Kairouan

Overview

Introduction

Kairouan was one of the first cities founded by Muslims in North Africa. Its most important monument, the ninth-century Great Mosque, is one of the oldest surviving mosques in the world. The square, three-tier minaret will be the first thing to catch your eye, but also look for smaller details, such as the ornate drainage hole at the center of the courtyard and the different columns and capitals salvaged from Roman sites. Non-Muslims are only allowed into the courtyard, not the prayer hall, but they can get a glimpse inside the hall through the doors, which are usually open.

Another interesting sight, next to the tourist office, is a pair of restored water reservoirs that were originally constructed and connected to aqueducts in the ninth century. Those interested in Islamic architecture will want to see the several shrines and mosques in the medina. (A special ticket allows entry into several monuments, including the courtyard of the Great Mosque.) The markets are also worth a visit, particularly if you want to buy a rug—Kairouan has the reputation of producing the best carpets in the country. Most visitors see Kairouan on a half-day tour from one of the coastal resorts, but we enjoy the town's relaxed, non-resort atmosphere and recommend an overnight stay. 85 mi/140 km south of Tunis.

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