My dear travellers and lovers of unusual trips, welcome to the new series of travelogues on the Mr.M blog. The month of August will be dedicated to an unusual country on the African continent – Tunisia, a country known for its olives. At the very beginning of this fourth post in the series of travelogues, I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia for the warm invitation and hospitality. With their help, travelogues and fashion stories were created that you could read during the month of July, but you will have the opportunity to read them during August as well, and I sincerely hope that you will enjoy the summer season of posts on the Mr.M blog.
If by any chance you missed reading the previous travelogues from Tunisia or you want to remind yourself of some interesting things, take the opportunity to visit the following links:
- Letter from Tunisia: The Magnificent Amphitheater in El Jem…
- Aurélien: Refined Fashion in Sousse on the Mediterranean Coast… (fashion story)
- Letters from Tunisia: Sousse and Port El Kantaoui, meet the beauties of the African Mediterranean…
- Letters from Tunisia: Tunis and Sidi Bou Said, places you must visit…
The Republic of Tunisia is the northernmost country in Africa. It is part of the Maghreb region of North Africa, bordering Algeria to the west and southwest, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. It houses the archaeological sites of Carthage dating back to the 9th century BC, as well as the Great Mosque of Kairouan.
Tunisia is known for its ancient architecture, markets and blue shores, it covers approximately 164,000 km2 and has a population of around 12 million. It contains the eastern end of the Atlas Mountains and the northern part of the Sahara Desert, and much of the remaining territory of Tunisia is arable land. With almost 1,300 km of coastline, it includes the African junction of the western and eastern parts of the Mediterranean basin. Tunisia is home to the northernmost point of Africa – Cape Angel, and its capital and largest city is Tunis, located on its northeastern coast, after which the country gets its name.
The fourth blog post in the series of travelogues about Tunisia will be dedicated to the holiest Muslim city on the African continent – Kairouan. It is known that Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem are the holy triumvirate of holy cities that Islam has. After them, according to some sources, the fourth holy city of Islam is Kairouan in Tunisia. This city is considered the first Muslim city of the Maghreb and also the holiest Muslim city on the African continent.
Kairouan is a city in central Tunisia and the capital of the province of the same name. It is located 150 kilometers southwest of the capital of Tunis and fifty kilometers west of Sousse. Inhabited by approximately 140,000 inhabitants, it is often referred to as the fourth holiest (or holy) city of Islam and the first holy city of the Maghreb. The first Arab city in North Africa, a city that was an important Islamic center in Muslim North Africa, Ifrikiia until the 11th century.
With its medina and markets organized by oriental-style corporations, its mosques and other religious buildings, Kairouan has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988. Later, in 2009, it was declared the capital of Islamic culture by the Organization of the Islamic World for Education, Science and Culture. The town is also famous for its handmade woolen carpets and pastries including makroud.
Makroud is a cake consisting of a series of layers of dough filled with couscous semolina and date palm paste, there are also variants in which walnuts, almonds or pecans are used instead of date palm.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan, also called the Mosque of Oqba Ibn Nafi was founded in memory of Oqba Ibn Nafi is one of the most important mosques in Tunisia. Historically the first Muslim metropolis in the Maghreb, Kairouan, whose political and intellectual heyday was in the 9th century, is reputed to be the spiritual and religious center of Tunisia, also sometimes considered the fourth holiest city in Sunni Islam. Representing the emblematic edifice of the city, the Great Mosque remains the oldest and most prestigious shrine in the Muslim West. Figurant, from the Beylic Decree of March 13, 1912, in the list of historical and archaeological monuments classified and protected in Tunisia was also classified, with the historical ensemble of Kairouan, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Originally built by Oqba Ibn Nafi in the year 670 (corresponding to the year 50 of the Hegira) when the city of Kairouan was founded, it was expanded and rebuilt in the 8th and 9th centuries. This mosque is considered in the Maghreb, the progenitor of all mosques in the region, as well as one of the most important Islamic monuments and a universal masterpiece of architecture. From an aesthetic point of view, the Great Mosque of Kairouan appears to be the most beautiful building of Muslim civilization in the Maghreb. The age and quality of the architecture make it a jewel of Islamic art. There are many works and handbooks of Muslim art related to the history of the mosque. In addition to its artistic and architectural importance, according to the Tunisian scientist and Islamologist Mohamed Talbi, “it played a key role in the Islamization of the entire Muslim West, including Spain, and the spread of Malikism.”
