“ Kairouan / Tunisia „
The great Mosque of Sidi Oqba.
We visited the city of Kairouan in the North East of Tunisia to visit the city's famous mosques. The great Mosque of Sidi Oqba is reckoned to be the fourth most important mosque in Islam after the mosque in Mecca. Pilgrims can make seven pilgrimages to the great Mosque of Sidi Oqba as it is known which is equivalent to making one pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca.
Building the mosque.
The mosque was built in the 670AD and is absolutely vast although the original mosque was destroyed in 670 but rebuilt even grander than the original in 703. The area covered by the mosque totals 9000 square meters. Not only is the mosque vast but outside the walls of the mosque at the northern end there is a large meeting square where they hold markets and various other activities take place here too. The walls of the mosque are very thick at 1.9 meters thick which encircles a central quadrangle which is paved with marble. The walls of the mosque actually look unremarkable a sandy coloured brickwork and plaster. On the northern side of the walls there is a massive square minaret which is 31.5 meters high and is the oldest still standing minaret in the world. It has small slits in the walls where they could shoot arrows down on invaders. There are 129 steps to the top of the minaret.
The central courtyard.
We entered from the huge massive portal on the western side of the mosque through which all non-Muslims man enter. In total there are nine gates to enter the Mosque 6 of them entering straight into the massive courtyard, 2 directly into the prayer hall. Women should be modestly dressed with no bear arms and gowns will be provided if you are not covered. It was mid-day when we arrived here and was very hot indeed. It was quite pleasant to sit inside the perimeter arcaded walls to shelter from the burning sun.
In the centre of the courtyard there is an unusual sun dial which is raised on a platform dating from the 1600's and also a couple of wells. The flag stones of the great courtyard slant slightly so that rain is channeled towards an ornate decorated rain collection system which collects rain water and channels it to the cisterns below the mosque. Such is the design of the collection system that it filters the water of dust before flowing into the cistern. The courtyard is absolutely massive and can accommodate many thousands of worshipers.
The prayer hall.
At the southern end of the Mosque there are 17 huge carved wooden doorways that lead into the massive prayer hall. Inside the prayer hall there are 414 marble columns inside some of which were taken from the ancient city of Carthage. In total there are over 500 columns in and around the mosque. There are chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and the central nave of the mosque houses the Mirab and the Minbar (pulpit). The south centre doorway is solid wood and it is in the centre of the surrounding walls. The doors are uniquely carved and above this doorway there is a massive domed copula. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the prayer hall but some of the 17 doors are left wide open so that you can have a look inside. The floors are covered in rugs and carpet for worshipers to kneel and pray in the direction of Mecca. There are some local saints buried inside the Mosque and it is the resting place of its founder Sidi Oqba.
Kairouan was a very important city that attracted many scholars to the town to attend the university and scholars from the university went into the Mosque to teach others. The Mosque as I said previously is not ornately decorated from the outside it looks like a massive fort. It is quite beautiful but not as ornate as some of the other Mosques in Kairouan which are beautifully adorned with tiled walls and floors. It is well worth visiting some of the other Mosques in the town and walking through the old town which is very pretty. There is a French influence throughout Tunisia and I think that it enhances the beauty of the ancient sleepy town. It is well worth a visit to this town and I would definitely recommend a visit to the mosques in and around the town.