The Aghlabid Basins
|Criteria:||i, ii, iii, v, vi|
|Designated:||1988 (12th session)|
Kairouan (Arabic: القيروان Al Qairawān), also known as Kirwan or al-Qayrawan, is the capital of the Kairouan Governorate in Tunisia. Referred to as the Islamic Cultural Capital, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city was founded by the Arabs around 670. In the period of Caliph Mu'awiya (reigned 661-680), it became an important centre for Islamic and Quranic learning, and thus attracting a large number of Muslims from various parts of the world, next only to Mecca and Medina. The holy Mosque of Uqba is situated in the city.
In 2003, the city had about 150,000 inhabitants.
The name is Arabic قيروان kairuwân, itself from the Persian کاروان kârvân, meaning "military/civilian camp" (kâr [war/military] (akin to Latin guer, + vân [outpost]), "caravan", or "resting place" (see caravanserai).
Kairouan was founded in about the year 670 when the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi of Amir Muauia selected a site in the middle of a dense forest, then infested with wild beasts and reptiles, as the location of a military post for the conquest of the West. Formerly, the city of Kamounia was located where Kairouan now stands. It was a Byzantine garrison before the Arab conquest. It was located far from the sea where it was safe from the continued attacks of the Berbers who had fiercely resisted the Arab invasion. Berber resistance continued, led first by Kusaila, whose troops killed Uqba at Biskra about fifteen years after the military post was established, and then by a Berber woman called Al-Kahina who was killed and her army defeated in 702. Subsequently, there was a mass conversion of the Berbers to Islam. Kharijites or Islamic "outsiders" who formed an egalitarian and puritanical sect appeared and are still present on the island of Djerba. In 745, Kharijite Berbers captured Kairouan, which was already at that time a developed city with luxuriant gardens and olive groves.
Power struggles remained until Kairouan was recaptured by Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab at the end of the 8th century. In 800, Ibrahim was confirmed Emir and hereditary ruler of Ifriqiya by Caliph Harun ar-Rashid in Baghdad. Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab founded the Aghlabid dynasty that ruled Ifriqiya between 800 and 909. The new Emirs embellished Kairouan and made it their capital which soon became famous for its wealth and prosperity reaching the levels of Basra and Kufa and giving Tunisia one of its golden ages long sought after the glorious days of Carthage.
The Aghlabites built the great mosque and established in it a university that was a centre of education both in Islamic thought and in the secular sciences. Its role can be compared to that of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages. In the 9th century, the city became a brilliant focus of Arab and Islamic cultures attracting scholars from all over the Islamic World. In that period Imam Sahnun and Asad ibn al-Furat made of Kairouan a temple of knowledge and a magnificent centre of diffusion of Islamic sciences. The Aghlabids also built palaces, fortifications and fine waterworks of which only the pools remain. From Kairouan envoys from Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire returned with glowing reports of the Aghlabites palaces, libraries and gardens – and from the crippling taxation imposed to pay for their drunkenness and sundry debaucheries. The Aghlabite also pacified the country and conquered Sicily in 827.
In 893, through the mission of Abdullah al Mahdi, the Kutama Berbers from the west of the country started the movement of the Shiite Fatimids. The year 909 saw the overthrow of the Sunni Aghlabite that ruled Ifriqiya and the creation of the Shiite Fatimid dynasty. During the rule of the Fatimids, Kairouan was neglected and lost its importance: the new rulers resided first in Raqqada but soon moved their capital to the newly built Al Mahdiyah on the coast of modern Tunisia. After succeeding in extending their rule over all of central Maghreb, an area consisting of the modern countries of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya, they eventually moved east to Egypt to found Cairo making it the capital of their vast Califate and leaving the Zirids as their vassals in Ifriqiya. Governing again from Kairouan, the Zirids led the country through another artistic, commercial and agricultural heyday. Schools and universities flourished, overseas trade in local manufactures and farm produce ran high and the courts of the Zirids rulers were centres of refinement that eclipsed those of their European contemporaries.