During the reign of the Aghlabid dynasty in the 9th century, with the help of major works on reconstruction and beautification, the Great Mosque got its present appearance. Remarkable in its overall unity, as well as in its enormous dimensions, the fame and prestige of this place of prayer derives from its contribution to the acquisition and transmission of knowledge, especially between the 9th and 11th centuries. century. The university, composed of scholars and jurists who teach their teachings in the mosque, is a training center for both the teaching of Muslim thought and the secular sciences. With the decline of Kairouan, which began in the second half of the 11th century, the center for intellectual training then moved to the University of Zitouna in Tunis.
I will tell you something more about the origin and history of this mosque. When Kairouan was founded in 670, the general and Arab conqueror Oqba Ibn Nafi (the founder of the city himself) chose the location of his mosque in the center of the city near the seat of the governor. This initial place of worship was built between 670 and 675. Shortly after its construction, the mosque seems to have survived, between 683 and 686, during the short-lived occupation of Kairouan by the Berbers led by Koceila. Later, the mosque was rebuilt by the Ghassanid general Hasan Ibn Numan.
With the gradual increase in the population of Kairouan and faced with the consequent increase in the number of believers, the mosque was no longer sufficient to accommodate them, Hisham, the Umayyad caliph of Damascus, carried out numerous reconstructions through his governor Bichr Ibn Safwan. The process includes the renovation and expansion of the mosque in the period between 724-728. years. In order to expand it, he first goes to buy the neighboring land belonging to Banu Fihr, the Quraysh clan whose most prominent representative is Oqba Ibn Nafi.
He then allowed the mosque to be demolished and then rebuilt, all but the mihrab. Construction of the minaret began under his auspices. After that, in 774, a new reconstruction followed by changes and beautification was carried out under the administration of the Abbasid governor Yazid Ibn Hatim. Under the rule of the Aglabid rulers, Kairouan was at its peak and the mosque took advantage of this period of peace and prosperity. Not long after that, in 836, Ziadet Allah I rebuilt the mosque again and for the last time, it was at that time that this religious building got, at least in its entirety, the look we know today.
Thus, the current state of the mosque dates back to the 9th century, during the reign of the Aghlabids, with the exception of some partial restorations and some later additions that were made at the end of the 11th century and after. During the 20th century, several actions of conservation and restoration were carried out, first between 1910 and 1920 by the Service of Antiquities et des Arts de la Regence, and then during the first half of the 1960s, especially in 1964-1965. department of historical monuments of the National Institute of Archeology and Art. Not long after that, in 1967, major restoration works were started on the entire monument, which lasted five years.
The latter, led by the Department of Historical Monuments of the National Institute of Archeology and Art in collaboration with the Italian architects Riccardo Gizdulich and Paolo Donati, ended with the official reopening of the mosque, in the presence of Habib Bourguiba, the first president of the Republic of Tunisia, and his Algerian counterpart, Houari Boumediene, during the celebration of Mouled 1972 . years. In the middle of the 1980s, the building underwent additional restoration work, which mainly related to the exterior walls and their buttresses, the ceilings of the prayer hall, as well as the minaret.
Kairouan was founded on the line of confrontation between the Byzantines and the Muslims with the aim of becoming a foothold in their campaign to conquer North Africa. The location chosen for its establishment, inland, seemed particularly inhospitable, but it was far enough from the coast to avoid the attacks of the Byzantine fleet that then controlled the Mediterranean Sea. It also overlooks the mountains that are the refuge of the Berbers. Kairavan or the name for the garrison camp, gave its name to the locality and later to the city. Kairouan then had a dual military and religious function, ensuring holy war and defense of the newly conquered lands. The city is thus the first Arab city in North Africa.
After fighting between the Berbers and the Arabs during the Arab conquest, Okba Ibn Nafi was killed by the Berber chief Koceila, who occupied the city of Kairouan from 682 to 684. He renamed the city by inserting his name into Takirvant. A few years later, an Arab army led by Zuhayr ibn Qays defeated the Koceila army at Mames and captured Kairouan between 687 and 689. Okba Ibn Nafi builds the Great Mosque of Kairouan in Kairouan. Legend has it that at the site of the future Kairuan, a soldier from Okba would come across a golden cup buried in the sand. This cup would have been recognized as missing from Mecca a few years earlier, and when it was unearthed, a spring of water would have erupted, providing water that would have come from the same source as the holy Zamzam in Mecca.
