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Tunisia

Kairouan, holy city and enchanted streets

The Great Mosque of KairouanKairouan is set among olive groves, in a landscape resembling Andalucia. Known as the "city of 50 mosques", Kairouan is the fourth holy place of Islam. Kairouan is also the oldest Muslim city of North Africa.

It was founded in 670 at a strategic crossroads: between the Eastern coast and the mountains of the West; between the Byzantine cities of the North and the Berber people of the desert.

Its name comes from the caravans, which have always gone through it (Qayrawan in Arabic).

 pieces of earthenware

If you visit Kairouan in the morning, you may admire the inside of the Great Mosque, or Sidi Oqba mosque.

It is an admirable instance of primitive mosques. The courtyard (sahn) is surrounded on three of its sides by colonnades. On the side of the prayer hall (Beit es Salat), there are two rows of arcades.

The 400 columns of the prayer hall, made out of pink and black marble, have been taken from Roman and Byzantine structures in Carthage.

Pieces of earthenware and marble offer colourful treasures undreamed of from the outside. From there, the Great Mosque looks like a stern fortress, dominated by its 35 meter high minaret.

Dome at sunset

A stroll in the medina at dawn or during the sunset will provide one of the most beautiful memory of your stay in Tunisia.

Portray yourself as Paul Klee's disciple: going into raptures over the colours of the south, the painter drew his inspiration from Tunisia, in his quest for a mythical Orient.

 

In front of Kairouan's gates he declared himself caught by colour: "I don't need to pursue. It holds me forever. I know it. Here is the meaning of this merry time: colour and I are one. I am a painter."

The suuq in the evening

If you don't feel inspired by paintings, you can still recharge your batteries in the suuq with tea and the delicious pastries of Kairouan.

Look for "makrouds", a small diamond-shaped and honey-covered pastry, stuffed with dates.

Don't forget that Kairouan also shelters work wonders outside of the medina, like the barber's mausoleum ( the zawiyya of Sidi Sahab al Baloui), one of Muhammad's companions, close to the Aghlabid pools.

The carpets of your dreams

Kairouan carpets

Turkish people revived the carpet industry of Kairouan in the 18th century.

It dated back to the 10th century and Tunisians assert that it existed under Carthage's rule. This tradition competes with Persian carpets.

Nowadays, carpet traders are less obvious in the suuq, as they were overtaken by souvenirs shops. However, charming carpet traders are still to be met!

They enjoy inviting you to a wonderful palace to display their precious goods in front of you. At that point, you could get into stiff haggling!

The whole range of prices and qualities can be found, according to the number of knots per square meter. Before buying, check for the coveted label with the seal of the Tunisian Republic as a guarantee of fineness.

Remember that these carpets are woven by women who work at home and are paid according to their weaving speed.

For those who want to know more, ask the tourist office to visit carpets workshops.

Fabio Benedetti-Valentini © Azurever.com

 

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