The history of the Bardo began even before it opened, as the museum is located in the former apartments of the Bey's Palace in Tunis, if you please. A masterpiece of 19th century Hussenite architecture, the Bardo started off as a museum for national antiques in 1885. In 1888, it became the Alaoui Museum. It was not until several years later that it was baptised with its now world-renowned name.
It took four years to renovate and expand the museum. Nowadays, in addition to the two historical buildings, a brand new building opened in 2012 to celebrate the reopening of the museum in great style.
Although the Bardo has evolved over the years, it has religiously preserved the vestiges of its illustrious past that make it the historical monument it is. Visitors can admire the high-quality stucco areas, the Qallaline ceramic panels, the gold painted wood, the beautiful original ceilings, and the works of art exhibited in the original buildings.
Like the Prado Museum in Madrid (the two are often confused due to their similar names!) and the Louvre in Paris, this museum takes several days to visit. Indeed, the 9,000m² expansion has doubled the size of the place. Nowadays, visitors walk through six new departments dedicated to Prehistory, the Punic era, the Numidian civilisation, the sunken treasure of the Mahdia, Late Antiquity and Islam. It is a shame, however, that the eras have been mixed together in the hundreds of pieces that make up the museum. It is difficult to get your bearings! A quick glance at the labels should help you date the work you're admiring, though.
The historical part of the museum covers the Roman period and has the largest collection of mosaics in the world. Some are presented in their simplest form, under your feet! Armed with protective slippers, visitors can actually walk on these centuries-old works installed in the ground.
Even though the Bardo Museum is stunning proof of the importance of culture and history in today's Tunisia, we just hope that it will also prove to be the success that it has sought out to achieve. Something to watch over the coming years.