Kairouan has always been a famous popular with travelers, whether here for religious pilgrimage or trade purposes. Recognized as the fourth-holiest site in the Islamic faith because of the presence of the oldest in North Africa (the Great Mosque), it feels miles away from the luxurious beach resorts to its east.
How to reach Kairouan?
The best way to reach Kairouan is via bus. Buses run to Kairouan from the large cities, Sousse (2 hrs), Tunis, and Sfax. The closest airport is Enfidha–Hammamet International Airport, which is nearly 33.5 miles / 54.0 kilometers away.
How to move around Kairouan?
Most of Kairouan is best traversed on foot, partly to assimilate the atmosphere and partly because some regions are inaccessible to anything more significant. The central street that joins the south Gate of Martyrs to the northwest Gate of Tunis is fairly touristic.
Top Attractions in Kairouan
Kairouan’s medina seems like it melts and flows to a strange rhythm to modern Tunisia. Long guarded by its massive walls and gates (Babs), most of it is given over to calm suburban streets that have transformed little over the centuries, with simple houses donning arches and shutters painted in greens and bright blues. Mainly atmospheric pockets include the small squares near the gates and the covered souq quarter just north of the central north–south pedestrian thoroughfare.
Also called Sidi Okba Mosque, after the originator of Kairouan, who constituted the first mosque on this site in 670 CE, this is North Africa’s most sacred Islamic site. The initial mosque was destroyed, and most of what stands today was established by the Aghlabids in the 9th century CE. Its tower is the oldest in the Maghreb. Its grand prayer hall has 414 pillars holding horseshoe arches; non-Muslims may peek into this from the inner courtyard but can’t enter sadly.
Just off the medina’s main pedestrian thoroughfare, this market next to Restaurant Marhaba is devoted to Kairouan’s much-loved date-filled semolina pastries soaked in honey (makhroud). Skillful pastry chefs make them most days and are happy for potential buyers or tourists to observe them working. Open hours can vary – weekday mornings are the most suitable time to visit.
Zaouia of Sidi Abid Al Ghariani
Recording from the 14th century CE, this two-story complex holds horseshoe arches painted in white and black, marble columns with sculpted capitals, a decorated Moorish-style ceiling, and plenty of fine tiles, wood carving, and stuccowork. It was created as a school by a Kairawani teacher called Al Jadidi, whose student Abou Samir Abid later carried on his religious teaching and was ultimately buried here.
Bi’r Barouta – Water Well
Bi’r Barouta is the spot where the town was established; it is linked to the ZamZam well in Mecca. It is one of the most religious sites in the town for Muslims. An old camel drives the well pump. There is also a cafe inside the complex serving tea and coffee.