Kairwan, Kirwan, Kerouan
mosque northern city
KAIRWAN, KIRWAN, KEROUAN (properly KAIRAWAN), the Mecca of northern Africa, is a city of the regency of Tunis, 30 miles inland from Susa, and about 80 miles due south from the capital. It is built in an open plain a little to the west of a stream which flows south to the Sidi el Heni lake. Of the luxuriant gardens and olive groves which form so prominent a feature in the early Arabic accounts of the place hardly a remnant has been left. The total circuit of the walls, according to Edward Rae, is about 3500 yards ; and the population is variously estimated from 10,000 to 15,000. A little modification of the eastern wall would make the plan an irregular hexagon. Kairwan is emphatically a religious city : no Jew is permitted to enter within its gates, and it is only at rare intervals that access has been obtained by Christian travellers, though for them in ordinary circumstances the real danger is reduced to a minimum. The more important mosques are only six in number, but the variety of the lesser religious structures is exceedingly great, and -several parts of the city are crowded with the tombs of saints and warriors of the Mahometan faith. In the northern quarter stands the great mosque founded by `Okba ibn Nafi` el Fehri, and containing within its sacred precincts the shrine of this great defender of the faith and the tombs of the kings of Tunis. It has a length of 140 yards, and the south-east and northeast ends measure respectively 85 and 75 yards. To the outside it presents a heavy buttressed wall, with little of either grandeur or grace, but in the interior, in spite of whitewash and paint, it has that magnificence of marble columns which fitted it to be the prototype of the mosque of Cordova. As no European footstep has traversed its arcades, the number of the columns has not been ascertained, but there are at least upwards of 400 of them - a mingled spoil from the Roman ruins of the surrounding country. To the Mahometan mind the crowning distinction of the building is that through Divine inspiration the founder was enabled to set it absolutely true to Mecca. In the central aisle are two pillars between which the people believe that no person with the guilt of mortal sin upon him can by any possibility pass. A unique collection of ancient armour is preserved in one of the chambers. Of greater external beauty then the great. mosque is the mosque of the Three Gates. The shrine of Sidi Ibn 'ha is worthy of note for the peculiar conjuring performances carried on every Friday by the followers of its founder ; and that of the Campanion (i.e. of the Prophet) outside of the walls is specially sacred as possessing three hairs of the Prophet's beard. Formerly famous for its carpets and its oil of roses, Kairwan is now known in northern Africa rather for copper vessels, articles in morocco leather, potash, and saltpetre. In almost every respect it has greatly declined. The Arabic historians relate the foundation of Kairwan by 'Okba with miraculous circumstances (Tahary, ii. 63 ; Yaktit, iv. 213). The date is variously given (sec Weil, Geseh. d. Chalifen, i. 283 sq.) ; according to Tabery it must have been before 670.
Sec Grenville T. Temple, Excursions in the Mediterranean, 1835; Edward Rae, The Country of the Moors, 1873 ; R. L. Mayfair, Travels in the Footsteps of Bruce, 1877.