Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Great Mosque of Kairouan

By Sufiyanu Momoh

           The great mosque of Kairouan is located in Kairouan; the Islamic capital of Tunisia founded by the Arabs around the year 670. The city Kairouan is a UNESCO world heritage site meaning it has some type of special culture or physical significance, the great mosque of Kairouan being one of them. The great mosque was built at the founding of the city by the Arabs as Kairouan became a major Islamic center after Mecca and Medina.
            It is also known as the mosque of Uqba, named after the Arab general Uqba Ibn Nafi, who built the mosque at the founding of the city. The mosque covers a surface area of 9000 square meters. It is the largest mosque in north Africa with a perimeter of about 405 meters. It consists of a large prayer hall covered with a roof supported by well-decorated columns, a large courtyard paved with marbles and a huge square minaret. The building has an irregular quadrilateral shape, longer on the east side than on the south side. It has a tall detailed minaret at the middle of the north side. The building is made with thick walls and large powerful buttresses to hold the walls.  It is simply a masterpiece of Islamic architecture.
            In 670 when the foundation of the mosque started, general Uqba choose the location of the mosque at the center of the city. In 690 the mosque was destroyed by the Berbers while they occupied Kairouan. The mosque was later rebuilt in 703. Around the 720's as the population of Kairouan increase, the government at that time decided to carry out a development work of the city and a renovation of the mosque. During this renovation was when the construction of the minaret started. About four more renovations were made between 770 and 870. In the 1900's the most recent significant renovations were made by the National Institute of Archaeology and Art.
            The building covers a total surface area of 9,000 square meters and has an exterior wall with nine gates, six openings into the courtyard, two openings on the prayer hall and the last one leading into a maqsurah; an enclosure designed to shield the lead worshiper from assassins.  According to Arab photographers and researchers, the buttresses on the exterior enclosure were more recent changes made to ensure stability in the exterior wall. The building has two domes on the roof above the payer hall. one above the mihrab and the other above the southern portico.

            The great mosque of Uqba being a place for both prayers and Islamic teaching made it one of the greatest center for Islamic civilization. In addition to the religious studies that go on in the mosque, the mosque host all other courses in secular subjects. The mosque aided in the development of the city as its presence brought a large population of people to the city.  Being the head quarter of other good universities the mosque is regarded as one of the most intellectual and cultural area in north Africa. . 

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