City in Tunisia. It was founded in ad 670 by ‛Uqba ibn Nafi‛, the Arab conqueror of North Africa, on the site of a ruined Roman or Byzantine town; the site, slightly elevated above the great interior plain, afforded protection from surprise attacks and floods. In the 9th century Kairouan was the capital of the semi-independent Aghlabid dynasty (reg 800–909) and the most important city between the Nile and the Atlantic. Under the Fatimids (reg 909–72) the capital was shifted first to Mahdia on the coast and then in 947–8 back to the suburb of Sabra–al-Mansuriyya.
In 1054–5 the city was sacked by the Hilali tribe of Bedouin and the town reduced to ruins. Its decline was further exacerbated by the growing importance of Tunis in Mediterranean maritime trade. Under the relative peace established by the Hafsids, the city recovered somewhat, and many hospices (Arab. zāwiya) were built to accommodate the growing number of local Sufi saints (marabouts). The ...