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PILGRIMAGE TO KAIROUAN

We don’t venture inland often (not often enough in my opinion) so when our paths crossed with fellow cruisers Paul and Gabriella on BellaNova they inspired us to take a daytrip to the ancient city of Kairouan.  They had worked all the logistics and we went along for the ride.  .  .and what a ride it was!

On busy two lane roads, passing is hair raising.

Kairouan is approximately 90 KM from Monastir.  We took a taxi to the bus station near the center of town, where mini-vans (louages) depart for various locations throughout Tunisia.  There is no scheduled departure, so you wait until the van fills up–5 to 8 passengers depending on the size.  For 5.5 Dinar per person, or about $3.25 we were off to Kairouan.

Although there are some four-lane highways running north and south along the coast, once you head inland it is mostly two lanes, which makes for a very interesting ride.  The driver would ride the bumper of the vehicle ahead, ducking his nose out for a passing opportunity.  Most times there was another vehicle coming right at us, but we were back in our lane in the knick of time.  At times it was just best to close your eyes.

Paul had a philosophical approach.  If the driver didn’t get us to Kairouan in one piece he wouldn’t get paid, and if he wrecked his van he loses his livelihood–so he probably knows what he is doing.

So, having described the trip there, you may be wondering WHY GO?

Kairouan, we were to learn, is the fourth most important city in the Islamic world after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem and the site of The Great Mosque. 

A first glimpse of the minaret at the Great Mosque made the trip worthwhile.

After paying 8 TD or about $5.00 we had passes to all the major sites in Kairouan.  Permission to take photos was another Dinar, about $.50.

At one end of the large courtyard is the Minaret, which is unsual in its lighthouse shape design. . .

while at the other end the dome of the Mosque is striking against the blue sky.

This is a solemn religious  site, where non-Muslims are expected to exhibit proper decorum in behavior and dress.  Those appearing without the appropriate clothing–no short skirts, shorts or bare arms for women–are given appropriate, but not stylish coverings to wear.

Graphic t-shirts and shorts require covering. . .

in order to peer in the door of the mosque--"infidels" not allowed inside.

The view from the main entrance of the Great Mosque where the faithful gather for prayers five times a day. . .

while just outside swallows swirl about the courtyard. . .

as seen through the many keyhole arches that support the arcades that surround the courtyard.

A friendly Tunisian man,  hoping for a few Dinar tip, offered to show us through the maze-like Medina of narrow streets where artists and craftsmen weave silk scarves on wooden looms, hammer brass into lamps or trays, and cut and hand stitch leather into Aladdin-like shoes with curled toes.   The town has the mythical feel of 1,000 Arabian nights.

Maze-like streets. . .

lead to small cubicles where men weave silk scarves on wooden looms. . .

and a fancy carpet gallery where a woman demonstrates making Kairouan carpets, although most are made at home.

Our “guide”, Ahmed introduces us to a local speciality that we can take back to Destiny–Makroudhs is a date-filled pastry similar to bacalava, but denser than phyllo dough.  First the filled pastry is laid out in long lines, then cut into bite size pieces.  Next, it is cooked in hot oil then soaked in honey.

First the date-filled dough is laid out in long strips, then cut into bite size pieces. . .

and after frying, into the vat of honey.

The candy size pieces soak for hours in a copper vat of honey and then are dusted with sesame seeds or finely chopped nuts.  Every bite oozes the sweet local nectar–heavenly–and no additives or preservatives.

Ahmed not only introduced us to Makroudhs, but told us that Kairouan is called the “town of 300 mosques” some of which are quite small.

The Mosque of Three Doors, is famous. . .

while others are just one of the 300.

He also told us the significance of the highly ornate doors surrounds we saw as we walked through the Old Town.

Doorways like this. . .

with elaborate ornamentation. . .

signify that a family has made a pilgrimage to Mecca

Ahmed was not interested in showing us the “souk” or commercial shopping area which is quite touristy.  We suspect that he was rewarded for taking us to the out of the way spots, in addition to the few Dinar we gave him. 

The ancient walls of the Medina are a backdrop for. . .

Plastic mannequins in Arabian nights garb. . .

uninspired displays of pottery. . .

and carpets. . .lots of carpets.

Since I was a “tourist for the day” I couldn’t resist a set of five olive wood bowls that nested one into the other.  Especially when I successfully negotiated the price from 40 Dinar to 15–about $9.75.  Bargaining is not only acceptable, but expected in the souk, and is considered a sign of respect for the merchant.

After a brief stop for tea in the souk, we were off for the bus station for our return to Monastir.  The return trip was equally exciting.  We arrived safely with the aroma of onion clinging to our skin.

Yes, onions. . .lots of onions enroute to Monastir.

Au revoir.

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