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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Tunisia.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Tunisia.
The Sidi Oqba Mosque, or Great Mosque, is the oldest and most impressive Muslim place of worship in North Africa and is Islam’s fourth holiest site after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The founder of Kairouan, Uqba ibn Nafi, built a small mosque on the site in AD 670. As the city thrived, the mosque was rebuilt and enlarged several times: in 703, again in 774, in 836, and 863. It reached its current dimensions by the end of the 9th centuny, but its design and ornamentation continued to evolve up to the 19th century.
At the time of the Prophet Mohammed’s death in 632, Muslims only ruled Arabia. However, by 750, the Arab Muslims had achieved one of the most spectacular conquests in history, ruling over the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. In 670, the Muslim leader Uqba ibn Nafi crossed the desert from Egypt as part of the conquest of North Africa. Establishing military posts along the way, he stopped to camp at the location of modern-day Kairouan. Legend tells of a golden cup being discovered in the sand, which was recognized as one that had disappeared from Mecca several years previously. When the cup was picked up, a spring emerged from the ground which, it was declared, was supplied by the same source as that of the holy Zem-Zem well in Mecca. Uqba founded his capital and swept on to conquer Morocco
Kairouan grew in importance to become the capital of the Aghlabid dynasty in the 9th century. When the Fatimids took power in 909, they moved their capital elsewhere. By the 11th century, Kairouan’s political and economic power had been surpassed by other cities, but it never lost its holy status. As a religious center it continued to grow in prominence, with the mosque proving a powerful magnet for pilgrims from Muslim territories throughout northern and Saharan Africa. Today, Kairouan is Islam’s fourth holiest city. Pilgrims come to drink the waters of the holy spring and to visit the Great Mosque.
Entrance to the prayer hall at the southern end of the courtyard is through a set of beautiful, finely carved wooden doors dating from the 19th century. Inside is a rectangular, domed chamber with arched aisles. The imam leads the prayers from the minbar, a marvelous pulpit sculpted out of wood from Baghdad and thought to be one of the oldest in the Arab world. Behind the mihrab (dome) at the end of the central aisle are 9th-century tiles, also from Baghdad, surrounding carved marble panels. A carved wooden screen, the maqsura, dating from the 11th century, stands nearby and many Kairouan carpets cover the floor.
Entrance to the Courtyard
Six gates are set into the wall surrounding the courtyard. The main entrance is through a gate surmounted by a dome.
The courtyard slopes down toward its center, where there is a latticed plate shielding a cistern. The plate has a decorative function but also prevents the water, which drains into the cistern, from becoming polluted.
Built between 724 and 728, this imposing square minaret is one of the oldest surviving towers of its kind, and is the oldest part of the Great Mosque. It rises in three sections, each diminishing in size, and is topped by a dome. The lower stories are built from blocks taken from Roman buildings. There are 129 steps leading up to the minaret’s highest point.
Surrounding the courtyard on three sides are cloisters giving shade and protection from the elements.
Entrance to the Mosque
There are two entrances to the prayer hall from the road. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter, but they may look in through the open doors.
Most of the 400-odd marble and granite columns that support the roof of the prayer hall were taken from Roman and Byzantine sites elsewhere. Some, however, were carved by local craftsmen.
Set a top a stepped plinth in the courtyard, this indicates the times of prayer.
These provide the water – drawn from the cistern – for ritual ablutions.
The richly decorated mosque contains some rare examples of ceramic decorative features. Plant motifs and geometric forms are popular.
The exterior of the mosque’s dome shows the position of the 9th-century tiled mihrab (a niche that indicates the direction of Mecca).
The minbar, or pulpit, is made out of teak. It was commissioned by the Aghlabid emir, Abu Ibrahim, and built in around 863.
This hall is divided into 17 long naves divided by arcades. The two wider naves form a ‘T’ shape.
Kairouan is a carpet-making center, a tradition going back hundreds of years, and it is renowned for the quality of its rugs. However, the large rug in the Great Mosque’s prayer hall was a gift from Saudi Arabia.
670: The city of Kairouari is founded by Uqfca ibn Nafi, who constructs a smal mosque.
836: The Great Mosque is renovated and enlarged under the Aghlabids and takes the appearance of the building seen today.
