Africa’s Ancient Mosaics
Tunisia’s national museum, a fine complex of 13th- to 19th-century buildings that includes the Beylical Palace, houses the continent’s largest selection of ancient mosaics, arguably the finest in the world.
Almost too well endowed, the Bardo’s collection of colorful and vivid objects is of such exuberant quantity that visitors run the risk of overkill. Tunisia was the heartland of Roman Africa, so it is ironic that the earliest true mosaic in the world (dating to the 5th or 4th century B.C.) was discovered in nearby Carthage, indicating that the Carthaginians, not the Romans, invented the art form.
Mosaics were soon being used to create “tapestries” of richly colored landscapes and portraits, where volume was conveyed through gradation of colors, and compositions became more and more complex.
Rural, hunting, agricultural, marine, and urban life are represented in elaborate scenes of abundance and sensual gratification. To quote from an inscription on a piece found at an archaeological site in Algeria, “To hunt, to bathe, to gamble, to laugh, that is to live.”