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From Florence to the Bardo, an exhibition on the antiquities of Roman Africa

​On the 3rd anniversary of the tragic terrorist attack on the Bardo Museum in Tunis on 18 March 2015, the same museum opened an exhibition entitled “Antiquities from Africa at the Uffizi. Giovanni Pagni, Pisa-born doctor and archaeologist in 17th Century Tunisia”, displaying ancient Roman items from Tunisia that, for over three centuries, have been part of the Uffizi collections. In the attack, 24 people lost their lives, including 4 Italians. The idea of the exhibition, which was organised in cooperation with the Italian Cultural Institute in Tunis and the curators of the Uffizi Museum and totally financed by the Region of Tuscany, was relaunched last year, after a visit by the Vice-President of the Region of Tuscany, Monica Barni, in the North African Country. “It is a way of contributing to relaunching the Country’s cultural tourism, which was seriously compromised following the outrageous attack of three years ago,” the Vice President said to explain the initiative. For the occasion, Florence goo relaunched its friendship with the Tunisian capital with a cultural twinning that principally aims to promote museums: all those who buy an admission ticket to the Bardo will be admitted, free of charge, into the Civic Museums of Florence. “The Bardo Museum, which is only a few steps from the Parliament, is also an icon of national identity, single and plural, reflecting the civilizations that have succeeded each other onto the great variety of mosaics and works that it has on display. It is the representation of a Mediterranean, a sea that harbours a high level of interplay and is a natural meeting point and, by its very nature, is multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-linguistic,” said Ms Barni, adding that “the road of inter-cultural dialogue is a primary need of our contemporary society.”   

The exhibition “Antiquities from Africa at the Uffizi. Giovanni Pagni, Pisa-born doctor and archaeologist in 17th Century Tunisia” gives new visibility to the antiquities coming from Tunisia and collected by the physician Giovanni Pagni and over the last century, that were split between the storage rooms of the National Archaeological Museum of Florence and the Uffizi Gallery. Giovanni Pagni, a professor at the University of Pisa, spent a year at the service of Murad II Bey who, grateful for his recovery, which was made possible by the young doctor, covered him with presents. Among these, the most outstanding part was a collection of more than 20 works which included epigraphs and funerary and votive stele which immediately went into the collections of the Uffizi Gallery. The reliefs and inscriptions, which were among the earliest evidences from the Roman Africa visible in Europe, were set up at the entrance of the Museum and, for two centuries, were the focus of interest of Italian, French and English scholars. The opportunity offered by this exhibition, wholly financed by the Region of Tuscany and organized in partnership with the MIBACT, the Italian Cultural Institute in Tunis and the Bardo Museum, enables visitors to retrace the events of this exceptional historical moment while rediscovering Roman Africa and the fortune of an ancient myth, such as the legend of Carthage, which was greatly appreciated with the archaeological enthusiasm of 17th Century Tuscany. The exhibition’s ribbon-cutting ceremony also represented an opportunity for a “Tuscan” moment of musical excellence with the Taag Quartet from the Fiesole Music School, and the young soprano Nessrine Zemni who will perform the Stabat Mater by Luigi Boccherini, the virtuoso celloist who was one of the great ambassadors of Italian music abroad towards the end of the 18th century.  

The four days in Tunis, from 17 to 19 March, also offered the Region of Tuscany the opportunity to exchange opinions on the prospects of developing the museum systems of Italy and Tunisia in a Workshop held at the Bardo on the “Prospects of developing the system of museums between Italy and Tunisia”, which was attended Monica Barni, the vice president of the Region of Tuscany, Fatma Nait Yghil, director of the Bardo Museum, Moncef Ben Moussa, director of the Museum Development Division of  the Tunisian INP, Roberto Ferrari, director of “Culture and Research” of the Region of Tuscany and Alberto Garlandini, vice president of ICOM.