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Islam A Global Religion

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Masjid Uqba ibn Nafi

The Mosque of Uqba also known as the Great Mosque of Kairouan, is one of the most important mosques in Tunisia, situated in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Kairoun.

Built by the Arab general Uqba ibn Nafi from 670 AD (the year 50 according to the Islamic Calender) at the founding of the city of Kairouan, the mosque is spread over a surface area of 9,000 square metres and is considered as the oldest place of worship in the western Islamic World, as well as a model for all later mosques in the Maghreb. The Great Mosque of Kairouan is certainly one of the most impressive and largest islamic monuments in North Africa, its perimeter is almost equal to 405 metres (1,328 feet). This vast space contains a hypostyle prayer hall, a huge marble-paved courtyard and a massive square minaret. In addition to its spiritual prestige, the Mosque of Uqba is universally reputed as a masterpiece of both architecture and Islamic Art.

Under the Aghlabids (9th century), huge works gave the mosque its present aspect. The fame of the Mosque of Uqba and of the other holy sites at Kairouan helped the city to develop and repopulate increasingly. The university, consisting of scholars who taught in the mosque, was a centre of education both in Islamic thought and in the secular sciences. Its role can be compared to that of the University of Paris in the Middle Ages. With the decline of the city, the centre of intellectual thought moved to the University of Ez – Zitouna in Tunis.

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Overview of the mosque's courtyard which is surrounded by colonnaded arches
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Ancient cemetery and the Great Mosque of Uqba.

Location and general aspect

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Map of Kairouan (1916) showing the location of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in the northeast corner of the medina

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Overview of the mosque

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Wall and buttresses of the western facade of the mosque

Located in the north-east of the medina of Kairouan, the mosque is in the intramural district of Houmat al-Jami (literally "area of the Great Mosque"). This location corresponded originally to the heart of the urban fabric of the city founded by Uqba ibn Nafi.

But because of the specific nature of the land, crossed by several tributaries of the wadis, the urban development of the city stretched southwards. Then there are the upheavals of Kairouan following Hilalian 's invasions in 449 AH (or 1057 AD) and which led to the decline of the city. For all these reasons, the mosque (which occupies the same place since its founding in 670) is not any more situated in the center of the medina, and is thereby positioned on the extremity, near the walls.

The building is a vast irregular quadrilateral, longer (with 127.60 meters) from the eastern side than on the opposite side (with 125.20 meters) and less wide (with 72.70 meters) on the north side (the minaret) that the opposite side (with 78 meters). It covers a total area of 9000 m2.

From the outside, the Great Mosque of Kairouan is a fortress-like building, which required as much by its massive ocher walls of 1.90 meters thick composed of well-worked stones, courses of rubble stone and courses of baked bricks, as the square angle towers measuring 4.25 meters on each side and the solid and projecting buttresses that support and bind. More than a defensive role, the buttresses and towers full serve more to enhance the stability of the mosque built on a soil subject to compaction. Although a seemingly harsh, the external facades, punctuated with powerful buttresses and towering Porches, some of which are surmounted by cupolas, give to the sanctuary a striking aspect characterized by majestic sobriety.



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View of the Great Mosque of Kairouan in the Early Twentieth Century

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One of the doors of the mosque in early twentieth century

At the foundation of Kairouan in 670, the Arab general and conqueror Uqba Ibn Nafi (himself the founder of the city) has chosen the site of his mosque in the center of the city, near the headquarters of the governor. Shortly after its construction, the mosque was destroyed about 690, during the occupation of Kairouan by the Berbers, originally conducted by Kusaila. It was rebuilt by the Ghassanid general Hasan ibn Al – Numan in 703. With the gradual increase of the population of Kairouan and the consequent increase in the number of faithfuls, Hisham ibn Abd Al - Malik, Umayyad Caliph in Damacus, charged his governor Bishr ibn Safwan to carry out development work in the city which include the renovation and expansion of the mosque at around 724–728 years. In view of its expansion, he pulled down the mosque and rebuilded it with the exception of the mihrab, it was under his auspices the construction of the minaret began. In 774, a new reconstruction accompanied by modifications and embellishments, took place under the direction of the Abbasid governor Yazid Ibn Hatim. 

