If you have a list of things to do before you die, seeing the Bardo Museum in Tunis should be on it. On 15 March 2015, the TechWomen Tunisia Delegation visited the Bardo Museum as part of our orientation day before formal meetings started. Three days later, the Bardo sadly became famous for being the scene of a violent attack. I hope that this post contributes to understanding the Bardo as a world-class museum, a must-see destination on any educated person’s bucket list, rather than just another location for terrorism.
We saw one of the most famous ancient Roman mosaics of Tunisia before we got to the Bardo. The delegation paid homage to 2,841 US World War II military casualties buried at the North African American Cemetery and Memorial (Carthage, Tunis). In the reception area is the King of the Sea Poseidon in a seahorse chariot, over two plaques in English and Arabic saying:
Presented by Habib Bourguiba, First President of the Republic of Tunisia, to G. Lewis Jones, First American Ambassador to Tunisia (1956-1959) on the occasion of the latter’s departure. Ambassador Jones in turn presented this exceptional work of art to the North Africa American Cemetery on the condition that it remain always in Tunisia.
One of the many charms of Tunisia is its remarkably well-educated population. Over and over during our trip to Tunisia, we heard tributes to First Tunisian President Habib Bourguiba for his wise leadership and reforms 1957-1987, which included (according to Wikipedia) “…female emancipation, public education, family planning, a modern, state-run healthcare system, a campaign to improve literacy, administrative, financial and economic organization….” The importance of Tunisia in history seems to be part of civic consciousness there. Reproductions of ancient Roman mosaics are common civic decorations – including a large Poseidon on the bottom of our hotel swimming pool and reproductions of Bardo tresaures on the walls of the Tunis airport. Mosaic panels are popular souvenirs in the local shops.
Entering the antiquities side of the Bardo Museum last week, the TechWomen were surprised to find ourselves walking on ancient mosaics – put to their original use as floor coverings. A depiction of two nude male boxers (complete with a spray of blood – just like in a video game!) gave us warning that we were entering a place of different sensibilities than modern Tunis. The Bardo features Christian mosaics as well as many celebrating the Roman pantheon. My favorite mosaic shows Venus being crowned by two well-developed female centaurs. Many Bardo mosaics present food-related themes – featuring fish, fishing, and hunting scenes (maybe originally installed in dining rooms?).
I was delighted to be followed by three little girls who, seeing me looking at two large statues wrapped in tarps, gently moved the fabric off of the stone faces so that we could see who was inside. It is worth a trip to North Africa just to visit the Bardo Museum!
Images Copyright 2015 by Katy Dickinson