I felt so calm and intrigued wandering the enchanting streets of Kairouan, Tunisia. I was very likely the only tourist in the entire ancient city, and each corner I turned or beautiful door I walked through held a new surprise.
The Holy Sites
Besides the Great Mosque of Kairouan, which I wrote about here, there is the Mosque of the Three Gates and the Mosque of the Barber. I’m glad my local tour guide, Yazid, was there to explain everything for me.
The Mosque of the Barber, or Mausoleum of Sidi Sahab, apparently holds the Prophet Muhammad’s barber’s tomb. Beautiful mosaics lead you to the tomb.
They say that there are three of Muhammad’s hairs inside the tomb. The man watching the entrance took photos for me inside since you have to be Muslim to enter.
Another holy site is the Bir Barouta, a holy well they say connects to the Zemzem spring in Mecca. Believers come to drink from it, and a boy and a camel reenact how water was drawn back in the day.
I loved the decorations on the camel, but felt bad for him having to stand there and walk in a circle all day! He also kind of scared me when I got close to him, lol.
Architecture and Gender Roles
One of my favorite examples of Islamic architecture was this historic home, which is also a rug shop. The owner welcomed us with tea and a tour of each story of the house.
The rooftop was especially unique. I just couldn’t get enough of these mosaics!
Back out on the street, I thought these windows looked beautiful. Until Yazid told me what they were built for.
They were made a long time ago for women to peer out of, so their whole face did not show. I’ve read about things like this before, but, it actually made me feel angry to see them in person.
I also learned about these hand-shaped door knockers. The big one was for the man, the smaller one for the woman. Each made a different noise so that people inside could know which gender was at the door. It used to be inappropriate for a woman to open the door for a man.
FYI, times are not like they used to be in Tunisia. In the 1950s, women by law could divorce, choose who they wanted to marry, polygamy was banned, and more. And the 2014 constitution in Tunisia includes even more women’s rights.
A few Tunisian women told me that there is still more to do, but, when women say no, the men listen. That’s a big reason why I felt safe in Tunisia.
Kairouan’s famous sweet is Makroudh, a delicious pastry with either dates and nuts or almond paste inside. Yazid had a favorite shop for us to go to, where I bought a huge box of them to take back to my room.
And eat alone throughout the last two days I was in Tunisia – no shame!
For lunch, we stopped at a small restaurant on the edge of the city.
I had a Bric with salad, which is a phyllo dough pocket with an egg inside that deliciously oozes out as you bite into it!
We talked more about the city and I learned more about Yazid’s life back in Tunis. At that point, he was in the middle of building a home. In my mind I pictured something as picturesque as the historic homes we explored in Kairouan. The thought made me imagine how life would be like living in Kairouan now.