Bardo Museum-Must-See. I have a theory on museums. My rule of thumb in most cases is I only visit world class museums like the Hermitage or the Louvre. It can be depressing visiting underfunded, poorly managed museums. So I knew when visiting Tunisia, I had to visit the Bardo National Museum. The Bardo is the second largest museum in Africa after the Egyptian Museum. The museum follows the history of Tunisia over several millennia through the many people and civilizations who have lived on this land. In its former life, the museum, was the palace for the Hafsids dynasty dating back to the 15th century. The museum was opened over 100 years ago.
Sadly, the Bardo Museum is the home of another significant terrorist attack. In 2015, three ISIS terrorists killed 24 people and injured over 50 people. The people of Tunisia have paid a significant price for these terrorists’ attacks (an additional 39 holiday makers were gunned down at a beach hotel), with tourism shrinking by 20%, contributing to 8% of GDP.
I felt this impact when I arrived at the stately Bardo Musuem. The museum was nearly empty. Workers sullenly lounged around. From a selfish standpoint, this was a great situation. Imagine walking the halls of Louvre in Paris, and not fighting the crowds. When entering the museum, a group of dejected guides did not even bother making eye contact with me. As I paced down the hallway, a tall man with a heavy 5 o’clock shadow appeared and decided to approach me. In moments, I had acquired my own personal guide for 40 Tunisian dollars (about $18 dollars). I didn’t bother to negotiate with him believing this was my opportunity to inject some money into the local economy. What made the guide’s sale much easier was his name: Aladdin. How could I deny a guy named Aladdin? Great name.
Aladdin guided me through the myriad hallways. My mouth hung agape. I was overwhelmed with the magnificence of the mosaics and frescoes contained in the Bardo. This amazing works of art dated back centuries and centuries. Some of the works were humongous, spreading out over two stories on a wall. And thankfully, many of these mosaics were in great condition. Glimpses of history are preserved here … from Carthage to the Greeks to the Romans to the Egyptians. The works of art here are truly mind blowing allowing you to transport yourself back to ancient civilization and glimpse their past.
We passed an elevator and Aladdin stiffened up. The wall and elevator were pockmarked by bullets from the terrorist attack in 2015. Aladdin had been there that day, and hidden with a group of tourists on that day. Thankfully, he was able to escape. While Aladdin eventually opened up to me, you could see the experience hung heavily on him. The frustration and sadness continued to the present as he explained tourism had virtually disappeared.