THE DIVINE CITY OF AFRICA: KAIROUAN

KAIROUAN IS THE HOLIEST CITY OF TUNISIA BECAUSE IT IS THE OLDEST ISLAMIC SETTLEMENT… IN ADDITION, THE OLDEST MINARET OF THE WORLD IS LOCATED THERE.

Tunisia holds the natural beauties of both Africa and the Mediterranean. Swimming in the Mediterranean waters one day and sleeping under the stars at the Sahara another are considered ordinary in this geography. Kairouan takes the holiness in this diversity of Tunisia upon itself.

Kairouan, the fourth holy city for the Islamic world following Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem, has everything that is significant for a tourist. The name of the city comes from the word ‘Qayrawan’ that means ‘military camp.’ The Arabs that had built the city in 670 named it. According to the legend, the horse of Ukbe bin Nafi, the Emevi viceroy of Africa who had built the city in 670, founders and a golden chalice is pulled out of the sand where the horse collapses. It is said that this chalice was the same as the one that was lost a few years ago in Mecca. When they hold the chalice in their hands, water erupts in plumes from the earth and they realize that the source of the water is the holy well, which is also the source of the divine zam-zam water, in Mecca.

A holy and peaceful atmosphere
The first divine city of North Africa has hosted many explorers, pilgrims, and extraordinary people that came from far lands during its long history. The city that is located at the center of Tunisia is settled in a savannah, which is in the same distance from both the sea and the mountain. The city offers a divine and peaceful atmosphere to its visitors with its sheltered Medina that is surrounded by walls, and Sidi Okba Mosque, which is the largest mosque of North Africa. Medina harbors many mosques, and shrines of saints and companions of the prophet Mohammad. Sidi Sahab Shrine is among the most beautiful structures of the city. Tunisian people gather here to recite prayers for their first newborns or circumcision ceremonies.

Arab-Muslim synthesis
Kairouan, which was built by one of the companions of Mohammad Ukbe bin Nafi in 670, had been the center of religious education of the country with its mosques and buildings in around 909 when the city had lived its golden age. Non-Muslims entrance to the city was forbidden until the French invasion in 1812. In addition to being the oldest Arab-Muslim base of Maghreb, it was an extraordinary synthesis of this civilization. Kairouan brings light to the first centuries of the architectural and civic formation of this civilization. This is also an archeological site. Medina, which is located in this area and surrounded by over 3 kilometers long walls, consists of settlements that are divided by twisted narrow streets lined side by side.

The oldest mosque of North Africa
Another reason to be named as the holiest city of Tunisia for Kairouan is that the city hosts the oldest mosque of North Africa and the oldest minaret of the world in addition to being the oldest Islamic settlement. It is also believed that this city is where the first azan was recited in Africa. Sidi Okba Mosque, which was built in 670 and it is the oldest mosque of the continent, is where the birth of Mohammad was celebrated every year. The mosque sets an example to many Maghreb mosques with its architectural magnificence. A structure from the 9th century stands today in the original place of the mosque that its construction was ordered by the Emevi viceroy of Africa Ukbe bin Nafi. Although, the mosque had been replaced a few times, its location remains original.

The oldest minaret of the world
A joint assessment is in the direction of the lower part of the minaret being the actual ruins of the first minaret of the world that was built in 730, a century later following the death of Mohammad. It is not hard to realize how the old structures had been built, when you look closely. One of the legends about the praying area tells that whoever dares to count the pillars shall become blind. Each of the 414 pillars is from the Byzantine and Roman periods. The 130 tile-ornamented altars, which were brought from Baghdad in the 9th century, the doors, and the external walls are not to be missed.

The holy figures of Kairouan
Sidi Sahab Zawiya, where the grave of Abou Zama al-Balawi, one of the companions of Mohammad, is believed to be located, as well as Sidi el Ghariani Zawiya that is covered with breathtaking murals and the 14th century wooden engravings take place in most of the Tunisian postcards. The reason that this place is also called as the Barber’s Mosque is because it is believed that the companion of Mohammed had carried three strands of hair belonged to Mohammed on him all the time.

The golden chalice that was lost in the zam-zam well
Two legends that the city takes its holiness exist in the well located within the structure that is known as B’ir Barouta situated at the center of Medina. One of them is that the place was where Ukbe bin Nafi had found his golden chalice that was lost in the zam-zam well located in Mecca. The other one is that the water was emanated in here. The belief in a subterranean river’s existence that stretches between Mecca and Kairouan makes the waters of Bi’r Barouta important.

Special architecture and city waters
Mosque of the Three Doors (from the 9th century) that has the oldest engraved façade of the extant Islamic art is famous with its doors, as the name implies. The oldest and the most impressive ones are the two lines of inscriptions placed above the doors. The construction of the mosque was ordered by Kairoun al-Maafri, a holy man of Cordoba. The walls of Kairouan that had been built in 761 have been restored many times. The incomplete part of the walls had been built after the Second World War. The best-preserved city walls are located around the Medina’s popular entrance called Bab Chouhada. The city is mesmerizing when it is illuminated at night and shopping or walking along the walls becomes more tempting since the heat of the day goes away.

PHOTO SPOT
You can capture the most magnificent shot of Sidi Okba Mosque if you climb up to one of the rug shops’ terrace.

PHOTO SPOT
Whitewashed tombs in front of Sidi Okba Mosque have extraordinary looks.

DON’T MISS
Sidi Sahab Shrine where the prayers are recited for newborns is one of the prettiest structures of Kairouan.

MEAL BREAK
Pastry called ‘makrouhd’ is unique to Kairouan.

ACCOMMODATION
Hotel La Kasbah is among the impressive locations of the city.