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 Current Plan of the Great Mosque of Kairouan

Under the rule of Aghlabid sovereigns , Kairouan is at its apogee and the mosque profited from this period of stability and prosperity. In 836, Ziadet Allah I reconstructed the mosque once more : this is when the building acquired, at least in its entirety, the appearance we see today, at the same time the mihrab's ribbed dome on squinches was raised. Around 862 - 863, Abul Ibrahim enlarged the oratory, with three bays to the north, and adds the cupola over the arched portico which precedes the prayer hall. In 875 Ibrahim II built another three bays, thereby reducing the size of the courtyard which was further limited on the three other sides by the addition of double galleries.

The current state of the mosque can be traced back to the reign of Aghlabids — no element is earlier than the ninth century besides the mihrab — except for some partial restorations and a few later additions made in 1025 during the reign of Zirids, 1249 and 1293 to 1294 under the reign of Hafsids 1618 at the time of mouradites beys, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. In 1967, major restoration work, over five years and conducted under the direction of the National Institute of Archeology and Art, are being launched throughout the monument, and ends with an official reopening of the mosque during the celebration of Mawlid of 1972

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Pilgrims around one of the wells

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Colonnaded gallery above the prayer hall

Several centuries after its founding, the Great Mosque of Kairouan is the subject of numerous descriptions by Arab historians and geographers in the Middle Ages. The stories concern mainly the different phases of construction and expansion of the sanctuary, and the successive contributions of many princes to the interior decoration (mihrab, minbar, ceilings, etc.). Among the authors who have written on the subject and whose stories have survived are Al – Bakri (Andalusian geographer and historian who died in 1094 and who devoted a sufficiently detailed account of the history of the mosque in his book Description of Septentrional Africa), Al – Nuwayri (historian who died in Egypt, 1332) and Ibn Nagi (scholar and historian of Kairouan who died around 1435).

On additions and embellishments made to the building by the Aghlabid sovereign Abul Ibrahim, Ibn Nagi gives the following account :

He built in the mosque of Kairouan the cupola that rises over the entrance to the central nave, together with the two colonnades which flank it from both sides, and the galleries were paved by him. He then made the mihrab.

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Minaret in the early twentieth

Old postcard (1900) showing the minbar and the maqsura 

Subsequently, Western travelers, poets and writers awarded by Kairouan leave impressions and testimonies sometimes tinged with emotion or admiration on the mosque. From the eighteenth century, the French doctor and naturalist John Andrew Peyssonnel, conducting a study trip to 1724, during the reign of sovereign Al – Husayn Bey I, underlines the reputation of the mosque as a deemed center of religious and secular studies :

The Great Mosque is dedicated to Uqba, where there is a famous college where we will study the remotest corners of this kingdom : are taught reading and writing of Arabic grammar, laws and religion. There are large rents for the maintenance of teachers.

At the same time,the doctor and Anglican priest Thomas Shaw (1692–1751), touring the Tunis Regency and passes through Kairouan in 1727, described the mosque as that : " which is considered the most beautiful and the most sacred of Berberian territories ", evoking for example : " an almost unbelievable number of granite columns ".

At the end of the nineteenth century , the French writer Guy de Maupassant expresses in his book La vie errante (The wandering), his fascination with the majestic architecture of the Great Mosque of Kairouan as well as the effect created by countless columns : " The unique harmony of this temple consists in the proportion and the number of these slender shafts upholding the building, filling, peopling, and making it what it is, create its grace and greatness. Their colorful multitude gives the eye the impression of unlimited". Early in the twentieth century, the Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilker describes his admiration for the impressive minaret :

Is there a more beautiful than this still preserved old tower, the minaret, in Islamic architecture ? In the history of Art, its three-storey minaret is considered such a masterpiece and a model among the most prestigious monuments of Muslim architecture.

