After Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, Kairouan in northern Tunisia’s inland desert, is the fourth holiest city of Islam and an important religious pilgrimage site (for Muslims, seven trips here are said to equal one hajj to Mecca). From grand mosques, gorgeous minarets and tombs, its Medina back alleys lined with candy-colored houses, its well-known carpets stores, and craftsmen, the bustling city is jam-packed with some of the country’s best examples of Islamic architecture which will please everyone regardless of their culture. With the Great Mosque with its antique columns and imposing minaret, the mausoleum of Sidi Sahab (or Mosque of the Barber), the Mosque of the Three Doors, and the 18th-century Maisons, Kairouan has many interesting sites and attractions, and in this article, we’ll look at a selection of 9 for a mesmerizing experience in this unmissable place.
For an atmospheric walk with a taste of traditional Arabic world, Kairouan’s Medina is the best place to go as it’s the best preserved in Tunisia. You’ll like strolling along the tightly packed alleyways of the old town surrounded by a 3.5 kilometer (2.2 mile) long circuit of brick walls reinforced by numerous beautiful towers from the early 18th-century. It’s easy to get lost in the maze of lanes wandering across the colorful, paint-peeling houses and others attractions. A top destination for those looking to dive into the traditional Arabic daily life.
Address: Medina, Al-Qayrawan, Tunisia
Website: Kairouan’s Medina (in French)
2. Great Mosque (Sidi Oqba Mosque)
Standing in the northeast corner of the Medina, the Great Mosque of Kairouan and its massive minaret are incorporated into the old town walls. The oldest and most important Islamic building in North Africa, this impressive building (covering a giant area of 135 meters (442 feet) long by 80 meters (262 feet) wide) has been the source of inspiration of many Tunisia’s other major mosques. Even thought Non-Muslims are not allowed to enter the prayer hall, you’ll still be able to have a peek inside and to walk through the vast inner courtyard of the building, surrounded on three sides by double-aisled colonnades of antique columns. A great place for a spiritual walk!
Great Mosque of Kairouan
Address: Rue Sidi Abdelkader, Al-Qayrawan, Tunisia
Website: Great Mosque of Kairouan (in French)
3. Mosque of the Barber
One of the main sites to visit in Kairouan is surely The Barber’s Mosque (also called the Zaouia of Sidi Sahab), a complex including a mausoleum, mosque and madrassa (Islamic school of learning) built between 1629 and 1692. Notable for its magnificent tile decoration from the 19th-century, you’ll enter through a forecourt, from where you’ll have access to the Imam’s lodgings, guest-rooms and ablution fountains, the minaret and the madrassa. There you’ll discover another part of the Arab world and its religion in a peaceful and spiritual atmosphere.
Zaouia of Sidi Sahab
Address: P12, Al-Qayrawan, Tunisia
4. Mosque of Three Doors
The Mosque of the Three Doors (Mosquée des Trois Portes or Djemaa Tleta Bibane) was founded in AD 866 and is one of the oldest mosques of Kairouan. Featuring a very notable facade with three doorways, from which it takes its name, you’ll enjoy strolling around the beautiful building and gazing at its beautiful architecture.
Mosque of Three Doors جامع ثلاث ابواب
Address: Avineda De Kortoba, Al-Qayrawan, Tunisia
5. Aghlabid Basins
The Aghlabid Basins are located to the north of the Medina and formerly supplied water for the Aghlabid palace (at the place of the present-day cemetery of the city). The complex system of water distribution used an aqueduct from Djebel Cherichera, 36 kilometers (22 miles) away from where the water was coming. There, you’ll walk around the two main basins (smaller basin and the larger pool) and be impressed by its gigantesque dimensions. It’s one of those places where you encounter history face to face and realize how great the men’s skills of this time were.
Address: Kairouan, Tunisia
Website: Aghlabid Basins
6. Zaouia of Sidi Abed el Ghariani
This site is an ornate tomb, dedicated to a holy man who lived in Kairouan during the 14th-century. You’ll enjoy its architecture composed of fine wood, stucco ceiling and sumptuously decorated inner courtyard where you’ll gaze at the beautiful and well-preserved tile work decorating the walls here. A great location for anyone interested in traditional Arabic decoration and artistry.
Zaouia of Sidi Abed el Ghariani
Address: Kairouan, Tunisia
7. Lalla Rihana Gate and cemetery
Located nearby the east side of Kairouan’s Great Mosque, a large cemetery with some interesting tombs features beautiful architecture and the renowned Lalla Rihana Gate (built in 1294). This square Hispano-Mauresque style structure is a beautiful and atmospheric place to have a walk.
Lalla Rihana Gate and cemetery
Address: Al-Qayrawan, Tunisia
Website: Lalla Rihana Gate and cemetery
8. Zaouia Sidi Amor Abbada (Mosque of the Sabres)
Built in 1860 and one of the principal pilgrim sights in the city, the Mosque of the Sabres (Zaouia Sidi Amor Abbada) will please you with its five ribbed domes, its many examples of the craftsman’s skill; sabers, stirrups, anchors, and chests. A beautiful place to spend some time contemplating the beauty of Arabic arts.
Zaouia Sidi Amor Abbada
Address: Kairouan, Tunisia
Website: Zaouia Sidi Amor Abbada
9. Islamic Museum
The interesting Museum of Islamic Art in Reqqada is set in a beautiful park and exhibit finds from Kairouan, the Aghlabid residences at Reqqada and Al Abbasiya, and other towns in the region. You’ll discover excavations, old prints with views of local towns, coins of the various dynasties (Aghlabids, Fatimids, Zirids), old Koranic inscriptions, a variety of pottery, funerary stelae, etc. This is a worth-visiting place to get to know the Arabic culture and local history.
Museum of Islamic Art
Address: Reqqada, Kairouan, Tunisia
Website: Museum of Islamic Art
Discover the wonders of Kairouan!
These 9 top things to do in Kairouan will make you discover this great old city and you’ll enjoy a different point of view of the rich and beautiful history of Tunisia!
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