The Columbia Global Centers in New York, the Middle East Institute, & the Italia and Mediterranean Colloquium, Columbia University
Ridha Moumni (Independent Art Historian & Curator)
The discovery of ancient Carthage and the reception of antiquity in 19th century Tunisia
Respondent: Konstantina Zanou (Columbia University)
Moderator: Pier Mattia Tommasino (Columbia University)
In Tunis, the first collections of antiquities were established in the 18th - 19th centuries. European Consuls, foreign scholars, and international traders acquired most of the archaeological remains then available from the ancient city of Carthage. Whether growing out of their personal taste, commercial considerations, or a desire for cultural distinction, they enriched the collections of major European museums. This collecting practice was not limited to foreigners, but also touched the local ruling class. Ministers and the Bey himself constituted rich collections, the most famous of which belonged to the main Tunisian families of the 19th century. The result of ongoing sustained effort, these collections had a notoriety exceeding the country, guaranteeing the fame of their owners on a transnational level, as when they were exhibited in World’s Fair of 1855 and 1873. The Tunisian ruling class quickly became aware of the stakes of their cultural heritage, formerly ignored, which became an important referent of national identity before the French colonization in 1881.