Architecture and ornaments
Overview of the building (center), southern facade to the outside (left) and Minaret seen from the courtyard (right)


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Bab Lalla Rihana (late thirteenth century)

Today, the enclosure of the Great Mosque of Kairouan is pierced by nine gates (six opening on the courtyard, two opening on the prayer hall and a ninth allows access to the maqsura) some of them, such as Bab Al-Ma (Gate of water) located on the western facade, are preceded by salient porches flanked by buttresses and surmounted by ribbed domes based on square tholobate which are porting squinches with three vaults. However, Arab geographers and historians of the Middle Ages Al – Muqaddasi and Al – Bakri reported the existence, around the tenth and eleventh centuries, of about ten gates named differently from today. This reflects the fact that, unlike the rest of the mosque, the enclosure has undergone significant changes to ensure the stability of the building (adding many buttresses). Thus, some entries have been sealed, while others were kept.

During the thirteenth century, new gates were opened, the most remarkable, Bab Lalla Rihana dated from 1293, is located on the eastern wall of the enclosure. The monumental entrance, work of the Hafsid sovereign Abu Hafs `Umar ibn Yahya (reign from 1284 to 1295), is entered in a salient square, flanked by ancient columns supporting des Horsehoe Arches and covered by a dome on squinches. The front facade of the porch has a large horseshoe arch relied on two marble columns and surmounted by a frieze adorned with a blind arcade, all crowned by serrated merlons (in a sawtooth arrangement). Despite its construction at the end of the thirteenth century, Bab Lalla Rihana blends well with all of the building mainly dating from the ninth century.

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View of the eastern wall of the enclosure
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View of the south wall

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Wall and porches on the west wall (south side)

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 Wall and porches on the west wall (towards the middle)


Courtyard area and porticoes

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View of the courtyard surrounded by porticoes and dominated by the minaret

It is possible to access the courtyard by one of the six side entrances dating from the ninth and thirteenth centuries; so we discover a vast trapezoidal area whose interior dimensions are approximately 65 by 50 meters. It is surrounded on all its four sides by a portico with double rows of arches, opened by slightly horseshoe arches supported by coloumns in various marble, in granite or in porphyry, reused from Roman , Early Christian or Byzantine monuments particularly from Carthage. 

The portico on the south side of the courtyard near the prayer hall, includes in its middle a high and wide arch full overridden and broken centering based on columns of precious marble with Corinthian capitals. This imposing porch of seven meters high, is topped with a square base upon which rests a semi-spherical ribbed dome ; the dodecagonal drum of the dome is pierced by sixteen small rectangular windows listed in rounded niches. The great central arch of the south portico, is flanked on each side by six rhythmically arranged horseshoe arches, which fall on the twin columns backed by pillars. Overall, the proportions and general provisions of the facade of the south portico, with its thirteen arches of which that in the middle constitutes a sort of triumphal arch crowned with a cupola, form an ensemble with " a powerful air of majesty ", according to historian and sociologist Paul Sebag.
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 View of the courtyard on the side of the prayer hall wall
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 Porch topped with a ribbed dome rising in the middle of the south portico of the courtyard
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 Portico located on the eastern side of the courtyard

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 Interior view of one of the galleries that surround the courtyard
 Details of the courtyard

Close up of the sundial located in the courtyard 

Thus, the combination formed by the courtyard and the galleries that surround it covers an immense area whose dimensions are about 90 meters long and 72 meters in width. The northern part of the courtyard is paved with flagstones while the rest of the floor is almost entirely composed of white marble slabs. Near its center is an horizontal sundials, bearing an inscription in naskhi engraved on the marble dating from 1258 AH (which corresponds to the year 1843) and which is accessed by a little staircase ; it determines the time of prayers. The rainwater collector or impluvium, probably the work of the Muradid Bey Mohamed Bey al-Mouradi (1686 – 1696), is an ingenious system that ensures the capture (with the slightly sloping surface of the courtyard) then filtering stormwater at a central pool furnished with horseshoe arches sculpted in white marble. Freed from its impurities, the water flows into an underground cistern supported by seven meters high pillars. In the courtyard there are also several water wells some of which are placed side by side. Their edges, obtained from the lower parts of ancient cored columns, support the string grooves back the buckets.

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Details of the courtyard capitals surmounted by a small sundial

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Detail of arches and columns of the north portico of the courtyard

Focus on collecting rainwater

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Focus on one well of the courtyard


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Minaret consisting of a square tower of three decreasing levels, the third level is topped with a small ribbed dome

Door of the Minaret

The Minaret, which occupies the center of the northern wall, the closest of the building, with its 31.5 meters tall and is seated on a square base of 10.7 meters on each side. Located inside the enclosure and does not have direct access from the outside, It consists of three tapering levels the last of which is topped with a small ribbed dome which is most probably built later than the rest of the tower. Each of the three tiers has a railing with crenelated rounded battlements. The Minaret was serving both as a watchtower and to call the faithful to prayer.

