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The Mosque of Uqba (Arabic: جامع عقبة), also known as the Great Mosque of Kairouan (Arabic: جامع القيروان الأكبر), is one of the most important mosques in Tunisiamarker.

Built by Uqba ibn Nafi from 670 A.D. (the year 50 according to the Islamic calendar) at the founding of the city of Kairouanmarker, 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 415 metres (1,361 feet).This space contains a hypostyle prayer hall, a huge marble-paved courtyard and a massive 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, the fame of the Mosque of Uqba and of the other holy sites at Kairouanmarker helped the city to develop and repopulate little by little. The university, consisting of scholars who met 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 Parismarker in the Middle Ages. With the decline of the city, the centre of intellectual thought moved to the University of Ez-Zitouna in Tunismarker.


The present form of the mosque dates back to the Aghlabid dynasty (with the exception of a few partial restorations and several later additions). Prior to this era, the mosque had been reconstructed several times following the successive invasions of Kairouan. With the exception of the mihrab, no part of the mosque is older than the 9th century.
Cupola above the main entrance of the prayer hall added in 863
Shortly after its construction, the mosque was destroyed during the occupation of Kairouan by the Berbers, led at first by Kusaila (around 690). The mosque was reconstructed by the Arab Emir ("commander" or "chieftain") Hasan ibn al-Nu'man around 10 years later. In light of Kairouan’s growing population, Hichâm ibn Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad Caliph of Damascusmarker, ordered work to be undertaken in the city, which included the destruction of the mosque (with the exception of the mihrab) and its subsequent reconstruction.

Under the Aghlabid rulers, Kairouan was at its apogee and the mosque profited from this period of stability and prosperity. In 836, Ziadet-Allah I reconstructed the mosque once more . In 863, Abou-Ibrahim increased the size of the oratory with the addition of three bays to the north, and added the cupola over the entry. In 875, Ibrahim II constructed 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. After this date, the mosque did not undergo more than minor changes or restoration work.


Floor plan
Minaret of the Mosque of Uqba
The Mosque of Uqba greatly resembles an imposing fortress, a consequence of the 1.9 metre thick stones that were used to build its walls and its ramparts, in addition to its towers and the solid buttresses that support and strengthen the walls. The mosque takes the form of an irregular quadrilateral, which is wider on the side of the main entrance (138 metres) than on the opposite side (128 metres) and thinner on the side of the minaret (71 metres) than on the opposite side (77 metres).

The courtyard is accessible via six lateral doorways and forms a rectangle (approximately 65 metres x 50 metres in size) surrounded by double galleries supported by columns made variously of marble, granite or porphyry and which were taken from ancient Roman and Byzantine monuments (primarily from Carthagemarker), as were those in the prayer hall. Near to the centre of the courtyard, there is a rainwater collector, which filters the water before allowing it to pass into the cistern located underneath the courtyard, and a sundial.

The minaret, which serves both as a watchtower and to call the faithful to prayer, is made of three tiers with a total height of 31.5 metres, thereby dominating the urban landscape of Kairouan . It is built on a square base that is 10.5 metres long on each side. The mosque's minaret, which was begun by the Umayyad governor Bishr Ibn Safouan around 725 and completed by the Aghlabid sovereigns in the 9th century, is the oldest standing minaret in the world.

The prayer hall, which is accessible via 17 carved wooden doors, is divided into 17 naves and eight bays including more than 400 white marble, red porphyry and blue granite columns similar to those in the courtyard. The minbar, which dates to the 9th century, making it the oldest in the Islamic world, is made of around 300 pieces of sculpted teak . To the right of it is the maksoura, a delicately chiseled cedar wood enclosure which allows dignitaries to be separated from other visitors.The mihrab marking the direction of Meccamarker is clad with twenty-eight carved marble panels decorated with a great variety of vegetal and geometric motifs, among them the stylized vine leaf in its different forms, shells inside an arched shape, braids, vegetal motifs rolled up around a central axis and the floweret. This elaborate decoration combines both Byzantine and Umayyad influences .The upper part of the mihrab is carefully adorned with 139 luster ceramic tiles dating from the second half of the 9th century , all the tiles are 21 cm square and 1 cm thick. TheKairouan mihrab collection, which is one of the most remarkable specimens of lusterware ceramics, probably came from Mesopotamia ( possibly Baghdadmarker, Basramarker or Samarramarker ) as attested by the Arab author Ibn Nagi and confirmed by physicochemical analyses .From an aesthetic and ornamental point of view, the precious facade of the mihrab is considered as one of the most harmonious compositions in Muslim art.

