Travelers to the Mediterranean region are often fascinated by the ruins and remnants of the great empires spread around the expansive sea. Many who have taken in the sites of ancient Greece and Rome feel further inspired to branch out to the islands and the coast of North Africa to see the drama of archeology and culture.
Tunisia is one of the more stable North African countries at the moment whose tourism industry will be quite navigable and familiar to those used to traveling in Europe. The main draw is of course the capital of Tunis, the ruins of Carthage and the coastal towns like Sidi Bou Sayid, but Kairouan should certainly make the itinerary as a fascinating site.
Kairouan is centrally located in Tunisia, it is easily and affordably reachable by bus from main cities like Tunis, Sousse and Maktar. The city is a declared UNESCO world heritage site and it is the oldest city in Tunisia. The city holds religious significance as the fourth holiest city in Islam too. Like many cities based around a Medina, expect the streets to be a labyrinth of confusing names and dead ends, we recommend simply enjoy strolling around. Here are some of the highlights.
The Great Mosque of Kairouan
This is the heart and soul of the city. The Mosque of Iqba is found at the Northeastern section of the medina and it boasts the world’s oldest minaret dating back to 730 C.E. The courtyard is grand and scenic. When the sun rises and sets it provides beautiful reflections of light and shadow for photography. The internal columns are ornate and innumerable. Wooden doors and ornate glasswork cap off the artistic display.
The ancient walls with shops built in, on and around them make for a place full of character. One can find almost any kind of goods in the Medina, from typical spices, to leatherwork and the city is known for its carpets. These are intricate handwoven rugs used for display, prayer or living accommodations. It is certainly worth considering getting one here for the price and the craftsmanship. Avoid those who try and sell you one out in the street, going into a shop where craftsmen are working and asking to purchase is generally a better sign of quality.
The Museum is the governing body of carpet masters in Tunisia and it is an ideal place to observe antique rugs on display and to see the Anatolian influences in color schemes and designs of Tunisian artistry. It is also possible to purchase certified carpets here and get a good sense of what starting prices should be in the street markets.