The door that opens access is lined with ancient sculptures. Stones from the Roman and period which bear Latin inscriptions, the use of which probably dates to the work done under Umayyad governor Bishr ibn Safwan at around 725, have been reused at the base of the tower. The greater part of the minaret, work of Aghlabid princes (ninth century), consists of regular layers of carefully cut rubble stone, thus giving the work a stylistic homogeneity and unity considered admirable.

The interior includes a staircase of 129 steps, surmounted by a barrel vault, which gives access to terraces and first tier of the Minaret. The south wall of the courtyard is pierced with windows that provide light and ventilation while the other three walls, facing north, east and west, are pierced with small openings in the form of Arrowlits. Dating from the early eighth century, or 836, it is in both cases the oldest minaret in the Muslim World and also the world's oldest still standing.

Due to its age and its architectural features, the minaret of the Great Mosque of Kairouan is the prototype of all the minarets of the Muslim West : it served as a model both in North Africa and in Andalusia. Despite its massive form and austere decoration, it nevertheless presents an harmonious structure and a majestic appearance.

Prayer hall

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The largest and most ornate door of the 17 carved wooden doors opening onto the prayer hall

The prayer hall is located on the southern side of the courtyard ; and is accessed by 17 carved wooden doors. A portico with double row of arches precede the spacious Prayer Hall, which takes the shape of a rectangle of 70.6 meters in width and 37.5 meters depth.

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Nave lit by chandeliers (in the bottom is the mihrab and at his right the minbar)

The hypostyle hall is divided into 17 aisles of eight bays, the central nave is wider, as well as the bay along the wall of the qibla. They cross with right angle in front of the mihrab, this device, named "T shape", which is also found in two Iraqi mosques in Samarra (around 847) has been adopted in many North African and Andalusian mosques where it became a feature.

The central nave, a sort of triumphal alley which leads to the mihrab, is significantly higher and wider than the other sixteen aisles of the prayer hall. It is bordered on each side of a double row of arches rested on twin columns and surmounted by a carved plaster decoration consisting of floral and geometric patterns.

Enlightened by impressive chandeliers which are applied in countless small glass lamps, the nave opens into the south portico of the courtyard by a monumental delicately carved wooden door, made in 1828 under the reign of the Husainids. This sumptuous door, which has four leaves richly carved with geometric motifs embossed on the bottom of foliages and interlacing stars, is decorated at the typanum by a stylized vase from which emerge winding stems and leaves. The other doors of the prayer hall, some of which date from the time of Hafsid, are distinguished by their decor with patterned essentially geometric (hexagonal, octagonal, rectangular, etc.).
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 Perspective in the gallery along the prayer hall
 Focus on a carved wooden door of the prayer hall

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 Focus on the rich sculptural decoration of the upper part of the main door of the prayer hall

Interior view of the prayer Hall 

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Focus on the columns of the prayer hall

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View of the large chandeliers in the central nave of the prayer hall

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Dome raised at the beginning of the central nave

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Exterior view of the dome above the mihrab

Columns and ceiling

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Twin Columns in various marbles and with ancient capitals in the prayer Hall

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Close view of the mihrab's dome (first half of the 9th century)

In the prayer hall, the 414 columns of precious marbles , granite or porphyry (among more than 500 columns in the whole mosque), taken from ancient sites in the country such as Sbeitla Carthage, Hadrumetum and Chemtou, support the horsehoe arches. A legend says they could not count them without going blind. The capitals overcoming the drums columns offer a wide variety of shapes and styles (Corinthian, ion, Composite, etc..). Some capitals were carved for the mosque, but others come from Roman buildings or Byzantine (Dating from the second to sixth century) and were reused. According to the German archaeologist Christian Ewert, the special arrangement of reused columns and capitals surrounding the mihrab obeys to a well-defined program and would draw symbolically the plan of the Dome of the Rock. The shafts of the columns are carved in marble of different colors and different backgrounds. Those in white marble come from Itlay, some shafts located in the area of the mihrab are in red Porphyry imported from Eqypt, while those made of greenish or pink marble are from quarries of Chemtou, in the north-west of current Tunisia. Although the shafts are of varying heights, the columns are ingeniously arranged to support fallen arches harmoniously. The height difference is compensated by the development of variable bases, capitals and crossbeans; a number of these crossbeams are in cedar wood. The wooden rods, which usually sink to the base of the transom, connect the columns together and maintain the spacing of the arches, thus enhancing the stability of all structures which support the ceiling of the prayer hall.