About the large number of columns, a legend says that it is not possible to count the columns of the Mosque of Uqba without going blind.

Image gallery

Image:IMGP7533.JPG|Massive minaret of the mosque (8th-9th century)Image:Bab Lalla Rihana Osttor der Grossmoschee.JPG|Eastern exterior wallImage:GreatMosqueofKairouanTunisia.jpg|The huge courtyard and the minaretImage:mosqueeKairouan_3.jpg|Courtyard and sundialImage:Kairouan Mosque court.jpg|Courtyard and facade of the prayer hallImage:Grand Mosque of Kairouan.jpg|Facade of the prayer hallImage:Galerie grande mosquée.jpg|Colonnade abutting the prayer hallImage:mosqueeKairouan_6bis.jpg|The large prayer hallImage:mosqueeKairouan_7bis.jpg|Prayer hall (mihrab and minbar in the background)Image:Mihrab kairouan 1930.jpg|Mihrab and minbar in 1930Image:IMGP7548.JPG|Arches and columns in the prayer hallImage:Imgp7544.jpg|Antique marble columns in the prayer hallImage:IMGP7553.JPG|Chandeliers in the central nave of the prayer hallImage:IMGP7551.JPG|Carved wooden door with geometric and floral motifsImage:IMGP7559.JPG|Detail of columnsImage:Kairouan Mosque gallery.jpg|Perspective in a galleryImage:IMGP7543.JPG|Horseshoe arches in a galleryImage:TUNISIE KAIROUAN 04.jpg|Exterior view of the dome above the mihrabImage:Cour mosquée Kairouan.jpg|One of the galleries lining the courtyardImage:Cadran solaire Kairouan.jpg|Detail of the sundial in the courtyardImage:Puits Mosquée de Kairouan.jpg|Water well in the courtyardImage:IMGP7538.JPG|The rainwater collectorImage:Side of the Great Mosque of Kairouan.JPG|Western exterior wallImage:Mosquée oqba Kairouan by JM ROSIER.jpg|Minaret seen at night


  1. Great Mosque of Kairouan (
  6. The Great Mosque (
  7. Titus Burckhardt Art of Islam, Language and Meaning : Commemorative Edition‎ - page 128
  8. Razia Grover Mosques, p. 52, New Holland, 2007 ISBN 1845376927, 9781845376925.
  10. Peter Harrison Castles of God: fortified religious buildings of the world - 2004 - page 229
  11. Elizabeth Allo Isichei A history of African societies to 1870 - 1997 - page 175
  12. Doğan Kuban The mosque and its early development, page 27
  15. The Minbar (Okba Ibn Nafaa Mosque in Kairouan website)
  16. Mihrāb of the Great Mosque of Kairouan (Qantara Mediterranean Heritage)
  17. Gordon Campbell The Grove encyclopedia of decorative arts, Volume 2 - 2006 - Art - page 473
  18. Archaeometry ISSN 0003-813X, 2003, vol. 45 (4), pp. 569-577 [9 page(s) (article)] (14 ref.)
  19. The forms above the Mihrab (Okba Ibn Nafaa Mosque in Kairouan website)
  20. The Mihrab (Okba Ibn Nafaa Mosque in Kairouan website)
  21. Trudy Ring, Robert M. Salkin, Sharon La Boda International Dictionary of Historic Places: Middle East and Africa - 1996 - Travel - page 389

Further reading

In English

  • Néji Djelloul, 2000. Kairouan, the Great Mosque. Editions Contrastes.
  • Paul Sebag, 1965. Great Mosque of Kairouan. New York Macmillan.
  • John D. Hoag, 1987. Islamic architecture. Rizzoli.
  • Jonathan M. Bloom, 2002. Early Islamic art and architecture. Ashgate.

In French

  • Henri Saladin, Tunis et Kairouan, Voyages à travers l'architecture, l'artisanat et les mœurs du début du XXe siècle, éd. Espace Diwan, 2002 (d'après l'édition de 1908)
  • Noureddine Harrazi, Chapiteaux de la grande Mosquée de Kairouan, Volumes 1-2, éd. Institut national d'archéologie et d'art, 1982
  • Kairouan, Capitale de l'Ifrikia, 670-1050, éd. Alyssa

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