The oldest and most important of the Tunisian museums was arranged within the enclosure of a famous Beylic palace that had been built starting from the XVth Century on a plain 4 kilometres away from Tunis. Its name comes from the Spanish word prado which means meadow or garden. The Great Palace benefited from many restorations and extensions under the reign of the Muradi dynasty sovereigns, then the Husseinis who took it as their main residence. The Great Palace which was built by Tunisian architects during the second half of the XIVth Century is, according to M. Yacoub, former curator of the Bardo Museum, “a monument that is highly representative of the luxury and refinement that the Tunisian architecture witnessed during the Beylic epoch… (with) the local contributions melted with Andalusian, Asian, and European influences.”

As of 1882, while the royal court was settling down in the Palace of La Marsa, the harem buildings were given up to the French Protectorate authorities to shelter the first antique collections. The premises of the Great Palace were added to these starting from 1899. Then, the very beautiful so called space of the Small Palace was added to shelter Islamic art collections.

A harmony of colours and forms emerges within the noble spaces of this palatial complex. One can admire ceilings ornamented in stucco or hand finished in gold leaf, glazed ceramic wall coverings made in the Tunis area workshops, marble facings, elegant colonnades, or finely worked and painted wood. The three different reception halls which are laid out on three floors ingeniously blend Magrebean, Turkish, and Italian architectures and artistic techniques to form a sort of a synthesis of the architectural Tunisian art of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries.

The transformation of this palace into a museum has certainly worked as a preservation tool guaranteeing the survival of the edifice by giving it a second life. The palace which was partially redeveloped on many occasions to adapt to the growing number of collections and the increasing number of visitors is now subject to a large restructuring plan.

Following a 30 million dinar loan from the Banque Internationale pour la Reconstruction et le Développement (BIRD), the redevelopment of the Bardo Museum started in the spring of 2009 within the context of a national strategy for cultural development in general and cultural tourism in particular. A new wing of contemporary architectural design was edified at the back of the existing historical museum which was itself rehabilitated. The project allowed the doubling of the existing museum surface. In fact, the number of exposed pieces is expected to double to reach 8000.

This new wing is preceded by an important entrance hall leading to the different departments and services which will benefit from a new lighting thanks to the presence of large glass windows. The six new departments dedicated to prehistory, Phoenician-Punic culture, Numidian world; the Mahdia sub-marine collection, the Roman world and late antiquity, and Islam, were rethought, revisited, and reprogrammed according to a new museography and signposting that meet modern standards. Thanks a more adapted and more logical new pathway, this new spatial organization will allow a better exploitation of the architecture and the deployment of the premises while preserving their harmony and richness.

In addition; this rearrangement should increase the admission capacity to one million visitors per year (against 600,000 prior to the work). Parallel to that, service areas will be created to answer the needs of the visitors (shops, cafeterias, restaurants, auditorium, diverse workshops, equipment for the disabled…) as well as translation and multimedia spaces.

With the renovation of its reserves, services, and with the new translations spaces inserted in a pathway allowing a better reading of the national heritage, the Bardo Museum becomes a modern museum of an international stature. It answers the needs of a new public who is well informed and more demanding, and who will be more able to appreciate the singularity of works. Many of such works are still unique in the history of humanity.