The covering of the prayer hall consists of painted ceilings decorated with vegetal motifs and two domes : one raised at the beginning of the central nave and the other in front of the mihrab. The latter, which its hemispherical cap is cut by 24 concave grooves radiating around the top, is based on ridged horns shaped shell and a drum pierced by eight circular windows which are inserted between sixteen niches grouped by two. The niches are covered with carved stone panels, finely adorned with geometric and floral motifs characteristics of the Aghlabid decorative repertoire : shells, cusped arches, rosettes, vine-leaf, etc. From the outside, the dome of the mihrab is based on an octagonal drum with slightly concave sides, raised on a square base, decorated on each of its three southern, Easter and western faces with five flat-bottomed niches surmounted by five semi-circular arches, the niche in the middle is cut by a lobed oculus enrolled in a circular frame. This dome, whose construction goes back to the first half of the ninth century (towards 836), is one of the oldest and most remarkable domes in the western Islamic world.

View of the ceiling of the prayer hall 

The painted ceilings are a unique ensemble of planks, beams and brackets, illustrating almost thousand years of the history of painting on wood in Tunisia. Wooden brackets offer a wide variety of style and decor in the shape of a crow or a grasshopper with wings or fixed, they are characterized by a setting that combines floral painted or carved, with grooves. The oldest boards date back to the Aghlabid period (ninth century) and are decorated with scrolls and rosettes on a red background consists of squares with concave sides in which are inscribed four-petaled flowers in green and blue, and those performed by the Zirid Dynasty (eleventh century) are characterized by inscriptions in black kufic writing with gold rim and the uprights of the letters end with lobed florets, all on a brown background adorned with simple floral patterns.

The boards painted under the Hafsid period (during the thirteenth century) offers a floral decor consists of white and blue arches entwined with lobed green. The latest, dated the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (mostly dating from the time of Mouradit Beys), are distinguished by an epigraphic decoration consists of long black and red text on green-olive to those painted from 1618 to 1619, under the reign of Murad I, Bey, while those back to the eighteenth century have inscriptions in naskhi white in an orange background. 

Mihrab and minbar

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 View of the mihrab and the minbar (on his right) which leads the central nave of the prayer hall

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Close view of the mihrab, whose current state dates from the ninth century

The mihrab, which indicates the Qibla (direction of Mecca), in front of which stands the imam during the prayer, is located in the middle of the southern wall of the prayer hall. It is formed by a oven-shaped niche framed by two marble columns and topped by a painted wooden half-cupola. The niche of the mihrab is two meters long, 4.5 meters high and 1.6 meters deep.

The mosque's mihrab, whose decor is a remarkable witness of Muslim Art in the early centuries of Islam, is distinguished by its harmonious composition and the quality of its ornaments. Considered as the oldest example of concave mihrab it dates in its present state to 862-863 AD.

It is surrounded at its upper part by 139 ceramic lustre tiles (with a metallic sheen), each one is 21.1 centimeters square and they are arranged on the diagonal in a chessboard pattern. Divided into two groups, they are dated from the beginning of the second half of the ninth century but we don't know with certainty whether they were made in Baghdad or in Kairouan by a Baghdadi artisan, the controversy over the origin of this precious collection agitates the specialists. These tiles are mainly decorated with floral and plant motifs (stylized flowers, palm leaves and asymmetrical leaves on bottom hatch and checkered) belong to two series : one polychrome characterized by a greater richness of tones ranging from light gold to light, dark or ocher yellow, and from brick-red to brown lacquer, the other monochrome is a beautiful luster that goes from smoked gold to green gold. The coating around them is decorated with blue plant motifs dating from the eighteenth century or the first half of the nineteenth century. The horseshoe arch of the mihrab, stilted and broken at the top, rest on two columns of red marble with yellow veins, which surmounted with Byzantine style capitals that carry two crossbeams carved with floral patterns, each one is decorated with an inscription in kufic relief.

