Arts & Entertainment

Tunisians call for reopening of emblematic Bardo museum

By Natalia Roman Morte

Tunis, Apr 3 (EFE).- The Bardo National Museum, considered a jewel of Tunisian heritage, has been closed since president Kais Saied suspended parliament in July 2021 despite persistent calls from campaigners for the world-class history site to reopen.

The 19th-century Hafsid palace, which also houses the Tunisian parliament, is home to one of the oldest and largest collections of Roman mosaics but today has become collateral damage to the political instability of the country.

The museum suffered from a terrorist attack eight years ago and the blow of the coronavirus pandemic which shuttered venues around the world to contain the spread of Covid-19.

It was then closed in July 2021 by Saied on July 25, 2021, as part of wider exceptional measures rolled out by the government.

Civil society leaders have repeatedly called for the museum’s reopening after the country’s newly elected parliament held its first session on March 13.

Campaigners say the Bardo is vital to tourism, which is a leading economic sector linked to some 400,000 direct and indirect jobs in Tunisia.

The “Hors les murs” campaign — which translates as outside the walls — has started sharing pictures on social media of the objects in the museum’s vast collection, including prehistoric, Phoenician, Numidian, Roman, Christian and Arab-Islamic relics, to draw the attention of the authorities.

Among the artworks housed in Africa’s second largest museum is a fresco of Roman poet Virgil’s Aeneid and another of Ulysses tied to his ship’s mast while escaping the song of the sirens after surviving the Trojan War.

“I understand that measures had to be taken during the transition period but the country is doing well, we are in times of peace and it is not clear why this prestigious institution remains closed,” Habib ben Younes, a retired museum director and one of the campaign organizers, tells Efe.

Younes has proposed for the entrance to the museum and parliament to be separated to prevent such a situation from happening again.

“A parliament is a place of political sovereignty, and culture must also be granted sovereignty and left out of the conflict. It belongs to all Tunisians, it is unique and indivisible,” he says.

On Mar 18, 2015, a brutal attack on the museum left 20 people killed and 45 injured which led to its closure.

A few days later, the institution reopened, with the windows and walls bearing marks of bullets and explosives.

“This shows to what extent the Bardo is a national symbol, but even after suffering a fire in the 80s, the museum opened the next day. It is like a living being, in constant movement,” the specialist adds.

While waiting for an official reopening date, art enthusiasts such as well-known photographer Hamideddine Bouali suggest: “perhaps next April 9, for the International Day of Monuments and Sites.” EFE


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