Beautiful ancient mosaic. Virgil is seated between the muse of epic poetry, Calliope (on the left), and Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, who carries a theatrical mask.
The poet holds a scroll containing part of his Aeneid. Bardo National Museum, Tunis.
-History of the ancient world.
The national Bardo Museum is a jewel of Tunisian heritage. It is housed in an old Beylic palace dating back to the XIXth Century. It retraces, through its collections, a big part of Tunisia’s history (from Prehistory to the contemporary epoch) and contains the largest collection of mosaics in the world including the famous mosaic representing Virgil, the poet.
The visitor may discover there an abundant collection of Punic jewels as well as a gallery of Roman sarcophaguses and Christian baptisteries.
One of the high points of the visit is a Roman ship’s cargo wrecked off the coast of Cape Africa, facing the town of Mahdia, with its Hellenistic Greek art master pieces: bronze pieces, marble sculptures, and furniture. This was the result of underwater excavations undertaken during the first part of the XXth Century with the participation of Commander Cousteau.
The great Tunisian sites classified by the UNESCO as part of the world virtual pantheon of the humanity are:
Ancient Dougga of western Tunisia
El Djem’s spectacular Coliseum
The refined Arab Medinas of Kairouan, Tunis, and Sousse
Each one of these remarkable cities is present in the Bardo Museum’s collections
The museum also includes touching testimonies of the creativity of each of the Tunisian regions since 40,000 years; namely the enigmatic Hermaion of El Guettar (south of Gafsa) which is the first temple edified by man to honour the sky’s supreme force.
The city of Carthage
Carthage is a city in Tunisia that was once the center of the ancient Carthaginian civilization. The city developed from a Phoenician colony of the first millennium BC into the capital of an ancient empire. The area of Carthage was inhabited by Berber people, who also became the bulk of Carthage’s population and constituted a significant part of its army, economy, and administration. Native Berbers and settling Phoenicians in Carthage mixed in different ways, including religion and language, creating the Punic language and culture.
The first civilization that developed within the city’s sphere of influence is referred to as Carthaginian. The city of Carthage is located on the eastern side of Lake Tunis across from the center of Tunis. According to Greek historians, Carthage was founded by Canaanite-speaking Phoenician colonists from Tyre (in modern Lebanon) under the leadership of Queen Elissa or Dido. It became a large and rich city, thus a major power in the Mediterranean. The resulting rivalry with Syracuse, Numidia, and Rome was accompanied by several wars with respective invasions of each other’s homeland.
Hannibal‘s invasion of Italy in the Second Punic War culminated in the Carthaginian victory at Cannae and led to a serious threat to the continuation of Roman rule over Italy; however, the Romans gained the upper hand by invading Africa and defeating Carthage at the Battle of Zama in 202 BC. Following the Third Punic War, the city was destroyed by the Romans in 146 BC. However, the Romans refounded Carthage, which became the empire’s fourth-most important city and the second-most important city in the Latin West. It later became the capital of the short-lived Vandal kingdom. After its conquest by Belisarius, it remained one of the most important cities until the Muslim conquest, when it was destroyed a second time in 698.
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote extensively on Carthaginian politics, and he considered the city to have some of the best governing institutions in the world, along with those of the Greek states of Spartaand Crete.
According to Roman sources, Phoenician colonists from modern-day Lebanon, led by Queen Dido (Elissa), founded Carthage (circa 814 BC.). Queen Elissa (also known as “Alissar”) was an exiled princess of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre. At its peak, the metropolis she founded, Carthage, came to be called the “shining city”, ruling 300 other cities around the western Mediterranean and leading the Phoenician (or Punic) world.
Elissa’s brother, King Pygmalion of Tyre, had murdered her husband, the high priest. Princess Elissa escaped the tyranny of her own country, founding the “new city” of Carthage and subsequently its later dominions. Details of her life are sketchy and confusing, but the following can be deduced from various sources. According to Justin, Princess Elissa was the daughter of King Belus II of Tyre. When he died, the throne was jointly bequeathed to her brother, Pygmalion, and her. She married her uncle Acherbas (also known as Sychaeus), the High Priest of Melqart, a man with both authority and wealth comparable to the king. This led to increased rivalry between religion and the monarchy. Pygmalion was a tyrant, lover of both gold and intrigue, who desired the authority and fortune enjoyed by Acherbas. Pygmalion assassinated Acherbas in the temple and kept the misdeed concealed from his sister for a long time, deceiving her with lies about her husband’s death. At the same time, the people of Tyre called for a single sovereign.