 Close view of the upper part of the mihrab

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Wall of the mihrab covered with openwork marble panels

The wall of the mihrab is covered with 28 panels of white marble, carved and pierced, which have a wide variety of plant and geometric patterns including the stylized grape leaf, the flower and the shell. Behind the openwork hint, there is an oldest niche on which several assumptions were formulated. If one refers to the story of Al-Bakri, an Andalusian historian and geographer of the eleventh century, it is the mihrab which would be done by Uqba Ibn Nafi, the founder of Kairouan, whereas Lucien Golvin shares the view that it is not an old mihrab but hardly a begun construction which may serve to support marble panels and either goes back to work of Ziadet Allah I (817-838) or to those of Ibrahim Abul around the years 862-863. Above the marble cladding, the mihrab niche is crowned with a half dome-shaped vault made of manchineel bentwood. Covered with a thick coating completely painted, the concavity of the arch is decorated with intertwined scrolls enveloping stylized five-lobed vine leaves, three-lobed florets and sharp clusters, all of yellow on blue night.

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Focus on the mihrab and the minbar in 1930

The minbar, situated on the right of the mihrab, is used by the imam during the Friday or Eids sermons, is a staircase-shaped pulpit with an upper seat, reached by eleven steps, and measuring 3.93 meters length to 3.31 meters in height. Dated from the ninth century (about 862) and erected under the reign of the sixth Aghlabid ruler Abul Ibrahim (856-863), it is made in teak wood imported from India. Among all the pulpits of the Muslim world, it is certainly the oldest example of minbar still preserved today. Probably made by cabinetmakers of Kairouan (some researchers also refer to Baghdad), it consists of more than 300 pieces of carved and assembled with an exceptional ornamental wealth (vegetal and geometric patterns refer to the Umayyad and Abbasid models), among which about 90 rectangular panels carved with plenty of pine cones, thin and flexible stems, fruits lanceolate delicately chiselled surface and various geometric shapes (squares, diamonds, stars, etc.). The upper edge of the minbar ramp is decorated with a rich background that includes vegetation foliage wound alternating loops, each loop involves a fig leaf spread with a bunch of grapes hanging. In the early twentieth century, the Minbar had a painstaking restoration. Although more than eleven centuries of existence, all panels, with the exception of nine, are originals and are in a good state of conservation, the fineness of the execution of the minbar makes him a real head-d work referring to Paul Sebag. This old chair of the ninth century is still in its original location, next to the mihrab.


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View of the maqsura decorated with a frieze that includes a kufic character calligraphic inscription

The maqsura, located near the minibar, a perimeter fence is a private enclosure that allows the sovereign and his senior officials to follow the solemn prayer of Friday without mingling with the faithful. Jewel of the art of woodwork produced during the reign of the Zirid prince Al – Muizz ibn Badis and dated the first half of the eleventh century, it is considered the oldest still in place in the Islamic world. It is a clear wood fence finely sculpted and carved on three sides with various geometric motifs measuring 2.8 meters tall, eight meters long and six meters wide. Its main adornment is a frieze that crowns calligraphy, the latter surmounted by a line of pointed openwork merlons, features an inscription in flowery kufic character carved on the background of interlacing plants, representing one of the most beautiful epigraphic bands of Islamic art. 

The library is near located, accessible by a door which the jambs and the lintels are carved in marble, adorned with a frieze of floral decoration. The library window is marked by an elegant setting that has two columns flanking the opening, which is a horseshoe arch topped by six blind arches and crowned by a series of berms sawtooth.


The Mosque of Uqba, one of the few religious buildings of Islam has remained intact almost all of its architectural and decorative elements, is due to the richness of its repertoire which is a veritable museum of Islamics decorative art and architecture. Most of the works on which the reputation of the mosque are still conserved in situ while a number have joined the collections of Raqqada National Museum of Islamic Art ; Raqqada is located about ten kilometers southwest of Kairouan.

