Photo by Roman Bruehwiler.

Kairouan, one of the holy cities of Islam, is renowned for its Great Mosque, which has influenced the style of other mosques in the Maghreb.

Kairouan was founded in 670 CE as a post in the Arab conquest of the West. Its heyday came with the Aghlabid dynasty which built the Great Mosque and established a university that was a centre of education both in Islamic thought and secular sciences. Other notable monuments of that period include the Mosque of the Three Doors, the Basin of the Aghlabids and the Zawiya of Sidi Sahib.

Community Perspective: Easy to reach from the tourist hub of Sousse, but don’t visit on a Friday as everything will be dead. Wander around beyond the medina and the Great Mosque, for example to the impressive Aghlabid Basins.

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Els Slots

The Netherlands - 20-May-22 -

Kairouan by Els Slots

I visited Kairouan on a half-day trip from Sousse by louage, the typical Tunisian minibus share taxi. The 60km distance is easily covered within an hour and a ticket costs only 5 Tunisian dinars (1.70 EUR). It was a scorching day, but still I managed to see all of Kairouan’s significant sights on foot – I walked the streets for 10km in total. With about 140,000 inhabitants, it is a fairly large city, located in a semi-arid region. Fortunately, there are many mini-markets where you can stop for a cool drink.

I started at the Aghlabid Basins, 1 of the 3 locations that make up this WHS. This is already quite a trek from the louage station. The Basins, large water reservoirs from the 9th century, were built outside the city walls and are fed by an aqueduct. I entered from the side, where the gate was open; the official entrance wasn’t and there were no tickets checked or sold. Local boys were using the reservoirs for swimming, although with plastic garbage floating in them this didn't look inviting. Still, I found the monumentality of the reservoirs quite impressive – the largest is 128m in diameter. Later I heard from the guide in Dougga that more basins have been found recently.

I then continued to location #2, the Zaouia of Sidi Sahib which shelters the remains of a companion of the Prophet. It is a white, domed building just inside the city walls. I found it closed for entrance, but there’s another Zaouia, that of Sidi Abid Al Ghariani, deeper into the medina. Here I was allowed in, even without a ticket. After a reception room with benches covered by green, blue, and yellow tiles, you enter a courtyard with black-and-white arches. It opens up to several rooms, including the one where the tomb is. That one has a pretty wooden ceiling with multiple layers of ornamentation.

The Great Mosque I left for last, and here I could finally buy the 12 dinar entrance ticket that covers 6 sites in Kairouan. Its ancient origins (in an Arab-Muslim context, so from the 7th century onwards) and theological schools gave the city holy status. Kairouan’s current inhabitants don’t seem to be overly pious, nor was the mosque busy. The ambiance was more museum-like than religious, although it must be said that as a non-Muslim I was not allowed into the prayer halls (who knows what happens there).

What you can admire in the porticoes around the courtyard are ‘better’ remains of Carthage than at the current archaeological site itself. The Punic-Roman city was one of the sources for the rows of columns in various marbles and granite. Also, stones with inscriptions in Latin were reused, upside-down, to construct the walls.

In between these main sights, I enjoyed strolling through the quiet medina. Overall, I found the hassle factor higher than in the medinas of Tunis or Sousse, where it was barely existent. It consisted of harmless “Hey, where are you from?”-calls and invitations to visit carpet shops. Still, I found the medina in Kairouan the best of the 3. The streets here are wider than in the medinas of Tunis or Sousse. Many of the white buildings have light-blue colour accents, such as doors or towers.

Read more from Els Slots here.

Philipp Peterer

Switzerland - 16-Jan-19 -

Kairouan by Philipp Peterer

I might have caught Kairouan on a bad day. I went on a Friday and everything was closed. The town was mostly deserted and I had no idea what to do, so I went with a guy offering me a guided tour. This proofed to be more interesting, than walking on my own and was a rather pleasant experience, apart from the last stop with the obligatory carpet shop (I specifically negotiated not to visit before starting the tour). With most shops and restaurants closed and almost no people, it felt rather weird to wander around the streets. I would also not be able to see the outstanding value of this town, compared to other medinas in the country I saw. I’d say it’s one of these places that due to proximity to the other WHS is a must for the real hunters, but can easily be skipped if you only go for the country’s highlights.

The town can be reached rather easy by car. Expect some narrow roads on the way if you come from the coast. I did it on an easy half day trip from Port El Kantaoui, spending the rest of the day at the beach. You could easily combine the day trip with Sousse and/or el Jem, if you have limited time resources.

Klaus Freisinger

Austria - 01-May-05 -

Since it is practically impossible for Westerners to visit the holy sites of Islam in Saudi Arabia, Kairouan is the closest most people can get to an introduction to the history of one of the world's major religions. Kairouan is easy to visit from the tourist regions of the coast and certainly makes for a worthwhile trip, if only to see the really impressive Great Mosque.

