In my time celebrating my 100th country in Tunisia we mostly toured towns and cities by the sea. That all changed when we backpacked our way inland to the town of Kairouan. Kairouan is deemed the fourth most holy city in the Islamic world and it’s a maze of mosques in a city that reminded me of Kerman in Iran and Harar in Ethiopia all in one.
Getting to Kairouan
To get to Kairouan, you can take a shared mini-bus from other cities in Tunisia. We were coming from Sousse and paid 4.7 Denars (about $2.50). The shared minibus only took just over an hour. Leaving Kairouan, we headed to the capital city of Tunis next and from the same bus station we arrived into Kairouan we paid 10.25 Denars for the bus to Tunis. There are no train links to Kairouan so buses and shared mini buses are the way to go.
Here are my personal top 5 sights in the city of Kairouan, Tunisia.
1. The Grande Mosque
OK so the deal is, tourists have to pay a fee of 10 Denars for a ticket to enter the Grande Mosque. This ticket does include entry to five other places in the town, so if you want to see the inside of the Mosque, you’ll have to pay it. We decided to pay it and felt it was worth it.
Women must cover their hair and you also have to pay an extra 1 Denar (50 cents) if you want to take photos. You can probably get away with this, but in a sacred site I don’t normally feel the need to try and cut costs or refuse to pay.
2. Mausoleum of Sidi Abid
This was a pleasant surprise. Zero tourists, no harassment and we were free to walk inside and all around both floors of this Mausoleum. It’s an elaborate inner courtyard and it dates back to the 8th century.
For Muslims it’s a bit more holy due to the fact it’s Sidi Abid’s Mausoleum.
It will become a cliche as every single Tunisian town or city we visited had a Medina, which is the same as a Bazaar in the Middle East and basically means market/area of narrow streets inside walls with a market. Kairouan’s Medina is the least touristy of all that we were in, you can get lost in a maze of mosques, markets and cafes.
4. Bir Barouta
A camel and a well is what Bir Barouta is all about. But yes – there’s a lot more to it than that. The holy well is supposed to be connected to Mecca (Saudi Arabia). It’s closed on Fridays.
When the time comes, the camel is sacrificed.
We basically popped in to see the camel and the well, take some photos and left. It’s a quick and simple sight. If you turn up for a sacrifice, I’d guess the place would be packed out and you couldn’t actually get close to see the ritual.
5. Aghlabid Basins
These massive water basins on the edge of the city are the remains of a complex system of water reservoirs much admired by medieval chroniclers. The biggest of them is 18 metres wide.
The ticket for the Grande Mosque covers you in here, otherwise you have to buy a ticket. Head to the top for views of the basins or actually just walk through the park from the housing estate and see them for free! (We just used the ticket we’d already bought though).
Also Kairouan has been nicknamed the town of 300 mosques and I’m not sure if it’s true or not but there are certainly a lot of them about. It’s definitely worth at least a day here to tour the main sights.
Here are my videos of Kairouan while backpacking in Tunisia: