There has been a major extension and refurbishment project at the Bardo Museum. Work is due to finish in May. When we visited in March 2012, the new extension was still closed and several rooms in the old section were closed or bare of exhibits.
This is a popular site and receives a lot of tourists. Large groups going round with a loud voiced guide can be a problem so it may be necessary to adjust your route to avoid these.
The museum originally occupied the Bey’s Palace which is a large and splendid building. The new extension will at least double the size of the museum.
We went through a side entry into the palace and were greeted by a huge mosaic on the wall of a chariot being pulled by leopards. The floors are covered with mosaics with mainly geometric designs. Many of the ground floor rooms were still being refurbished and were empty. There is a large and beautiful 6thC baptistry from near Kelibia with a mosaic surround and basin. A tomb has the remains of a mosaic inside it and on the walls are examples of mosaic covers from tombs. The inscription on the tomb gave information about the person buried.
Walls have complete mosaics or fragments of mosaics. In the stairwell to the first floor is a large mosaic made up of a series of small squares showing animals, grapes, birds, vegetables and a gaming table. This style of mosaic is called ‘Xenia’ which means gifts of hospitality. It was designed to impress and show off how much wealth the family had as they were able to afford all these things.
A spiral marble staircase leads to rooms on the first floor which have more mosaics on the walls as well as a few Roman heads and statues. There is a lovely mosaic of Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship to prevent him being entranced by the song of the sirens. There are mosaics showing fish and fishing scenes. In one, a ship is being attacked by pirates and as soon as men fall into the sea they are turned into dolphins.
The mosaics are beautiful and we were intrigued by the use of slightly different colours of tesserae to give a 3D effect.
Even though only part of the museum is open there was more than enough to admire. I do wonder whether the new extension will be so big that visitors will go into overload and there will be too much to take in during a visit.