This week a museum story. Are you not excited?
The Bardo Museum is recognised as the number one tourist destination in Tunis, so we were keen to visit. Our cabbie assisted with our joy of arriving at the museum by getting us their unharmed and alive.. Driving in this capital for some cabbies is an extreme sport, our particular driver was a pro. He seemed to only know one speed and that was fast. To make matters worse, we thought the driver was going the long way round which via time exposure increased our risk of injury. The Captain and I did a Google map search and questioned the route. He took this as a sign to go faster to get us to our destination on time.
It was a very quiet trip.
Once We Arrived
The facade of the museum isn’t inspiring. A big white boxy building with poorly maintained gardens and large empty car park in need of some serious maintenance. With the manditory security outside the building carrying big guns. As we entered the building I was still uninspired. It was a huge cavernous room with very little in it except a large desk on the left and a large mosaic on the far right wall. As we’d risked our lives to get here, I was happy to pay the entry fee and walk around on our own for a while.
After the trip in and the lack luster welcome I wasn’t feeling too confident this was a journey well made.
I was wrong. I apologise Tourist Council of Tunisia.
The Main Event
The first area on entry was a dimly lit hall built from ancient sandstone and pillars. You could see the museum had been built around the original structure, the lack of lighting made me wonder if we should have been charged more to pitch in for the power bill. Once again I couldn’t have been more wrong, out of the gloom we stepped into a room of white, light and colour. Wow.
We lost time for the next three hours while my mouth kept opening like a fly trap. This place was sensational! The Roman mosaics were beyond words, photos only give an indication of the awe I was experiencing.
Best of all we walked through room after room on our own, after arriving in what can only be considered prime viewing time 10am to 1pm. Where was everybody? If in France or Spain this would have been wall to wall people.
Earlier as we moved about the rooms, for some reason, maybe the hope of a big tip, a security guard/guide offered to take us to the currently closed rooms on a private “very fast and please be quiet” tour. Access to currently closed rooms lifted the experience to another notch of appreciation. The cynical may say this was a ploy on his and the other guides behalf (as they too were busy showing small groups about) but on this I don’t agree with the Captain. Me, I felt special with the extra attention and without this chap we would have missed the private rooms of the king and the royal bedroom.
It Used To Be A Home
Previously a private palace and then converted into a museum in 1888 it made for fascinating viewing. Modern renovations were completed “spring” 2012, so we were seeing the place at its current best. To see the rooms and know that each one served a purpose for a family, all be it a privileged king, his family and entourage, gave this place more value than a standard museum tour.
House inspection highlights included the private bedroom of the former Beys of Tunis. “Lucky” king he had four wives and a harem! so the master bedroom was an important place. I asked our guide how many in the harem, he thought a range of 25 up to 50 girls in the palace at any one time. He said historians can only guess. What I can guess, is that the king would have appreciated todays little blue pill to help him keep his 54 women happy….
Talking of which
The Royal Shagging Room
In such an impressive palace, with so much energy in the procreation of little kings, it was a sure bet the king’s bed would be impressive. It was. All red, gold and fancy, it would certainly have had the young girls hearts a flutter, as they walked into the room for the first time.
Only thing, it was a little small.
I mean size isn’t everything, but for such an important item, you would think big would be best.
This bed was the size of a double. I didn’t think it big enough for so much potential activity. My Captain just made comment that maybe the bed was for sleeping only, or for special visits not stay overs.
Before entering the master bedroom was a beautiful private courtyard which had a special hinged door. Any woman entering had to stoop and be humble, when the king went through he could go through at full height.
Adjoining the King’s bedroom were two nursery rooms, I thought this quite bizarre. I mean if you are a king why would you want to hear crying babies, especially with the potential number of babies at any given time in the family. Another room near the bedroom was the dedicated lactation room. I thought this odd as well. However in modern Tunisia it is not appropriate on any level for a woman to breastfeed in public, so maybe things haven’t changed so much. You will be pleased to know the stooping doors for women, seem to be a thing of the past, but in this country you can’t buy tampons, so there is lots of room for improvement.
