What's The Bardo National Museum? Tunisia's Oldest Museum Is A National Landmark

An alleged terrorist attack occurred at Tunisia's Bardo National Museum Wednesday afternoon, killing at least 19 people, including 17 foreign tourists. It's still unclear who's behind the attack, though early reports have led Tunisian officials to believe that this wasn't a random shooting but a targeted terrorist incident. Dozens of hostages, mostly foreign visitors at the museum, were taken until security officers carried out a raid, killing two gunmen.

Why would terrorists target the Bardo National Museum? The museum is centrally located in Tunis, the nation's capital, and situated in the same block of the Parliament building. Bardo is so close to the Parliament building (known as the Assemblée Nationale), that Parliament members had to be evacuated on Wednesday when the shooting broke out. Many early reports even stated that Parliament was under attack, rather than the museum.

But the museum is also noteworthy for reasons other than its central location: It's the oldest museum in Tunisia. According to Tunisia's Ministry of Culture, the Bardo was established more than 100 years ago in what was originally one of the palace's of the Husainid Dynasty, which ran Tunisia for almost 200 years. The museum's majestic buildings date back to the mid-1800s.

The museum first opened its doors in 1888, but it wasn't known as the Bardo then. Its original name, which came about during the French protectorate period, was the Alaoui Museum. Following Tunisia independence in the late 1950s, the museum's name was changed to the National Bardo Museum.

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The museum carries thousands of millennia-spanning artifacts, and is home to one of the largest collections of ancient Roman art and relics. The museum lists a 3rd-century mosaic of the Roman poet Virgil writing the Aeneid, and one of Ulysses and his sirens, as some of its prized ancient artifacts. Much of the museum's collection also presents to visitors a visual history of Tunisia, from prehistoric to 19th-century times.

Tunisia's Ministry of Culture says the Bardo's collection is spread out among 50 rooms and galleries in the multistory museum. Although Roman art and artifacts make up a bulk of the museum's collection, the ministry says it also features a large Arab-Islamic art department, and even has a room devoted to Jewish art and objects.

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The Bardo National Museum is frequently proclaimed one of the top museums in North Africa. The museum is currently working on expanding its already vast premises to accumulate even more collections, as well as more visitors. According to the museum's website, the museum hopes to increase its admission capacity per year by several hundred thousand with its new expansion. Still, the Bardo already receives hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors each year.

Hopefully, Wednesday's terrorist attack won't deter visitors from the historic cultural landmark.

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