Tunisians call for the reopening of the Bardo Museum, a world-class site of history and culture | Khaled Hedoui

TUNIS-

The doors of the Bardo Museum, considered Tunisia’s most important museum and a world-class icon of ancient culture, have been closed to Tunisian and foreign visitors for more than a year and a half, amid questions about the real state reasons. formwork.

Political events seem to have precipitated the closure of Tunisia’s most famous museum, depriving students, local visitors and foreign tourists of an essential collection of archaeological treasures.

The museum is surrounded by an impressive military cordon, which also guards the adjacent seat of the Tunisian parliament, closed by President Kais Saied in July 2021 as part of his exceptional measures.

The first Bardo, a Hafsid palace was built in the 13th century about four kilometers from the original Tunis. It was rebuilt and renovated in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its name comes from the Spanish word “El Prado” meaning garden or field.

An official source at the Ministry of Culture told The Arab Weekly that “experts took advantage of the period when the museum was closed to carry out maintenance and restoration work in the absence of tourists, which facilitated the task of the personnel inside”.

The same source added that “the process of strengthening the wooden pillars of the ceiling of the Great Hall of Carthage in the museum was carried out in cooperation with the Ministry of Defense”, stressing that “the restoration process was the first in the history of the museum since its foundation.

The Bardo Museum itself was officially opened on May 7, 1888. It houses the second largest collection of Roman mosaics in the world, spread over 5,000 square meters. It also has some of the rarest archaeological artifacts in the world. It is one of the most important museums in the Mediterranean basin and the second largest museum on the African continent after the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, with an exhibition space of an estimated area of ​​20,000 square meters.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) inscribed the museum on its World Heritage List, citing its unique archaeological treasures, such as statues and mosaics, which number more than 4,000 rooms and reflect the succession of civilizations throughout the history of Tunisia.

Many Tunisian history buffs lament the continued closure of the Bardo without having a clear idea of ​​the reasons and motives for its closure.

Tijani Haddad, former Minister of Tourism, said: “Authorities should reopen the Bardo Museum to visitors given its importance as an icon of cultural heritage in the world.” He added, “The museum was a draw for tourists and provided significant hard currency revenue to the Tunisian state.”

He called for its reopening “as soon as possible because it is an essential pillar in the Tunisian tourist landscape”.

“We have not yet understood the reasons that led to its closure and the state must explain the reasons for its decision,” he told The Arab Weekly.

Until the independence of Tunisia, the museum was called Alawi Museum, in reference to Ali Bey Bin Hussein, the monarch who reigned over Tunisia from 1882 to 1902. At that time, the Bardo district was the place of residence of the beys.

Tunisian historian Abdellatif Hannachi said: “We regret that this historical and cultural monument has remained closed until now. It was the source of significant financial income for the Heritage Institute (which oversees cultural sites) and the Ministry of Culture. Its closure is detrimental to tourism. This is actually why terrorists targeted this monument in 2015.”

Speaking to The Arab Weekly, he added, “Students and experts in history and heritage visited the museum to discover its cultural and historical richness and learn from it.”

He stressed that the closure decision “will damage Tunisia’s image and that there is widespread ambiguity and silence about the decision from the country’s political and cultural leaders.”

Culture Minister Hayat Guetat, commenting on the reasons for the museum’s continued closure, said that “there are circumstances beyond the ministry’s control that prevent the resumption of museum activities.”

She told a local radio station, “there is no intention to close it permanently”, noting that “restoration and inventory operations are continuing despite the museum’s closure and employees are carrying out their work as normal. “.

A union source at the Heritage Institute said that “the closure of the Bardo National Museum continues for political and security reasons, given that it is adjacent to the Assembly of People’s Representatives (parliament) and shares with it an outer iron fence”.

The union source expressed the belief that technical solutions could be considered to meet the security concerns of the authorities when the site reopens.

He said “this closure has adversely affected the condition of the exhibits inside, although maintenance crews have been allowed into the museum to work on ancient relics and mosaic panels”, but said added: “This should not continue”.

The museum is of historical importance, as it witnessed significant events in the country’s history during the Husseinite era in the 19th century. The three floors of the museum embrace different architectural and artistic styles and techniques reflecting the heritages of the Maghreb, Turkey, Italy and Andalusia, intertwining in great harmony, to represent what looks like a summary of architectural art in Tunisia in the 18th and 19th centuries. .

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