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The Maghreb's main holy city, Kairouan (also known as Kirwan or al-Qayrawanis), is also Tunisia's oldest Arab city. Founded around 670 AD, it quickly became a centre for learning in the Islamic world. The city was an important political centre until Tunis prevailed in the 12th century. Still widely considered the fourth most holy centre for Islam after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and still the religious capital of Tunisia.
The main feature of the city is the Great Mosque (also known as the Mosque of Uqba or the Great Mosque of Kairouan), which was built in circa 670 AD and rebuilt in the 9th century. The structure is one of the key monuments in Islam, with a perimeter measuring almost a quarter of a mile (or 405 metres). The design of the mosque, unique to this area, became a model for other mosques across the Maghreb. The gates of the mosque feature superlative architectural detail and once inside, the trapezoidal courtyard is flanked by the decorative arches of the portico that extends around the perimeter of the mosque.Read more
The minaret, which rises from the northern façade, soars to almost 105 feet (nearly 32 metres) from a solid base and has three tapered levels. The building’s dimensions make it a pleasing shape to the eye and the structure was very influential in mosque design in North Africa and in Andalusia. Not just there to function as a tower for the muezzin (the prayer leader) to broadcast the call to prayer, the minaret once served as a watchtower for aggressors, as well as a strategic place for some arrow slits, which were used to fend off aggressors.
As grand as the mosque is, beside this brilliant structure is the first place of worship of the Prophet Mohammed in the Maghreb. Remains of one of his closest followers are kept here, making it a popular site of Islamic pilgrimage.