Ian Cade

UK - 01-May-05 -

Kairouan by Ian Cade

Kairouan is the fourth holiest city in Islam, (although I have just done a little research and this may be a tad controversial!) and it is said that travelling there 7 times is the equivalent of travelling to Mecca. The most impressive site is the great Mosque with its powerful if austere minaret and columns taken from Carthage! Also impressive is the facade of the Mosque of Three Doors! Near the medina entrance is the mosque containing the well that the city was founded around which is supposedly linked to the Zamzam well in Mecca and is a site of Pilgrimage, I found it a bit odd as there was a blinkered camel turning the well in a very small space, but there are some amusing pictures of the camel going up and down the stairs that reach the site.

Kairouan is easy to get to from Sousse, either by bus or Louagge which I would recommend more as on the bus we got picked up by a tout for one of Kairouan's many famous Carpet shops before we even arrived, and it is best to get picked up by one outside the great Mosque as their views are much better, and they will tell you their carpets are better too!!!

Site Info

Full Name
Unesco ID
1 2 3 5 6
Religious structure - Islamic Urban landscape - Arabic and Middle Eastern

Site History

1988 Inscribed


The site has 3 locations

Kairouan: La Médina et ses Faubourgs
Kairouan: Zawiya de Sidi Sahib
Kairouan: Les Bassins des Aghlabites


The site has

Art and Architecture
Human Activity
Religion and Belief
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WHS on Other Lists


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4matcha A. Mehmet Haksever Adrian Turtschi Alberto Rodriguez Gutierrez Alexander Barabanov Alexander Lehmann Alfons and Riki Verstraeten Ali Zingstra Alicemears Ana Argo Artur Anuszewski Aspasia Atila Ege Baiqitun Bauchat Bazikoln Bob Parda Boj Bram de Bruin Brigitte Huber Christer Sundberg Christian Wagner Christravelblog Corinne Vail Ctravel CugelVance Dani Cyr David Marton Dibro Dimitar Krastev Dimitrios Polychronopoulos Djpatten Dkabanov Dorejd Dradrienn Dutchnick Eleonora Els Slots Enrique Clemente Eric PK Erik Jelinek Esther Westerveld Eva Kisgyorgy FGKJR1492X Fan Yibo Federico P. Feldhase Frank Britton G.L. Ingraham George Gdanski GeorgeIng61 GerhardM Gi Gianmarco Grzegorz Andruszkiewicz Haining Guan Hammeel Hanming Harry Mitsidis History Fangirl Hyoga Iain Jackson Ian Cade Inigo Cia Ivan Rucek Izzet Ege Janklak Janssens Jarek Pokrzywnicki Jaroslav Klement Jasm Jason and Corrinna Jonas Hagung Jonas Kremer Jonathanfr Jos Schmitz Joyce van Soest João Aender Jsalda Juha Sjoeblom Julianna Lees KB1 Karl Grossner Klaus Freisinger Krijn Krzysztof B LaVale Lars Bogstad Leontine Helleman Lisa Ross Liverpool1023 Loic Pedras Longdutch Lucio Gorla Ludvan Luis Filipe Gaspar M. Huineman de la Cuadra MaYumin Maciej Gowin Majkl20 Malgorzata Kopczynska Marcel staron Marcobrey Marta Lempert Martin Richardson Martina Rúčková Mateusz Mattias MaxHeAnouBen Merveil Michal Kozok Michal Marciniak Mikeyboyracer Mikko Milan Jirasek Miloš Tašković MoPython MohamedOuali Monika and Rini Moreworld2c Morodhi NCosta Naim Y Nanvano NataliaS Nej153 Niall Sclater Nihal Ege Nmocosta Nmocosta79 Nomad99 PabloNorte Pascal Cauliez Patrik Paul Schofield Persian Globetrotter Peter Lööv Petteri Philipp Leu Philipp Peterer Priyaranjan Mohapatra Qin Xie Randi Thomsen Raphael Reza Ri Roberto Diaz Robin Frank Roger Ourset Roland Roman Bruehwiler Roman Koeln Roman Raab Rudegirl SHIHE HUANG SaoDies Sascha Grabow Solivagant Sophie Stanimir Stanislaw Warwas Stefan Loov Stephen Brooker Super-Sophie Svein Elias Szucs Tamas Thibault Magnien Thomas Buechler Thomas van der Walt TimAllen Timothy C Easton Tino A Offner Tony0001 Topaas Triath Uwebart WHS Lux WalGra Werner Huber Westwards Wolfgang Hlousa WolfgangHl Wtrentfox Yamen Yellowjohn Zach Zoë Sheng