Most tourists visit this first after the Aghlabid Pools so if possible it makes sense to plan your itinerary to visit late morning after the day trippers have moved on.
It is the oldest, largest and most important mosque in country. It was founded in 671AD by Okba ibn Nafi and rebuilt in the 9thC and is an important place of pilgrimage for Muslims.
It is surrounded by a huge wall with no windows and few doorways.
There is a small ticket desk with a room behind containing the library. It leads to the massive courtyard surrounded by covered arcade which provides shade. The Minaret is at one end and the Prayer Hall at the other. The courtyard slopes slightly and is designed to catch ran water, which drains through an intricately decorated central drain designed to filter out dust before the water drains into the cistern. There are several wells covered with stone slabs which have deep groves made from ropes pulling up water. As well as being used for ritual ablutions, it also provided a water supply in times of siege when the mosque was used as a refuge.
There is a minibar style sun dial with wooden steps taking you up to admire the sundial on a marble column which indicated the times of prayers. There is a second smaller sun dial on a pillar for afternoon use.
The first Mosques did not have minaret. Believers were called to prayer by the muezzin standing on the Mosque roof. This is thought to be the first minaret in the world. The lowest level dates from 728AD and was built using recycled Roman masonry.
The arcade outside the Prayer Hall is wider and the roof is supported by marble pillars, all different, recycled from Roman sites. They support two rows of brick arches with a small cupola in the middle.
Very decorative doorways made of palm trees open into the Prayer Hall. Non Muslims are not allowed in although the central doorway is left open so they can see in. Rows of green and red marble pillars support the roof hung with large chandeliers. Wooden pillows separate the capitols from the tops of the columns, a device designed to counteract earth tremors.
Rugs are laid out on the floor and round the base of the pillars. At the far end is the mihrab tiled with the original 9thC tiles with the wooden minibar beside it. Wooden panels on the left screen off the women’s area who use a separate doorway.
A well worthwhile visit.