This museum, set in a magnificent 17th-century palace, houses one of the richest collections of Roman mosaics in the world, and also a large collection of archeological artifacts from Punic/Roman sites.
The outside appearance is unimpressive. As we approached the entry, I thought we would be hard-pressed to spend an hour here. I should have remembered that many Muslim buildings are deceiving; there is always an inner courtyard enabling the occupant’s perfect privacy. That proved to be the case here. Once we entered the palace itself, it was a time of oohing and ahhing - it was simply sumptuous.
The artifacts are housed in a series of rooms that begin on the ground floor, comprise three floors in total, and outline the history of Tunisia from the Stone Age down to the Islamic era. We spent 1 hour here and only skimmed the surface. Whilst our tour guide was knowledgeable, friendly, and spoke excellent English, he was long-winded and spent far too much time in the ground floor rooms, which hold artifacts from Punic sites and Carthage. There are a myriad of statues, including on of the ancient god Baal. The terracotta statue from the 1st century is in excellent shape. Also worth seeing is a Byzantine baptismal font and a magnificent statue of Apollo.
This part of the museum was my favorite; with its inner courtyard and fountain, it was no surprise that it once housed the harem. The walls and ceilings are exquisitely tiled in delicate arabesque patterns, and the floor and wall mosaics are equally stunning. The Roman Carthage room showcases mosaics from the Roman Peace. The mosaics here tell a story of peasant farmers and showcase pastoral scenes of harvests, hunting, and family time. Bacchus is bestowing the vine to a peasant while King Attica looks on.
The Virgil room, with its beautifully carved plaster roof, was once the main entrance to the Bey’s apartments. Here you will find the 3rd-century Virgil mosaic said to be a copy of a portrait of the poet. The mosaic shows Virgil flanked by Clio, muse of history, and Melpomene, muse of tragedy. My photo turned out dark and does not do it justice.
In the Sousse room, take note of a vast and beautiful mosaic depicting the triumph of Neptune. I was also delighted with the stunning green-and-gold ceiling. Amongst so many mosaics, you will undoubtedly find your own favorite. The magnificent Islamic art collection, medieval pottery, jewellery, and beautifully illuminated pages from sacred texts are all to be found on this floor.
The top floor houses mosaics, urns, earthenware grave relics, and some horrible masks. Many of the grave masks were brought from Carthage Tophet site and gave me the creeps because many were children sacrificed to Baal and Tanet.
Times: 9am to 5pm summer, 9:30 to 4:30pm winter and closed Monday
Admission: approximately $3 and a $1 camera fee
Limited toilet facilities and a small snack bar.