This story made Kairouan a place of pilgrimage and then a holy city. Around 775, Abu Qura besieged Kairouan and spread Sufrit Kharidism there for a while. Having become the capital of the Aghlabids, the city prospered rapidly during the 9th century to become the main seat of power in Ifriqia and a great center of influence for Arab culture and Islam, rivaling other centers of the Mediterranean basin. It is a major city of trade and science known for its Malikite school of law and medical school formed by Ishaq Ibn Imran.
Kairouan also plays a significant role in the Arabization of the Berber and Latin-speaking population of Ifrikia. In 909 the Fatimids, the Ismaili Shiites, led by Abu Abd Allah ah-Chi’i, captured Ifriqiyya and made Kairouan their residence. But the city lost its status with the establishment of the Mahdiyya on the east coast and its declaration as the capital of the Fatimid Caliphate.
But ethno-religious tensions with the city’s strictly Sunni population forced the Fatimids to abandon the stronghold they had built to join Egypt around 972-973. year, where he will establish Cairo, the new center of the caliphate. Meanwhile, Kairouan is captured by Ibadi Abu Yazid who, with the help of the city’s Sunni population, manages to briefly break the Fatimid hegemony between 944 and 946.
In the middle of the 10th century, Kairouan had more than 100,000 inhabitants. The city’s water supply is provided by a network of pipes coming from the surrounding mountains and a large number of cisterns distributed in the city and under the mosque. Large reservoirs dating from the Aglabid era are still visible today. After the final retreat of the Fatimids, it was a vassal dynasty of the latter, the Zirids, that took power in Ifrikiya. Al-Mu’iz ben Badis, its most famous representative, led a policy in favor of the Sunni population. The city then experienced the last period of development in its history. Indeed, in 1054 the Fatimids of Cairo organized a punitive expedition against the Zirids who had become dissidents: the Bedouin tribes of Hilal and Banu Sulayma attacked the city, destroying it almost completely.
Later, in 1057, Al-Mu’iz ben Badis fled to Mahdi and surrendered Kairouan and its surroundings to plunder. With the rise of coastal cities under Hafsid rule, and mainly Tunisia, Kairouan inevitably declined. In 1702, Husein I er Bey rebuilt the fence and many mosques 26 . During the French offensive to take control of the country, troops under the command of General Etienne occupied Kairouan on October 26, 188127. The occupation of the city paralyzed the resistance and accelerated the subjugation of Tunisia. During the French protectorate, the city nevertheless became one of the centers of nationalist resistance.
Since December 9, 1988, Medina of Kairouan has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List by fulfilling five out of six evaluation criteria. It should be noted that in order to be classified as a World Heritage site, a site needs to meet only one of the six criteria, and among the sites classified around the world, few, like Kairouan, meet all five criteria. On the one hand, the Great Mosque is one of the main monuments of Islam and a masterpiece of universal architecture. It served as a model for several mosques in North Africa, especially in terms of decorative motifs.
On the other hand, the Three Gate Mosque, built in 866, is the oldest of the carved facade mosques in Islam. Kairouan also offers a remarkable testimony of the civilization of the first centuries of the Hegir in Ifriqia and its traditional Islamic architecture, linked to its spatial configuration, has become vulnerable under the influence of economic changes and represents a precious heritage. Finally, Kairouan is one of the holy cities and spiritual capitals of Islam.
In the heart of the old part of Kairouan there are several mosques, sometimes without minarets, which at that time were used as places of prayer for the inhabitants of the district. The oldest is probably the Ansar mosque, which, according to local chronicles, was founded by the Prophet’s companion Ruwaifi ibn Thabit al-Ansari. This is more a matter of legend because the foundation of this small courtyard mosque, with its open prayer hall and archaic mihrab, could not be determined by previous archaeological excavations. In addition, the site was renovated in 1650. Al-Dabbagh, a local historian, mentions in some writings that the mosque was very popular among Muslims seeking blessings: clay handprints on the white outer wall testify to this very common practice of worship in popular Islam, including until today. There are other mosques in the medina that originate from the Beylik period, such as the Al Malek Mosque (18th century) or the Al Bey Mosque, whose construction dates back to the end of the 17th century.
Under the northwestern wall of the city, behind the imposing minaret of the Great Mosque, lies the cemetery of the little-known Tunisian tribe Avlad Farhan, whose specialty is the special arrangement of their graves, unusual for a Muslim cemetery. Some, rows in pairs and surrounded by a low wall, are the last resting place of the patron saints of the tribe. At the end of the tombstone, the name of Allah is added in clay.
Members of the tribe now live throughout Tunisia, but continue to bury their dead in this cemetery set up beneath the city walls. On the anniversary of their death, as well as on certain holidays, candles are lit in a small niche placed in the tombstones.
