What You Need To Know Kairouan
Kairouan is a city in northern Tunisia’s inland desert. It became a powerful trading hub and center of Islamic scholarship in the 9th century, when Aghlabid emirs ruled Kairouan and built many of its monuments. The Great Mosque, on the edge of the medina, with its antique columns and imposing minaret, dates from this period and is a major pilgrimage site.
Fourth holiest city of Islam (after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem), Kairouan is an important religious pilgrimage site, and for history lovers, one of Tunisia’s star tourist attractions.
Kairouan is also a major shopping destination and is famous for the quality of its carpets. When all the craning your neck at mosque minarets and admiring gorgeous tile work gets too much, it’s time to hit the souks for a bit of bargaining with the town’s many craftsmen.
Although Tunis was now the uncontested political capital of Tunisia, Kairouan retained its religious importance for the Muslims of North Africa.
Population:186 653 (2014)
- The Tunisian dinar is the official currency in Tunisia, subdivided into 1,000 milim or millimes.
The dinar was set out as the new currency in Tunisia in 1958, although it did not start to be used until 1960. Until that moment, the official currency had been the franc and the equivalence to the new currency was of 1,000 francs to 1 dinar.
You cannot export Tunisian currency, and for that reason your bank cannot order any for you to take with you.
Most tourists arrive with no currency – it’s easy enough to obtain it.The exchange rate is fixed by the Government, and you will be offered that rate at the airport and at your hotel.
You may find it better to exchange some currency at these locations rather than use ATMs.
Nearly all banks and credit cards place huge surcharges on overseas transactions.
Again, note that it is illegal to take ANY Tunisian currency out of the country.
You must change back ALL currency**, including coins, when you leave.You can still make purchases at the airside shops and cafes, since they take a range of non-Tunisian currencies, notably Euro, GBP and USD.The Tunisian authorities have the right to search your baggage and spot-searches are common.
They really do mean it – NO currency is to be exported.Before leaving the country you should contact your bank and let them know where you’re going to and for how long, otherwise you could have your card(s) blocked due to irregular spending patterns.
However, a lot of banks just ignore this, so make sure you’ve got your bank’s telephone number written down – you may need it!
Kairouan is located on the Low Steppes area of Tunisia, a semi-arid alluvial plain southeast of the Central Tell, about 100 miles (160km) south of Tunis, at an elevation of 223 feet (68 meters).
Kairouan has a semi-arid Mediterranean climate, with hot summers and mild winters, when there is more rainfall. Spring and autumn are pleasant. The average maximum daytime temperature in January is 63.5°F (17.5°C), rising to an average maximum of around 99.5°F (37.5°C) in July. Mean annual precipitation is 12.1 inches (309mm).
Environmental issues include health risks posed by ineffective toxic and hazardous waste disposal, water pollution from raw sewage, and limited natural fresh water.
To protect Kairouan city against flooding from Wadi Merguellil, the El Haouareb dam was constructed in 1989.
Arabic is the official language, and most natives speak a dialect of Tunisian Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is taught in schools. The cultural Arabization of the country was largely completed by the end of the 12th century, and currently only a tiny fraction of the population—most of them in the south—still speak one of the Berber languages. French, introduced during the protectorate (1881–1956), came into wider use only after independence, because of the spread of education. It continues to play an important role in the press, education, and government. To a lesser extent, English and Italian also serve as lingua francas.
It’s essentially a bilingual country. French was the official language of education in the early Bourguiba years, and it continues to be taught from early primary school level, though perhaps not with the same enthusiasm. It’s still spoken everywhere and used widely in advertising.
There’s no better way to make friends and impress people in Tunisia than to venture even a few words in Arabic, not to mention the advantage it will afford you when it comes to bargaining. A good grasp of French will also make life much easier, though Tunisians are usually friendly enough to persist with smiles and hand gestures when there’s no common language.
Health and security
- Though Tunisia is a thriving, forward-looking society, its health-care system does not yet match that of most western countries. Also, expats from western countries should take note that the vast majority of staff in most public hospitals will not speak fluent English, and so communicating in French or Arabic will be the only option. Public hospitals are often overcrowded and have low quality equipment.As you have to pay for treatment in hospitals, it is strongly advised that anybody living in Tunisia takes out some solid private health insurance. At private clinics, it is much easier to find English speaking physicians and the quality of specialized facilities will be much higher.If you are staying outside of Tunisia’s resorts and tourist hotspots, it is advisable to be cautious. For foreigners that live in Tunisia, the main risks are theft-related — i.e. pick pocketing and mugging. Female expats should be careful with their handbags and purses, while men should be careful with where they flash their wallets.
- Unfortunately, street harassment of females is a problem in Tunisia. Though there are no religious restrictions on how women dress, clothing that shows a lot of skin can attract negative attention. Another problem is kidnapping, a crime that targets both natives and expats. The best advice is to stick to the busy areas, where there is generally a noticeably high police presence.
- Being a progressive Muslim country, alcohol availability is restricted (but not greatly) to certain licensed (and invariably more expensive) restaurants, resort areas and Magasin General shops. Large department stores and some supermarkets sell beer and wine, and some local and imported hard liquors, except during Muslim holidays. Some bars will refuse to admit women, others may ask for a passport to check nationality.
- Be aware that the export of Tunisian currency is forbidden and searches of wallets and purses can, and do, occur at airports.
- The busiest month for tourism in Kairouan, Tunisia is April, followed by May and February. Prices for hotels and flights will be most expensive during these months, though you can save if you purchase well in advance. Tourists are unlikely to visit Kairouan in November. Those willing to visit at these times will likely find it the least expensive month.
- The medina is an interesting and beautiful place to wander, especially in the late afternoon when the sun creates shadows, highlighting the charming and ornate doors, and the blue-and-green window shutters and balconies. Kairouan has always been a place of travellers, whether here for trade or the purposes of pilgrimage, a city accustomed to people from far-off lands.
- It is not its urban appeal but its impressive ancient Islamic architecture that makes Kairouan popular with visiting tourists. The city was founded in 670 AD and soon became an important center for Quranic learning and Sunni Islamic scholarship. It attracted many scholars from Medina and Mecca. Even to this date, many Muslims consider Kairouan to be one of the most important Islamic cities after Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem. The rising Islamic importance of Kairouan prompted the building of several Islamic monuments and buildings, several of which have been well preserved to this date. Take a walk around the Old Town of Kairouan to see some of these impressive attractions. Heading the list will be the Great Mosque, probably the finest Islamic building in the whole country. The façade of the Mosque of the Three Doors is also a sight to behold.