Back to the museum…
A Matter Of Opinion
The guide volunteered in his commentary that the wives and women would have had a wonderful life. Only a man could say this. I felt like I had a counter argument which I kept to myself. I suppose if you don’t mind sharing, maybe it was lucky, but husband sharing has always been off my radar. I was pleased to see that each of the four wives had their own bedroom in the private wife wing. In contrast the harem girls had more of group share arrangement one flight down. It would be interesting to know who got to do what, and how lucky the women saw themselves.
Maybe I was looking at it the wrong way round.
Liberal Life Back Then
Tunisia is part of Northern Africa so the weather is hot, yet a standout feature of life is how much clothing everybody appears to wear. Not an issue for the ancients they appeared to take a much more practical approach to dressing for the weather. The men in particular, if mosaic life is true, loved the fashion of high leather sandals accompanied by a soft flowing cloak, no other clothing necessary.
I loved how the mosaics had people of all shapes and sizes. The god’s appeared to be totally ripped all the time and mostly naked. Also interesting about the gods was that many of the male gods and other strange mythical characters, all seemed to have prominent genitalia. Back then the “family jewels” were worn loud and proud!
The open nudity and sexuality on display, wouldn’t be allowed on display in any other setting in this very modest society. How times have changed.
The Biggest And Best In The World
The mosaic’s of Tunis museum are considered the world’s best. I didn’t know that. It’s a fact that might come up in the next pub quiz night, if asked the question most of us would say somewhere in Italy or Greece maybe, not Tunis, Tunisia.
The Best title is worthy.
It was room after room of gobsmacking, freaking amazing, colour and storytelling. The level of detail and creativity was incredible, despite the fact that it was all so old, I was allowed to walk on much of the artwork. It is the first museum I’ve ever been in where you spend as much time looking at the floor as you do at the ceilings and walls. It was also the first museum I have been allowed to take as many photos as I wanted.
Each mosaic told a story.
Daily life, like fishing, cleaning and being fed grapes by angels are all covered. Gods got plenty of story coverage as did hunting, fishing and eating. My memories of Greek mythology were tested throughout the rooms, as I tried to remember one god from another, my lack of knowledge made no difference to the experience. It was impossible to have a favourite mosaic, or room even, as room after room presented for best story, best picture, best thought provoking image, a favourite was impossible. As a result, I took nearly 200 photos, below is only a smidge of what was on offer. I struggled to pick the photos worthy to share, also to remind me as I go senile that this was a spectacular show that was put together centuries ago.
I tried to imagine the artisans who made these floors. The industry involved getting the right work materials. Such pride and love would have gone into creating these monuments, letting us know how life was conducted at that time. The patience required to do one of those works of art, would be mind boggling, even today, for a modern tradesman. Most unusual mosaics were the coffin and accompanying pictures, they included a picture of the deceased woman, her father and her banker. Some things never change, however taking a photo of your bank manager to the afterlife? Not on my watch anyhow.
So Who Did I Share This Experience With
I was sad to see nearly every single visitor appeared to be a foreigner. Italians, French, German, American and two Tasmanians. Arriving at 10 am and leaving at 1 pm there was hardly anyone in this magnificent place. I estimate only 20 others in the three hour timeslot, at one stage I took a photo of other tourists in frame, this also told the story of the day.
The cost might be restrictive for the locals I don’t know. It was 11 dinar each, which is about 5 or 6 Australian dollars, cheap for us, for a local this a great deal. Yet it is the locals who most need to see this place as it tells their story and connects them with the ancestors that led them in this “young” country” to where they are today.
There was so many stories that fascinated us both. One in particular was the shipwreck of a large boat carrying a huge number of Greek artifacts to Italy, it was shipwrecked in modern day Tunisia. We both discussed the weather pattern, before we discussed the treasures, thus proving the transition to sailing life is almost complete. It appears the NW winds were as treacherous then as they are today. Some things never change.
PS It turned out the taxi driver did not take us a long way round, he was just avoiding morning traffic. He still scared the crap out of me, so he was never going to get a call back.
PPS The best value of the day was the 1 dinar I was charged allowing me to take photos. If you want to take a closer look at my holiday snaps as always click to enlarge, click in the top right to expand to full size.