Kairouan: our 7 essential visits to do!

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Aina Martin


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Kairouan was the first large city in North Africa. It is designated as the first holy city of the Maghreb. Indeed, it is also nicknamed "the city of three hundred mosques". Discover now our unmissable things to do in Kairouan, after a little history lesson in the city!

Kairouan the nun

Located in the lands of Tunisia, in the east of the country, Kairouan has been protected from the assaults of the various countries around the Mediterranean. It is in fact located in the eastern part of the Atlas, this North African mountain range. As a result, it is located in a dry region, and is supplied with water only by the wadis and dams built upstream. We therefore understand that it offered very few attractions for the invaders.

Kairouan in the past

During the 7th and 8th centuries, she is called to play a role in religion. It is in fact considered to be a military base intended to defend the positions acquired in the name of the Jihad, the Islamic holy wars. However, Kairouan definitely obtains its reputation as a religious city with the construction of its very famous mosque. It is the largest in the Maghreb, and it served as a model for other Islamic buildings. Do not be confused by the fortress-like appearance of the building, and walk through it with confidence. You will not be disappointed with small columns, earthenware and other manifestations of Islamic art.

View of Kairouan

Since then, 300 more mosques have sprung up in the city, which propels Kairouan as the fourth islamic holy city, behind Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.

After this little historical reminder, here are the unmissable things to see and do in Kairouan ...

Walk around the Aghlabid pools

What could be more unusual than discovering two basins filled with water in the middle of the desert. This is however what you will see in Kairouan, if you go to the basins of the Aghlabids. In reality, these basins, built in the 9th century, served as a water reserve for the city of Kairouan. Moreover, they were not only two but fourteen. There were large basins, 55 cubic meters, then smaller ones that served as settling basins. They were supplied by an aqueduct, 36 km long, conveying water from the mountains.

Aghlabid Basin

Discover the great mosque of Kairouan

The great mosque of Kairouan also called Oqba Ibn Nafi, name of its founder, is the largest mosque in North Africa. It also has the reputation of being the most beautiful in all of Tunisia! It was built in the 7th century and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This mosque is really a must visit to do in Kairouan. You can explore it on your own, but with a guide the visit will be even more rewarding. Indeed, you will learn a lot about this sumptuous building. For women, consider bringing a sarong or scarf with you that can be used to cover your shoulders and head during the visit. Otherwise, security will lend you a scarf at the entrance.

the Kairouan Mosque

Walk around the Medina

The medina of Kairouan is also one of the most beautiful in Tunisia, like most of the monuments in this city. You will discover many little things to see absolutely. In particular, the puit A Barrouta, the small mosque of the Three Doors or the house of the Bey. You can also go to the souks or to the many local shops. Since 1988, the medina of Kairouan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Also discover its many small alleys full of history and vestiges.

The well of Bir Barrouta

Visit the Bey's house

The Bey's house, also called the Governor's house, is a sumptuous and ancient residence. Many years ago, it was really the home of the governor (Bey for Tunisians). Since, it turned into an oriental carpet museum. The visit is completely free, so you can discover the luxurious rooms of this house and its secrets. In almost every room, you will admire beautiful knotted rugs, entirely handmade. Moreover, you will discover how these are made. Indeed, a factory is established in the places. You can treat yourself, if you wish, to an original and typically Tunisian hand-knotted carpet.  

The Governor's House

Go to the Museum of Islamic Art in Raqqâda

Located about ten kilometers from Kairouan, it is a former presidential palace, itself created on the remains of the city of Raqqâda, which today hosts this museum. The old palace also houses a research center specializing in Islamic civilization. Inside the museum, you will discover many models of the most beautiful monuments of Kairouan and the site of Raqqâda. You will also find many relics from these sites. One of the rooms in this museum is entirely devoted to the Great Mosque of Kairouan.

Museum cupola

Stroll through the souks

The souks are a must visit to do in Kairouan. They are famous throughout the Maghreb. Located in the streets of the medina, you will inevitably find your happiness in these immense souks. Well organized, you will find several "sectors" containing an approximate “product” category. Indeed, you will find a souk for jewelry, another for glass, then one for perfumes, etc. The one not to be missed is le souk El Zarbia. Kairouan has a worldwide reputation for making knotted rugs. You will find them in all colors, at all prices, which of course you will bargain for!

Kairouan rugs

Taste the local specialties

In the medina, you will find several pastries which will offer you to taste local products. Kairouan is renowned for its Tunisian-Jewish specialties. Among others, you will savor wonderful makrouds. This pastry is made mainly from dates, semolina and honey. Kairouan is also renowned for its excellent wines with very fruity notes. You will also appreciate the many squeezed fruit juices in front of you in one of the city's cafes. Of course, you will still have to taste a couscous and a tagine. Be aware that each country and even region of North Africa prepares these dishes quite differently.

The makrouds of Kairouan

Useful information

  • For the visit of certain places of worship, in particular for women, remember to take something to cover your shoulders and head with you. It will also be necessary to have the legs a minimum covered and to avoid the necklines.
  • The local currency is the Tunisian dinar (TND). Note that € 1 = approximately TND 3,38.
  • From France, the easiest way to get to Kairouan is by plane. You can land at Monastir airport, then then reach Kairouan by train, bus or taxi collective. You can also rent a car at the airport during your entire stay. You will be able to move around without constraint!

The essentials of Kairouan… and after?

There are a lot of great things to do in Kairouan. Remember to plan your outings as little as possible so as not to miss one. Yes you enjoyed your stay in this sacred city, you could perhaps consider renewing your trip to another Tunisian city, such as Tunis or Monastir for example. If you have had the chance to visit Kairouan, do not hesitate to leave us your impressions or any other remarks in the comments.

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