Tunis, Tunisia holds one of oldest and most beautiful museums you could ever have the joy of visiting. It’s the only museum in Tunisia to exist for more than a century. It has a history dating all the way back to 1735, and it’s architecture and vast array of ancient history you can marvel at. Here we’ll tell you just why the National Bardo Museum is more than worthy of your time and will be an experience you’ll never forget.
Preserving History and Provoking Thought
If you want a good understanding of what the museum’s goal is, it can best be summed up from a quote from their website, citing A. Malraux in The Imaginary Museum: “The role of museums in our relationship with the works of art is so important that we hardly think that it does not exist; that it has never existed.”
Just like all institutions of this nature, the main goal of the Bardo Museum is to preserve the artifacts that have come from cultures that will never reemerge. The museum has brought up quite the collection, so much so that not all of it can be displayed. They have a grand amount of exposed exhibits (more than 8,000 in total), some permanent and some rotating in and out of the spotlight to keep things fresh for the public, as well as to show off the exhibits that they just can’t make any more room for. There are far more priceless pieces of history being kept safe under the guidance of careful curators when out of the public eye.
Their base mission is to not only keep these artifacts safe, but to educate the public and enrich their lives by provoking thought. They have several educational services for the public to help them get more acquainted with everything from prehistory to the intricacies of the past.
Not only do they have a vast array of exhibits on display, but they also have workshops, seminars, political debates, conferences, and meetings with the professionals who work behind the scenes to study and preserve these glimpses of ancient history. All of these are available for you to enrich your life with knowledge that, at times, predates history itself.
From Grand Palace to Museum: A Brief History
The Husseini dynasty came into power in 1705, but it wasn’t until 1735 that the first palace began to be constructed, ending in 1756 and boasting a grand entrance that was guarded by those stone lions we’ve all come to familiarize ourselves with. The building is rightfully named “The Great Palace”.
The “Small Tunisian Palace” finished construction in 1835, over a century later. Nearly three decades later, a harem of smaller buildings were finished, also known as “Qasr Al-Badii”. In 1882, these buildings were given to the French Protectorate, where their usage as a museum first began as the French stored priceless collections. The Great Palace soon followed after, and The Small Palace right after that. By 1900, the entire cluster of buildings were repurposed to preserve and shelter historic pieces.
In 2009, the now renamed Bardo Museum was redeveloped to appeal to cultural tourism, as well as to teach the public about the cultures of the past and how they’ve developed to become what they are today.
Now within a new age of information and cultural enlightenment, the museum is proud to be held in such high regard as one of the greatest sources of knowledge and meticulously preserved pieces of history in the world.
While it’s now mostly recognized as a museum, seeing it in person will no doubt remind you that the palaces were once just that: beautiful palaces built by a dynasty that ruled over three centuries ago. The outside of the museum might look a little plain, or perhaps a bit boring from afar, but the arches and pillars that lead to the entrance are just a hint as to what’s to come once you step inside. There have been renovations and modifications over all this time, which is to be expected when such a large amount of time passes, but it’s safe to say that the splendor of the buildings remain the same over the last three centuries.
Even the architecture of the palaces tell a story all their own. There are places where you can see how the Italian, Magrebean, and Turkish artistic designs intertwine and truly flourish. There’s a distinct blend of white and gold that details the insides wonderfully. The gold leaf decor is hand finished, and the floors are always polished to a shine each day.
The museum stands out not only in its vast collection, but also its beautiful design.
Six Departments for You to Explore
At the present moment, the Bardo National Museum holds over 8,000 exhibits, each one unique and with a vast story to tell. All of the exhibits are sorted into one of six different departments. The departments are: Prehistory, Islam, Late Antiquity, Phonecian-Punic civilization, the underwater Mahdia collection, and the Numidian world. All of these are vital glimpses into the world that once was. There are many spaces where translation is provided so that all people can observe and learn as they explore the exhibits.
Aside from the history, the museum still had much to offer for visitors, including cafeterias, shops, and many informative workshops. There’s lots to see and do that we doubt you’ll be able to see it all before sundown.
They’re Happy to Have You!
The museum is quite affordable, running you less than twenty dinars at current price. The staff are kind and more than willing to accomodate, including equipment for the disabled and translations in multiple languages for those visiting from around the world.
There’s much to see and learn from one of the oldest museums in the world, and we hope you’ll take the time to introduce yourself to a history and culture that might be completely different from your own. It’ll be worth the time, we assure you!
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