When the Zirids declared their independence from Cairo and their conversion to Sunni Islam in 1045 by giving allegiance to Baghdad, the Fatimid Caliph Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah sent as punishment hordes of troublesome Arab tribes (Banu Hilal and Banu Sulaym) to invade Ifriqiya. These invaders so utterly destroyed Kairouan in 1057 that it never regained its former importance and their influx was a major factor in the spread of nomadism in areas where agriculture had previously been dominant. Some 1,700 years of intermittent but continual progress was undone within a decade as in most part of the country the land was laid to waste for nearly two centuries. In the 13th century under the prosperous Hafsids dynasty that ruled Ifriqiya, the city started to emerge from its ruins. It is only under the Husainid Dynasty that Kairouan started to find an honorable place in the country and throughout the Islamic world. In 1881, Kairouan was taken by the French, after which non-Muslims were allowed access to the city.
The most important mosque in the city is the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba also known as the Great Mosque of Kairouan. It has been said that seven pilgrimages to this mosque is considered the equivalent of one pilgrimage to Mecca. After its establishment, Kairouan became an Islamic and Qur'anic learning centre in North Africa. An article by Professor Kwesi Prah describes how during the medieval period, Kairouan was considered the third holiest city in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Today, many consider the city as the fourth holiest in Islam.
Judaism, no longer prevalent in the city, has an illustrious history in Kairouan, particularly in the early Middle Ages. Rabbeinu Chushiel, his son Rabbeinu Chananel, and R. Nissim Ben Jacob (R. Nissim Gaon) were all from Kairouan and Rabbi Isaac Alfasi studied there, as did many other great rabbis. The rabbinical students of Kairouan are a major part of the transmission of the Oral Law from Babylonia to Spain. Kairouan was thus the first major centre of Jewish learning outside of Babylonia and Eretz Yisrael.
Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba
The city's main attraction is the Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba, which is said to largely consist of its original building materials. In fact most of the column stems and capitals were taken from ruins of earlier-period buildings, while others were produced locally. There are 414 marble, granite and porphyry columns in the mosque. Almost all were taken from the ruins of Carthage. Previously, it was forbidden to count them, on pain of blinding. The Great Mosque of Kairouan (Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba) is considered as one of the most important monuments of Islamic civilization as well as a worldwide architectural masterpiece. Founded by Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi in 670 CE, the present aspect of the mosque dates from the 9th century. The Great Mosque of Sidi-Uqba has a great historical importance as the ancestor of all the mosques in the western Islamic world.
Mosque of the Three Gates
The Mosque of the Three Gates was founded in 866. Its façade is a notable example of Islamic architecture. It has three arched doorways surmounted by three inscriptions in Kufic script, interspersed with floral and geometrical reliefs and topped by a carved frieze; the first inscription includes the verses 70-71 in the sura 33 of Quran. The small minaret was added during the restoration works held under the Hafsid dynasty. The prayer hall has a nave and two aisles, divided by arched columns, parallel to the qibla wall.
Mosque of the Barber
The Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, generally known as the Mosque of the Barber, is actually a zaouia located inside the city walls. It was built by the Muradid Hammuda Pasha Bey (mausoleum, dome and court) and Murad II Bey (minaret and madrasa). In its present state, the monument dates from the 17th century.
The mosque is a veneration place for Abu Zama' al-Balaui, a companion of the prophet Muhammad, who, according to a legend, had saved for himself three hairs of Muhammad's beard, hence the edifice's name. The sepulchre place is accessed from a cloister-like court with richly decorated ceramics and stuccoes.
Kairouan is also home to:
- two large water reservoirs called "Aghlabid basins"
- Mosque of Ansar (traditionally dating to 667, but totally renewed in 1650)
- Mosque Al Bey (late 17th century)
- The souk (market place), in the Medina quarter, which is surrounded by walls, from which the entrance gates can be seen in the distance. Products that are sold in the souk include carpets, vases and goods made of leather.