From the library of the mosque comes a large collection of calligraphic scrolls and manuscripts, the oldest dating back to the second half of the ninth century. This valuable collection, observed from the late nineteenth century by the French orientalists Octave Houdas and René Basset who mention in their report on their scientific mission in Tunisia published in the Journal of African correspondence in 1882, comprises according to the established inventory the time of Hafsid (circa 1293-1294) several Qur'ans and books of fiqh that concern mainly the Maliki fiqh and its sources. These are the oldest fund of Maliki legal literature to have survived. 

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Two layers of the Blue Koran, originally in the library of the mosque

Among the finest works of this series, the blue pages of the Qur'an, currently exhibited at Raqqada National Museum of Islamic Art, from a famous Qur'an in the second half of the fourth century of the Hegira (the tenth century) most of which is preserved in Tunisia and the rest scattered in museums and private collections worldwide. Featuring kufic character suras are written in gold on vellum dyed with indigo, they are distinguished by a compact graph with no marks for vowels. The beginning of each Surah is indicated by a band consisting of a stylized leafy foliage, dotted with golden and red and blue, while the verses are separated by silver rosettes. Other scrolls and calligraphic Qur'ans, as that known as the Hadinah's Qur'an, copied and illuminated by the calligrapher Ali ibn Ahmad al-Warraq for the governess of the Zirid prince Al-Muizz ibn Badis at about 1020 AD, were also in the library before being transferred to Raqqada museum. This collection is a unique source for studying the history and evolution of calligraphy of medieval manuscripts in the Maghreb, covering the period from the ninth to the eleventh century.

Other works of art such as the crowns of light (circular chandeliers) made in cast bronze, dating from the Fatimid – Zirid period (around tenth-early eleventh century), originally belonged to the furniture of the mosque. These polycandelon, now scattered in various Tunisian museums including Raqqada consist of three chains, supporting a perforated brass plate, which has a central circular ring around which radiate 18 equidistant poles connected by many horseshoe arches and equipped for each of two landmarks flared. The three chains, connected by a suspension ring, are each fixed to the plate by an almond-shaped finial. The crowns of light are marked by Byzantine influence to which the Kairouanese artisan brought the specificities of Islamic decorative repertoire (geometric and floral motifs). 

Role in Muslim civilization

At the time of its greatest splendor, between ninth and eleventh centuries, Kairouan is one of the greatest centers of Islamic civilization and its reputation as a hotbed of scholarship covers the entire Maghreb. During this period, the Great Mosque of Kairouan is both a place of prayer and a center for teaching Islamic sciences under the Maliki current. We can compare its role to that of the University of Paris during the Middle Ages.

In addition to studies on the deepening of religious thought and Maliki jurisprudence, the mosque also hosts various courses in secular subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine and botany. The transmission of knowledge is assured by prominent scholars and theologians which include Sahnun ibn Said and Asad ibn Al – Furat, eminent jurists who contributed greatly to the dissemination of the Maliki thought, Ishaq ibn Imran and Ibn Al – Jazzar in medicine, Abu Sahl al-Kairouani and Abd al-Kindi al-Monim in mathematics. Thus the mosque, headquarters of a prestigious university with a large library containing a large number of scientific and theological works, was the most remarkable intellectual and cultural center in North Africa during the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries.

Other images of the mosque
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One of the gates of the western wall
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 Massive minaret of the mosque (8th-9th century)
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View of the prayer hall wall
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Horseshoe arches in the portico preceding the prayer hall
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View of the hypostyle prayer hall
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 Central nave of the prayer hall (mihrab and minbar in the background)
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Antique marble columns in the prayer hall
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 Detail of ancient composite capitals of marble columns
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Perspective in one of the galleries surrounding the courtyard
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 One of the arched porticoes of the courtyard
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Water well in the courtyard
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 Minaret seen at night


  1. dasht to dasht darya bhi na choray hum ne
    behr e zulmaat main dora diye ghoray hum ne

    great warrior sahabi hazrat uqba bin nafae RA
    i love him
    may he rest in peace in his grave

  2. I love Hazrat Uqba Bin Nafi RA
    I want to be like him
    I try to imagine how he was and how he ran his horse into the atlantic and said those historic words which make the kuffar shivers in their graves