Recently I visited the city of Kairouan, considered the 4th holiest city of Islam and the spiritual capital of Tunisia. A walk through the city took me back in time as I discovered Kairouan’s architectural, spiritual, and cultural roots. Here are some of the culturally significant places that stuck out to me during my visit to Kairouan.
(1) The Kairouan Medina
Every old city in Tunisia has its own character, and the walled city in the heart of Kairouan is colorful and enchanting. Taking time to wander around this impressive medina is an adventure. It’s still considered the religious and cultural center of Kairouan. The narrow alleys of this medina are famous for appearing in the film Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark during the Cairo scenes.
(2) Kairouan’s Grand Mosque
Kairouan’s Grand Mosque is the oldest in North Africa. Oqba ibn Nafa founded Kairouan in AD 667 and commissioned the building of the mosque. The courtyard and minaret are huge, especially by ancient standards. Non-Muslims can enter the courtyard and explore the impressive antique columns and ornate designs. The mosque’s library contains 23 of the 43 known Islamic manuscripts dated before the 9th century, further illustrating the city’s importance in Islamic history and heritage.
(3) Kairouan’s Carpet Shops
One of the most important aspects of Kairouan culture is its hand-woven wool and silk carpets. Women throughout the city make the majority of these carpets in their homes on a traditional loom. It’s really an amazing handicraft that’s been passed down through generations.
(4) Makroudh Shops
No visit to Kairouan is complete without tasting its famous sweet, the makroudh. This delicious treat is a semolina pastry with a date filling that is deep fried and dipped in honey. Make sure to stop at one of Kairouan’s makroudh shops and try one of their many varieties.
(5) Kairouan’s Aghlabid Basins
Located outside of the old city, these huge basins supplied water for the nearby Aghlabid palace. The large size gives an idea of how developed the Aghlabid dynasty was at its peak. The Aghlabids filled these cisterns via a 36 kilometer aqueduct from Mt. Cherichera.
Kairouan – A Must See
Kairouan’s spiritual roots make it a crucial place for understanding Tunisian culture and Islam’s role in shaping the country. It’s a great half-day stop on your way to Sousse or the South, or you could easily do a day trip from Sousse, Tunis, or Hammamet. For more tips and information on how to arrange a visit, feel free to contact us.
Austin learned the power of authentic travel during a year home-stay experience in Brazil. Since then, he’s been passionate about connecting deeply with other cultures and helping fellow travelers do the same. He and his wife have lived in Tunisia for several years. He continues to be surprised by the hidden gems the country has to offer, as well as the hospitality and kindness of the Tunisian people.
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