Kairouan was the first destination of our big road trip to the south. Not knowing Arabic or the culture, we hired a car and a driver for the five day trip for an equivalent of $1,100, quite a bit more than a rental car would have cost, but the convenience of having a local with us made sense. Given that he was supposed to speak English, I figured we could learn a bit more about Tunisia too. As it turned out, he did not speak any English, and Irina got to practice her French trying to explain to him what we wanted to see. This proved difficult at times when I had a photo in my mind but describing it was difficult, and finding it in the limited amount of time sometimes impossible. He still proved valuable, and his Landcruiser ended up being a source of some adventures (more on that later). It even came with a snorkel which, heading out into the desert, was really good to see.

Kairouan is some 180 km from Gammarth. After leaving the Tunis area, it seemed much of the landscape was covered by endless olive tree groves before drying out as we got closer to Kairouan. We were not going there because it was used as a filming location for Raiders of the Lost Ark, we were going there because of its historical significance.

Great Mosque

The Great Mosque, also known as Mosque of Uqba, was established by the namesake Arab general in 670 AD, making it one of the oldest places of worship in the Islamic world. It is a rather impressive structure surrounding a large marble-paved courtyard. Upon paying the entrance fee, we also had to buy a shawl to cover ourselves inside the mosque. A young Tunisian joined us at the entrance without us requesting his services or agreeing on a price for them. He lead us around the mosque and later through the nearby Medina quarter.


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Prayer Hall Your truly and Irina Dome above the mihrab Horizontal sundial in the courtyard Irina aka the Lawrence of Arabia (Magic) carpet store
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Street outside the mosque Bicycle

Kairouan Medina

After visiting the Great Mosque, we walked the streets of the Medina, including its souk. It was an early afternoon and the streets were very quiet, though there was still activity inside the stores and shops of the souk.


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Street in the Medina Little Peugeot Barber shop Barber Cobbler and his son
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Shoemaker Little bicyclist Carpet store storefront Carpet store storefront

Bir Barrouta and Great Mosque viewpoint

Our "guide" lead us to Bir Barrouta, a 17th century holy well. The water is pumped with the help of a camel walking in a circle inside a building that houses the well. For some reason, it seemed like an experience created for tourists and the sad looking camel did not keep us around for long. We moved on to a traditional carpet shop, and finally through the streets of the Medina to a viewpoint near the Great Mosque. Our Tunisian companion asked rather insistently for a sizable tip. We negotiated it down, and were happy to part ways. We made a last stop at the cemetary just outside the Great Mosque before rejoining our driver.


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Camel in Bir Barouta Irina drinking the well water Street view Carpet shop Irina in a doorway
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Scooter race Kitten Kitten Street scene Domes of the Great Mosque Minaret of the Great Mosque
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My shadow on the roofs Entryway and the minaret Cemetary newt to the Great Mosque Our Landcruiser

Mosque of the Barber

The mosque is named after one of the companions of prophet Muhammad, who, according to the legend, had saved for himself three hairs of the prophet's beard. It is also know as the Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, and dates back to the 17th century. Its beautifully decorated courtyard made for a good ending to our trip to Kairouan.


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Last updated: May 30, 2020
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