In their 1882 report detailing their scientific mission to Tunisia, published in the Bulletin of African Correspondence, the French Orientalists Octave Hudas and René Basse called upon a collection of manuscripts they could see in the Great Mosque of Kairouan, in a closed room. near the mihrab. In 1897, the ministerial official of Tunisia, Muhammad Bek Bajram, presented to the Geographical Society of Egypt a report on his mission to Kairouan where he presented the details of this collection of manuscripts, which, according to his information, would be stored in an arranged maksura by Al-Muizz ben Badis in the mosque.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Tunisia has provided premises for the conservation of manuscripts, photographic laboratories and restoration of documents in the former summer residence of President Habib Bourguiba located in Raqada, twelve kilometers from Kairouan. There is also the Center for the Study of Islamic Civilization and Art, to which a small National Museum of Islamic Art has been added, which exhibits works from the Aghlabid and Zirid times.
The vast majority of the manuscripts relate to Islamic law and represent the world’s oldest documentary collection of 9th-century Malikite legal literature. Some were written during the founding period of Malikism, between the writing of Al-Muwatta by Malik ibn Anas and Al Mudawwana by Imam Sahnoun in 854. Biographical and bibliographical studies of the orientalist Miklos Muranii published in 1997 represent the current state of research on the scientific world of Kairouan. Also, the library has one of the richest collections of ancient Qur’anic codices, including fragments of the Blue Qur’an, written in an archaic script without diacritical marks, dating from the late 9th and early 10th centuries.
From the inventory of 1293-1294, there were several copies of the Blue Koran, some parts of which are now in private collections. Although the origin of these codices still remains unclear, it is now accepted that the blue parchment sheets and their golden illumination were made in Kairouan. A Hebrew document, the Genizah of Cairo, which dates from the tenth century and is therefore contemporary with the creation of the Blue Qur’an, mentions the export of Egyptian indigo to Tunisia. This product was the raw material used to dye leather when making parchment. However, we know nothing about the commissioner behind this business.
In the first centuries of the Islamic era, the Aghlabite Emirate of Kairouan partially paid the tribute of sovereignty to the Caliph of Baghdad with carpets. The production of the “Kairouan carpet” really begins in the 19th century, and the city remains the main production center of the country. At the beginning of the 20th century, the quality of carpets deteriorated due to the abuse of artificial dyes, which led a Kairouan family to produce allouch, a new type of hand-knotted carpet that took on the colors of sheep’s wool. of which the hexagonal field occupies the center with a diamond-shaped pattern. Little by little, alucha evolves towards complexity and polychromy, texture increases and Persian influences are felt with the appearance of zarbia recognizable by its brown-red color.
A Kairouan rug is a knotted non-woven rug made of wool or cotton – especially for the weft and warp – and less commonly of linen. It can be painted in natural shades from white to brown to beige gray when it is of the alucha type. The wool is always thick, because it is sheep, but dromedary or goat hair can be used. The patterns are geometric, but they can also be stylized flowers, giving the whole a symmetrical look with a predominance of the diamond shape.
My dear travellers and adventurers, we have come to the end of this fourth special travelogue in the series of travelogues about Tunisia where we had the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of this unusual country in the northern part of the African continent. Today’s travelogue would not be possible without the selfless help of the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia in cooperation with local partners who allowed me to feel the spirit and beauty of Tunisian culture and tradition. Of course, as always, I tried my best to convey to you my impressions of this unusual experience from Tunisia.
A person is rich in soul if he has managed to explore the world and I am glad that I always manage to find partners of my projects who help me to discover new and unusual destinations in a completely different way.
I am honored to have the opportunity to collaborate with companies that are the very top of the tourism industry and I would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia once again for this incredible adventure and for allowing me to experience the beauty of this unusual Tunisian culture in a completely different way.
How did you like my story about Tunisia and the presentation of Kairouan, the holiest Muslim city on the African continent that adorns the heart of this unusual country? Have you had the chance to visit Tunisia so far?
If you have any question, comment, suggestion or message for me you can write me below in the comments. Of course, as always, you can contact me via email or social networks, all addresses can be found on the CONTACT page. See you at the same place in a few days, with some new story!
In the following stories from Tunisia, we will discover some other interesting sights that you should visit if your journey takes you to this unusual country!
From Love from Kairouan,
This post is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism of the Republic of Tunisia – Discover Tunisia, as well as other local partners. This post is my personal and honest review of the destination experience.