A/C, Fair Trade goods, and The Bardo

Tunis Travel Blog

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I decided to sleep in this morning as we both had a very rough night due to the heat and no air conditioning.  Rob was attached by mosquitoes and had whelps on his back and arms.  He had to go to the drug store to get an antihistamine to deal with the pain.  He had managed to talk the management into turning on the AC for us, but not the previous evening.  After breakfast the maintenance man came up and started the AC unit.  It ran for about an hour while we got ready and then stopped.  It took the guys another hour to get it fixed.  As they didn’t really speak English we have no idea what happened, but it worked.  Luckily we had a light day planned.


We trusted the guidebook to recommend a restaurant that was economical.

  After having the meal, it was just cheap!  I had a burned omelet that was overloaded with coriander and greasy fries.  Rob’s veal kebab was a little fatty and gave his jaw quite a workout.  After the less than stellar meal we headed to a hand craft shop. 


The shop is run by ESSALEM which is a Tunisian organization established in 1982 to enable young people to reach the employment market.  The youth are helped to continue education or to obtain professional formation, buy tools or materials needed to start a micro-project.  The shop buys and sells women’s handicrafts to support them and has had the shop since 1994.  We had to buy some wonderful dolls as gifts and struggled with the purchase of a beautiful handmade throw.  The shop also sells klims, mergoums, knotted carpets, bed covers and pillows, kachabia, burnous, scarves, embroidery and chebka, and wickerwork all made by women from different regions of Tunisia.


After the purchase was made we grabbed a cab to the Bardo Museum.  It houses a very impressive collection of mosaics and statues from Tunisian history. 


Originally a 13th century palace, it has been expanded and restored through out the centuries. The current decoration can be attributed to the 17th and 18th centuries with its galleries, vaulted ceilings, and cupolas. Its collection spans prehistoric, Punic, Roman, Christian, and Muslim periods. The pride of the museum is the unparalleled collection of fine mosaics.

These include periods of Roman and Byzantine. The styles. subject matter, and condition are exceptional. There are design elements and mosaic details that I have never seen before in my many trips through many countries with mosaic exhibitions.


We decided to hire a guide to show us around.  She was very good and worked very hard to pronounce her English words correctly.  She guided us through and gave good explanations and happily answered our questions.  Since the museum is being enlarged we were only able to view the 18th century portion.  We particularly enjoyed a large mosaic of a house and birds, a stunning partial face masterpiece of Jupiter (Zues), and the collection of Byzantine mosaics which is a rare treat in any collection.  They are all housed in the lavish 18th century section of the palace which has a very ornate, baroque detailed arcaded central room. 


Leaving the museum we jumped into another cab.

  The driver didn’t seem to know where were wanted to go.  He dropped us on a street and pointed in a direction and said something in French. 


Before we went too far Rob stopped and asked for directions.  Four men discussed and gave us directions that were not totally clear.  Finally one guy took charge and pulled us to a street and pointed and said “direct”.  We followed the road and just kept going until we say a sign. 


We continued to follow the path and eventually ended up at a historic site.  When we entered we asked is this Dar ben Abdallah.  The answer was no, it is closed for a year.

  Rob kind of guessed at where we were based on the map.  The man confirmed we were at Tourbet el-Bey.  It is the royal mausoleum of the Husaynids.


Since there were no signs or explanations of anything we were wondering around staring in awe of the amazing carved ceilings.  At the Bardo we learned they are a mixture of plaster and marble dust.  While we were pondering some things an older man came up and started to explain some things to us.  We assumed he was part of the site staff.  He was very knowledgeable.  He explained how the men had hats on their graves (turbans for pre-French period and a fez for French and beyond) while women had tablets.  The doors to the men’s crypts had a smaller door cut into them which caused you to have to bend as you entered.  This was done to ensure you showed respect for the dead.

  The women didn’t get this treatment.


As the man lead us thought and explained he talked about taking us to a palace close by where one of the men had lived with his four wives.  At this point we clued in he was an independent and would expect payment.  After we left the site we politely told him we did not want to visit the palace today and wanted to find food.  Rob gave him what money he had in his pocket, which the man grimaced at and we were off to the central souks of the medina.


Let’s just say that we were bugs caught in a spider web and there were many spiders coming to feast on us. Tunis medina full of souks is very old and very large.

There are perfume souks, blacksmith’s souks, clothing souks, and much more. They are a narrow maze that twists and turns and you have no idea of your orientation while inside. While on our journey of discovery we saw many interesting things. There were many traditional garments, jewelry, colorful lamps, and shoes. There were many, many touristy souvenirs capitalizing on the beautiful doors and mosaics of Tunisia. It can give you a headache as much of the time the same items are repeated. Now and then, though, a treasure reveals itself and you must begin the bargaining.


At one point, I can’t really tell you where, Rob told me to stop and we walked through a stone passage to find ourselves in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque. A man politely shook his finger and then raised his hand in the motion that represents prayer. We were not welcome here as this mosque did not allow non Muslim visitors. I did not take a picture, either. I did not want to show disrespect. We returned to the medina and found our way to the exit / entrance.

It was at Place de la Victoire where the Tunisian Arch de Triumphe (Bab el Bahr) is located.


We were hungry and searched a few cafes around the square but the menus were all the same and with not much choice. We continued on came back to the room and consulted the travel guide for some suggestions of restaurants with non tourist menus. We decided on Italian and went in search. It was only a short walk but was not open yet. With my best French, I understood that it would open at 5:30pm. Upon returning at 5:45pm, 1 hour later, we were told that they didn’t open until 9 pm.


Frustrated we walked back to the main avenue in distress.

Rob spotted the Hotel Africa and its restaurant. The menu looked good and it was very popular with the locals. Other than the cloud of smoke, that even outside, we couldn’t get away from, we had an enjoyable dinner while watching Tunis social behavior for entertainment.


The evening was spent talking about our day and what we liked. We also started lists necessary for our next chapter to begin…..but, that is a story to come.


Tomorrow, we would delve further into the medina and its many souks. I hope to find a treasure and some trinkets for friends and family. Also, an embroidered throw was calling my name.

delsol67 says:
Gejah, I was so happy to finally get to Tunisia. I remember last year, you have me some of my first info on planning my trip. Thanks again!!! Brian
Posted on: Jun 14, 2010
gejah says:
this is a very interesting museum. I liked it.
Posted on: Jun 14, 2010
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photo by: tj1777