In popular culture
- Nagendra Kr Singh, International encyclopaedia of Islamic dynasties. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. 2002. page 1006
- Europa Publications “General Survey: Holy Places” The Middle East and North Africa 2003, p. 147. Routledge, 2003. ISBN 1-85743-132-4. “The city is regarded as a holy place for Muslims.”
- Hutchinson Encyclopedia 1996 Edition. Helicon Publishing Ltd, Oxford. 1996. p. 572. ISBN 1-85986-107-5.
- "Location and origin of the name of Kairouan". Isesco.org. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- "قيروان". Dehkhoda Dictionary.
- «رابطه دو سویه زبان فارسی–عربی». ماهنامه کیهان فرهنگی. دی 1383، شماره 219. صص 73–77.
- Conant, Jonathan (2012). Staying Roman : conquest and identity in Africa and the Mediterranean, 439-700. Cambridge New York: Cambridge University Press. pp. 280–281. ISBN 0521196973.
- Barbara M. Kreutz, Before the Normans: Southern Italy in the Ninth and Tenth Centuries, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996, p. 48
- Europa Publications Limited (30 October 2003). The Middle East and North Africa. Europa Publications. p. 150. ISBN 978-1-85743-184-1. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- Director, Centre for Advanced Study of African Societies, Cape Town, South Africa.
- This was originally a paper submitted to the African Union (AU) Experts’ Meeting on a Strategic Geopolitic Vision of Afro-Arab Relations. AU Headquarters, Addis Ababa, 11–12 May 2004 Towards a Strategic Geopolitic Vision of Afro-Arab Relations. "By 670, the Arabs had taken Tunisia, and by 675, they had completed construction of Kairouan, the city that would become the premier Arab base in North Africa. Kairouan was later to become the third holiest city in Islam in the medieval period, after Mecca and Medina, because of its importance as the centre of the Islamic faith in the Maghrib".
- Dr. Ray Harris; Khalid Koser (30 August 2004). Continuity and change in the Tunisian sahel. Ashgate. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-7546-3373-0. Retrieved 17 October 2010.
- "Tunisia News – Sufi Song Festival starts in Kairouan". News.marweb.com. 25 February 2010. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- Fishman, Tayla (2011). Becoming the People of Talmud, chapter 2, pp. 65-90.
- Mooney, Julie (2004). Ripley's Believe It or Not! Encyclopedia of the Bizarre: Amazing, Strange, Inexplicable, Weird and All True!. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 47. ISBN 1-57912-399-6.
- "The Great Mosque of Kairouan". Kairouan.org. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- "Great Mosque of Kairouan (Qantara mediterranean heritage)". Qantara-med.org. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- John Stothoff Badeau and John Richard Hayes, ''The Genius of Arab civilization: source of Renaissance''. Taylor & Francis. 1983. p. 104. Books.google.fr. Retrieved 2010-04-12.
- Saladin, Henri (1908). Tunis et Kairouan. Voyages à travers l'architecture, l'artisanat et les mœurs du début du XXe siècle. Paris: Henri Laurens.
- Kircher, Gisela (1970). Die Moschee des Muhammad b. Hairun (Drei-Tore-Moschee) in Qairawân/Tunesien 26. Cairo: Publications de l'Institut archéologique allemand. pp. 141–167.
- Mausoleum of Sidi Sahbi (Qantara Mediterranean heritage)
- K. A. Berney and Trudy Ring, International dictionary of historic places: Middle East and Africa, Volume 4. Taylor & Francis. 1996. p. 391
- "Kardeş Şehirler". Bursa Büyükşehir Belediyesi Basın Koordinasyon Merkez. Tüm Hakları Saklıdır. Retrieved 2013-07-27.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kairouan.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Kairwan.|
- Official website
- Kairouan, tourismtunisia.com
- Kairouan World heritage Site, whc.unesco.org
- Kairouan University
- Al-Qayrawan, muslimheritage.com
- Kairwan, jewishencyclopedia.com
- KAIROUAN, The Capital of Islamic Culture
- Panoramic virtual tour of Kairouan medina