Kairouan (Arabic: القيروان), sometimes spelled Kairwan, Kayrawan or Al Qayrawan, is a city in Tunisia. It's a holy city in Islam, ranking fourth after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem as a place of pilgrimage. Reputedly seven visits here are the equivalent of one to Mecca. With its large mosques and rich cultural history it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Buses run to Kairouan from the major cities, Tunis, Sousse (2 hrs), and Sfax. Touts from the carpets shops have been known to board the bus a few kilometres outside the city and befriend tourists to lure them into their shops.
- Louages run from many destinations into Kairouan; these are probably the best and most frequent way to get into the city. It takes 2 hours and 10.25 DT from Tunis (as of June 2016). There is no direct public transport between Kairouan and El Jem, you'd need to change in Sousse.
- Kairouan is not located on a train line.
The stations for both buses and louages are to the northwest of the Medina. Though they may well drop you off at a Medina Gate if requested.
The Medina is best explored on foot, partially to absorb the atmosphere and partially because some areas are inaccessible to anything bigger. The main street that links the Gate of Martyrs (south) to the Gate of Tunis (northwest) is rather touristic.
Many of the shops near the main mosque will tempt you in with views over the complex, expect to have a look around the shop on the way out, if you don't buy anything a small donation would be polite.
The old Medina with its narrow passageways and streets is in general a nice place to just wander around aimlessly. If it looks familiar it may well be as it was used in Raiders of the Lost Ark to double as Cairo. For those interested in Islamic teachings there are several madrasas, or Islamic schools, in the centre of town that are open for visitors. Three communities coexist here - the Bedouins, the Berbers, the Arabs - you can tell the houses apart by the doors - ring doorknockers, the hands of fatimas, or just Arabic script. The number of rings or hands denote also the number of families in the same house. Green doors are mosques.
- 1 Great Mosque of Kairouan (جامع القيروان الأكبر). One of the finest Islamic buildings in North Africa and rewards closer inspection. Non Muslims are not permitted into the prayer hall, but the doors are open to allow you to view inside. Access to the main courtyard is available to all. The columns throughout the complex were taken from Carthage, the wooden ceiling from Lebanese cedar wood. In the courtyard, there are indents into the floor with varying sizes for camel or dromedary hoofs, or human feet, for washing before prayers. On the tiny platform in the middle of the courtyard, there is also four black pins on a board that tells the prayer times by the sun. Facing the prayer room, on one of the left columns is also a last black pin marking the night prayer by moonlight. Multi-site ticket costs 10 DT, covering 6 sites in Kairouan. And also 1dn for photo taking rights.
- 2 Mosque of the Three Doors (مسجد ابن خيرون). With one of the finest façades in Tunisia, though the interior is not open.
- 3 Bi'r Barouta. This well is the place where the city was founded, it is reputedly linked to the ZamZam well in Mecca, it is one of the holiest sites in the city for Muslims. A camel drives the well pump. There is also a small cafe inside the complex serving coffee and tea. Free.
- 4 Maison de Gouveneur. The medina house of a local governor in the past, this house with 18 rooms belonged to him and his 4 wives and 21 children. Extremely beautiful and intricate interior, on the outside unassuming and signposted as 'Tapis-Sabra'. Today a carpet shop, it is covered all over with carpets of all shapes and sizes. Women work on the looms, you can watch and take photos, while an old man gives you a tour and at the end, you're expected to view the carpets (70 DT for a small one).
- 5 Aghlabid Basins (Upon leaving the Gate of Tunis, head along the road to the right till you hit the basins. About a 20-minute walk. It's opposite Hotel Continental.). These cisterns, built by the Aghlabids in the 9th century are more impressive because of their engineering sophistication than as sights in themselves. Water was delivered by aqueduct from the hills 36 km west of Kairouan into the smaller settling basin and then into the enormous main holding basin, which was 5 m deep and 128 m in diameter. In the centre of the main pool was a pavilion where the rulers could come to relax on summer evenings. Most visitors do nothing more than peek at the cisterns from the rooftop of the syndicat d'initiative office nearby, but you can enter with the multiple-site ticket. When the office isn't open, the site seems to be open to everyone anyway.
- 6 Zaouia of Sidi Abid el-Ghariani. This mausoleum was also a Koranic school. Mosaics of the blue mosque in Istanbul, cedar wood ceiling.
- Mosque of Ansar. Traditionally dating to 667, but totally renewed in 1650.
- Mosque Al Bey. Late 17th century.
- 7 Sidi Amor Abada Museum. Sept 16th to Jun 16th 09:00 - 16:00. Jun 17th to Sep 31st 08:00 - 14:00. The museum was established in a zawiya – mausoleum – built in 1872 and containing the tomb of Amor Abada, better known as Sidi Abada. 10 DT.
- 8 Raqqada National Museum of Islamic art (رقّادة). Raqqāda is the site of the second capital of the 9th-century dynasty of Aghlabids, located about ten kilometers southwest of Kairouan. The site now houses the National Museum of Islamic Art. Which specializes in medieval Islamic art and includes works from Kairouan, Raqqada and Al-Mansuriya, a former princely city built in the Fatimid period.
- Sit and enjoy a tea in a traditional tea house if the heat gets a little too much.
- Walk the town and appreciate the beautiful and intricate designs.
Kairouan is particularly famous for its carpets and visiting a shop is an integral and sometimes unexpected part of experiencing the city. Carpets are graded by their fineness, the number of knots in a square metre, with a normal weave from 10,000 to 40,000, fine weave from 65,000-90,000 and extra fine from 160,000 - 500,000. Silk carpets may be over 500,000 knots per square metre.
- A speciality of Kairouan is the sticky pastry makrouhd, it can be found all through Tunisia - dates, sesame, and honey. You can tell most shops how much you're willing to spend, and they'll give you a box of pastries - you can mix and match with others!
There are a few nice tea houses on the road from the Main Gate into the centre of the city
Many tiny hotels dotted all around town, without much online presence.
- Hotel Tunisia, Av. de la Republique, ☏ +216 77 231 855.
- 1 Hôtel Amina, Route de Tunis GP 2, ☏ +216 77 226 555.
- 2 Hotel Continental, ☏ +216 77 231 135. Opposite the Aghabite basins, a little further our from town (10-15 minute walk into Medina). 67 DT for one person, 72 with dinner (June 2016).
- 3 Hotel Splendid, Rue 9 Avril, ☏ +216 77 230 041. 5 minutes' walk from the Porte des Martyrs, which is on one of the main roads of the Medina, so definitely a good position. Very friendly reception that'll be there 24/7. For the price, impeccable (expect broken lightbulbs, the like - but aircon works, and there's hot water. 37 DT for a single person, but definitely negotiable (was offered 30 DT in June 2016).