Mid-800s: The Great Mosque becomes a site for Islamic pilgrimage.
1988: Kairouan is declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s easy to feel energised when you’re surrounded by breathtaking wildlife, vibrant North African culture and enchanting ancient heritage. It’s even easier when you have clear blue skies, beating sun and perfect Mediterranean weather on your side. A brilliant balance of exotic adventure and unadulterated relaxation, Tunisia is elegant, inspiring and full of incredible secrets. From its miles of lush, wildlife-packed national parks and mountains to the picturesque rolling dunes of the Sahara Desert, the
country is a playground for active adventures and the perfect place for inquistive explorers.
Starting in the incredibly beautiful southern stretch of the country, you’ll find the perfect place to get a taste of the vibrant Tunisian culture and explore the vast open country at the gateway to the Sahara.
After wandering the bustling souks and dining on local bites in the city of Douz, you can take an epic 60-mile camel trek into the desert, stopping only to search for addexes, rare birds and pitch camp romantically beneath the stars. Of course, if you’re after something a little more adrenaline-fuelled and high-flying you can wheel a quad bike or 4×4 around the fringes of the Sahara, or even take in the most exciting rolling dunes in North Africa from the comfort of a hot air balloon hundreds of feet in the air. Back up north, there’s far more to see than just the beautiful ruins of Carthage and El Djem or the country’s bustling capital, Tunis.
Exploring beyond these enchanting sites of ancient heritage in the country’s famous northeast, intrepid travellers will delight in jaw-dropping panoramic views from the top of the Kroumirie mountains, setting sights on vast species of majestic fauna as they climb. Meanwhile, cyclists of all abilities will relish the opportunity to take a spin on secluded, stunning and dependable cycle routes out of the major cities into the tranquil countryside and the eastern foothills of the Atlas mountains.
Tucked among these rolling hills and the lush Ichkeul National Park further afield, you’ll be able to take in some of the world’s most incredible bird-life – from wild flamingos and rare forest dwellers to the 300,000 migrants that nest around the national park’s tranquil lakes and flora-filled valleys each year. From the vibrant, buzzing towns that sit at the edge of the Sahara to the majestic mountain summits in the temperate northwest, everywhere in Tunisia is an inspiring adventure, and one that’s just waiting to be discovered.
Its very name makes you smile. Sidi Bou Said is a painting-perfect blue-and-white Tunisian village that has drawn tourists for two and a half centuries, yet one whose silent back streets retain their simple charm.
The view of the indigo-blue Mediterranean below blends with an immaculate blue sky and the town’s brass studded sky-blue wooden doors. It’s almost too intense against the dazzling whitewashed, domed houses smothered in bougainvillea.
Discovered by wealthy French and other European ex-pats at the turn of the 19th century, and again in 1942 by André Gide, Sidi could have been overbuilt had not the government issued orders in 1915 to preserve its character.
They have been surprisingly effective: very little here is not wonderfully Tunisian, except the tourists. The irony is that non-Muslims were not permitted to roam these streets until 1820, when followers of Abu Said lifted a centuries-old ban. Abu Said (who died here in 1231 and is buried in the local mosque) was a teacher of Sufism and was adopted by the anti-Christian Corsair pirates as their protector against the European infidels – the very ones that now flock here for the almost obligatory mint-tea-with-a-view on the open terrace of the much-vaunted Café des Nattes.
Tunisia’s national museum, a fine complex of 13th- to 19th-century buildings that includes the Beylical Palace, houses the continent’s largest selection of ancient mosaics, arguably the finest in the world.
Almost too well endowed, the Bardo’s collection of colorful and vivid objects is of such exuberant quantity that visitors run the risk of overkill. Tunisia was the heartland of Roman Africa, so it is ironic that the earliest true mosaic in the world (dating to the 5th or 4th century B.C.) was discovered in nearby Carthage, indicating that the Carthaginians, not the Romans, invented the art form.
Mosaics were soon being used to create “tapestries” of richly colored landscapes and portraits, where volume was conveyed through gradation of colors, and compositions became more and more complex.
Rural, hunting, agricultural, marine, and urban life are represented in elaborate scenes of abundance and sensual gratification. To quote from an inscription on a piece found at an archaeological site in Algeria, “To hunt, to bathe, to gamble, to laugh, that is to live.”