the minaret, which is considered the oldest minaret in the world, built (its lowest level) by the year 730
(picture 2) some koranic inscriptions (picture 4) in the courtyard and of course the prayer hall (following tip)
Very important: the mosque is only opened until 12,00 am and it would be a pity to miss it during your visit to the city like it happened to me the first time!
Zaouia of Sidi Sahib-Barber's Mosque
This place must be the second place to visit in Kairouan after the Grand Mosque..The architecture is perfect and if u re lucky u can watch an old tradition celebration- a family celebrates the circumcision ...
and if u re really lucky u can receive a blessing with orange water- it s like the holy water for christians..
Here is the tomb of Abou Zamaa El Balaoui -sahib of Mahomed-conserving hair from the beard of Mahomed-that s why they named it Barber's Mosque.
The entrance fee is around 3 dinars -u can buy from here a ticket for the main places to visit in Kairouan, and if u re not proper dressed u will receive some tradtional clothes for the visit.
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Zaouia of Sidi Sahab
After visiting the Aghlabid Pools, we drove on to the nearby Zaouia of Sidi Sahab. This is outside the city walls but it's well worth the long walk (or short drive in our case) as it was very impressive. Sidi Sahab is bigger than the other two Zaouias we had seen in Kairouan, with a lovely entrance courtyard, a large tower in the corner, and a nice main courtyard where a lot of families were sitting down to pray.
As it was Friday lunchtime, many Muslims were visiting for prayers. We took a few pictures but a local warned us not to take too many in case the congregation became annoyed. He then gave us two little necklaces stones. What was I thinking in accepting him? That he wouldn't want anything fro them. Of course he did. So we gave him 2 Dinars...
The Cistern is in the centre of the courtyard which slopes slightly to allow water to filter into it. Water is important before prayers to cleanse the prayer. There are also cleansing facilities outside the courtyard.
- Historical Travel
- Religious Travel
We found this “monument” by chance. Its an ancient and a very venerated site, built during the XVIIth century and protected by a small building with a cupola. Nothing attires your attention from outside, you find it if you know the address (ave Belhouane, or better ask to the local people) but if you go upstairs you will find a well that tradition says its connected to the well of Zem Zem in Mecca. This place is continuously surveyed by a camel that turns the wheel of an ancient “noria” to draw water from the well to the surface. We saw some people lined up to taste this “Mecca water”, maybe it was a kind of blessing or purification…. who knows……
The scene of the camel, annoied, making the wheel turn worths a picture…
Grande Mosquée: Prayer Hall
The prayer hall can only be visited by muslims but you can see it more or less from one of its 14 doors. The legend says that anyone trying to count its columns will become blind. There are columns of different sizes, periods and styles, basically from roman and byzantine times that were transported until there from places like Chartàge or Sousse. The mihrab , at the background of the picture is from the IXth century and it's the oldest mihrab in the world.
Oh by the way. . . the number of columns is 414 ;-)))
In the heart of the medina, this is not a tourist souq, it is very genuine! as you will find gift stalls for tourists but also clothes stalls or fruit stalls for local people. Immerse yourself in this world of smells, colors, traditions, Arabic music and all kind of stuff. It is also an excellent place to do some people watching.
ps. have you found on these pictures my old "maison de tapis ou tapis de maison" now converted into a banal shop? what a pity :-((((
Kairouan carpets have an excellent reputation in Tunisia. You can recognize them by its kind of point and by their typical hexagonal designs in the center. In Kairouan you will find a lot of shops selling carpets, usually inside rich villas in the center of the medina, like the one on the picture. So if you want to buy a carpet from Tunisia, go to Kairouan.
Updates: by the way . . . this picture is already an historical picture as the house still exists (and it is easy to find) but was transformed into a “everything for 1€” shop . . . nooooooo!!! :-((
The old cemetery
The cemetery of Ouled Farhane (the children of Farhane?) situated just outside the walls and near the Grande Mosquée, is a real city of deads as most of the tombs have the shape of little houses (picture 2). A little untidy, not very well kept, it is a good place to take nice pictures. Unlike most of cemeteries in Tunisia, this is not a peaceful place as one of the main roads of the city passes just behind it.
If u visit Kairouan see this bassins from the 9 th century-one big and one litlle ( see the photos)
Aghlabides - was one of the most important historic age for Kairouan- it was the national capital those days...a glorius city
Tax free entrance!
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