'What a hell of a place to put a holy city', wrote the Times' military correspondent in 1939. It's certainly true that for a lot of the year the place bakes on its barren plain. We therefore decided to take the trip to Tunisia's oldest Arab city and Islam's fourth most holy city in October. We were well rewarded with certainly the most architecturally interesting city of the region and justifiably a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Most of the photos below were taken in the Medina or old city - like many towns in Tunisia consisting of a maze of narrow alleys, interspersed with interesting little covered markets (souks) and lots of mosques.
The Berber village of Takrouna is perched on the tip of a very steep hill overlooking the broad plains of the Sahel. Like many Berber villages, its inaccessability originally for defence, has meant that most of its inhabitants have left their houses to live in new concrete boxes below the hill, thus making it easier to tend their olive groves. They have left just one family to cater for tourists who come for the stupendous view.
No hairy legs on show in Kairouan's most holy mosque (left). Exquisite tiles can be seen in most of Tunisia's old buildings (right).
Berber women in local garb
local mosque in the Berber village of Hergla (above).
Mosque of The Three Doors (above)
The mausoleum of Abu Zama'a al-Balaui (above). Its occupant was a companion of Mohamed and famous for the fact that he always kept with him three hairs of the Prophet's beard - one under his tongue, one on his right arm and the other next to his heart. Most of the complex dates from the 17th and 19th centuries.
Minaret of the Great Mosque. The mosque was founded in 703, but was extensively rebuilt in 836. the oldest part of the minaret is supposed to date from 730 making it the oldest in the world. Most of the supporting arches are recycled from more ancient sites making it one of the largest museums of Roman columns and capitals in the world. In fact the prayer hall (closed to non muslims) is said to have so many columns that anyone who attempts to count them all will go blind.
October is harvest time for the delicious prickly pears - but watch out for those spines!