Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Musée du Bardo, Bellagi, around Tunis

I've yet to see one Starbucks anywhere near Tunis... and that's okay with me. (Though I finally saw a United Colors of Benetton, which is owned by Italians.) Early this morning I walked to the TGM station in La Marsa from where you can see blue-green water in between the buildings. I paid less than a dollar for the first class car, below, which to me didn't seem all that different from the second class cars. (The seats in first class are cushioned.) Here's another tram:
At the end of the TGM line, at the Tunis Marine station in Tunis proper, I took another train, the métro léger (it's like a tramp) to Bardo stop, walked a few blocks, passed the 17th century palace now occupied by the Tunisian National Assembly, and after an hour and a half finally reached the suburb of Bardo west of Tunis and the Musée National du Bardo (front entrance below) where there is an extraordinary collection of Roman mosaics from Tunisia's finest ancient palaces. These are tiny colorful pieces assembled to depict all kinds of scenes on the floors and walls of elegant wealthy houses. Ships, like below, would carry the materials needed to make the mosaics, as well as other things such as marble for floors, columns, and other decorations and furniture. When politics and power changed geographic locations, those same ships carried those treasures back to Rome and Athens. The pieces gathered in the Bardo Museum are a fraction of what actually existed in Tunisian palaces around two thousand years ago. The city of Bardo, built in the 15th century, became the residence of the Tunis court in the 18th century, and thus was also the political, intellectual and religious center of the country. In 1882 the beys' residence became the National Museum. Today it ranks, along with the Egyptian Museum, as the best in north Africa. Tiny pieces of stones were used to depict grand themes in literature. Above is a scene from Homer's Odyssey where Odysseus ties himself to the mast to avoid being lured by sirens as they sail past their island. And in the Virgil Room there is a beautiful mosaic that was found in Sousse in the third century AD, below. It depicts Virgil with the Muses Clio ("History") and Melpomene ("Trajedy") inspiring him to write the Aeneid. Lines 8 and 9 from Book I are written on the papyrus scroll Virgil is holding: "Musa mihi causas memora, quo numine laeso, quidve" (meaning something like, "Muse, tell me the reasons that offended the divinity"). In another room there is a huge mosaic dated 372 AD. It depicts Theseus and the Minotaur in the labyrinth.
There are also various depictions of women:

And in a small room, behind glass, there is a collection of Judaica, including this Torah.
A few days ago Mary and I went to an art gallery to pick up paintings she bought, and today while at the Bardo I realized that the artist, Jelenka Galic Bellagi, is basing her work on the ancient art of Tunisian mosaics. She uses small square pieces, the size of a miniature tile, but bigger than a traditional mosaic, about an inch square, and rather than assemble one scene, she depicts individual things in each mosaic. In one "painting" that I really like she depicts one fish in each square, but those fish relate to one another, they're not separated by the boundaries of each tile. In fact, you can see one fish eating the other. She calls that painting "War." I looked her up and learned that she calls herself a ceramisist. According to a website, she was born in 1950 in Croatia. She also paints with oil and watercolors and has exhibited throughout Europe. Mary bought this very beautiful oil on canvas piece, above, "Tunis, la fin d'un jour"/Tunis, the end of the day. Even in oil she echoes the tiny mosaic pieces you see in the two thousand year old grand installations at the Bardo. And, below, here's a detail of a ceramic tableu, "Le Guépard," that I like.

In the Ville Nouvelle, the more modern part of the city built by the French, there are wide tree-lined avenues and grand buildings. There is large Catholic Cathedral, Saint Paul the Apostle, below.

And there is this towering monument:
And of course, there's a mall, not far from the souq; it's called the Palmaryum.

1 comment:

Rob said...

liked your pictures of Tunis and commentary on Tunisian Jews.

Cheers.
Rob Prince/ University of Denver