Kairouan (al-Qairawan, القيروان) was founded in 670/50 AH by 'Uqba ibn Nafi, the Arab general in command of the Muslim conquest of North Africa. The principal monument in the city is the Great Mosque, also known as the mosque of Sidi 'Uqba after the general who founded it. The first mosque on the site was begun immediately after the Arab conquest and consisted of a square enclosure containing a courtyard and prayer hall or sanctuary. This first building was made of mud brick and had to be restored in 695. There was another major reconstruction in 724-43 when a minaret was added. The present minaret was added by the Aghlabids in 836. It is a giant three-tier structure built of baked bricks on a base of reused ashlar blocks. At present, the minaret stands on the north wall of the courtyard but in the ninth century, it would have been outside the mosque courtyard in a manner similar to the contemporary Abbasid mosques of Samarra.
The mosque took its present form from the major rebuilding which took place under the Aghlabids which was completed in 862. The present mosque enclosure forms a large rectangle measuring 125 by 85 m. The prayer hall is one-third of the mosque area and comprises seventeen aisles perpendicular to the qibla wall with another aisle parallel to the wall. Aghlabid modifications included the present mihrab, the dome in front of the mihrab and the minbar. The mihrab niche is lined with perforated marble panels decorated with vegetal designs. Surrounding the mihrab are a series of polychrome lustre tiles which are believed to have been imported from Baghdad. The dome covering the area in front of the mihrab is built of stone and rests on a drum supported by large shell-shaped squinches. The dome has a gadrooned form which internally takes the form of thin radiating ribs. The inside of the drum is circular and decorated with a series of sixteen blind niches and eight arched windows. The minbar is the oldest in existence and consists of a high staircase with a series of intricately carved panels on the side decorated with geometric and stylized vegetal designs. The present maqsura (screen) was added in restorations of the eleventh century. Further restorations were carried out in 1294 when the arches of the arcades were remodeled and the projecting portal of Bab Lalla Rayhana was added. Other Aghlabid monuments at Qairawan include the Mosque of the Three Gates, and the famous polygonal cisterns or artificial lakes. Outside Qairawan three satellite cities were established known as al-Abbasiya, Raqqada and Sabra al-Mansuriyya. Nothing remains of Abasiyya, although at Raqqada there are huge reservoirs and the remains of a large palace built of baked brick. Other cities with Aghlabid monuments include Tunis, Susa, Sfax and Monastir. In 1052 the city was enclosed with a crenellated brick wall which was extensively restored in the eighteenth century.
The origin of this complex is the tomb of Abu Zama al-Balawi, a companion of the prophet who was killed in better nearby in 654/34 AH. It is sometimes referred to as the Mosque of the Barber, because it is believed that al-Balawi wore an amulet containing hairs from beard of the Prophet Muhammad. However, the complex as it exists now was built by Hammuda Pasha who built the zawiya and erected a madrasa. Bey Muhammad ibn Murad renovated the dome of the mausoleum.
The mausoleum is on the east end of the complex where is opens onto a courtyard with porticos on all sides. A stairwell to the southwest of the courtyard leads to the courtyard of the madrasa. Student lodging is situated on the east and west sides; a two-nave prayer hall to the south.
According to Saloua Zangar the mihrab of the mosque
The complex also contains a warehouse for the storage of products from habous and donations, and an apartment composed of a courtyard surrounded by residential rooms. Known as the “pasha’s al-'alwi”, it used to accommodate the bey in charge of collecting taxes, and later housed the mausoleum’s important guests. (Source: Qantara)
The entrances to the large courtyard on located on the Maghreb Arab Square (Parc du mausolée), a triangular open space paved with tile that is bounded on two sides by Avenue El Iman Sahnoun and Avenue de la Republique. The base of the triangle that forms the boundary of the park runs from the eastern corner of the large courtyard to the southwest, alongside and beyond the wall of the complex.
Agency for the Development of National Heritage and Cultural Promotion-Tunisia. 2019. “The Abou Zamaa Al-Balawi Mausoleum, Kairouan”. Patrimoine De Tunisie . May 29, 2019. http://www.patrimoinedetunisie.com.tn/eng/monuments/abouzamaa.php. https://perma.cc/4XZB-JQ36
Hureau, J. 1977. Tunisia Today. Paris: J.A. Editions
Marçais, Georges. 1926. Manuel d’art Musulman. L’architecture: Tunisie, Algérie, Maroc, Espagne, Sicile. Paris: A. Picard.
“Qantara - Mausoleum Of Sidi Sahbi”. Accessed May 28, 2019. https://www.qantara-med.org/public/show_document.php?do_id=657&lang=en. https://perma.cc/UG3W-JWQD
Zangar, Saloua. 2019. “Discover Islamic Art - Virtual Museum - Sidi Sahib Zawiya and Madrasa”. Discover Islamic Art . May 28, 2019. http://islamicart.museumwnf.org/database_item.php?id=monument;ISL;tn;Mon01;10;en&pageD=N. https://perma.cc/W6ZN-DYQY
زاوية ومدرسة سيدي الصاحب (Original)
مقام أبي زمعة البلوي (Alternate)
Abu Zama al-Balawi Zawiya (Transliterated)
Mausoleum of Abu Zam'a al-Balawi (Translated)
Zaouïa et Madrasa de Sidi Sahib (Alternate)
ضريح سيدي صحبي (Alternate)
زاوية سيدي الصاحب (Original)
Zaouïa de Sidi Çȃhib (Alternate transliteration)
Mausoleum of Sidi Sahbi (Alternate)
Mausolée de Sidi Sahbi (Translated)
جامع ابي زمعة البلوي (Alternate)
Mosquée du Barbier (Vernacular)
Mosque of the Barber (Translated)
13th-14th c., 1662/1072 AH madrasa construction, 1681/1092 AH, renovation