TUNIS - The Bardo museum in Tunisia's capital, renowned for its exceptional collection of ancient mosaics, on Friday opened a new wing after a 10 million euro ($12.7 million) facelift.
Unique in the scope of its treasures, the museum, which doubled its surface area, boasts objects from prehistory, the Phoenician period and Punic and Numidian times, as well as Roman, Christian and Islamic artifacts.
"The Bardo is the flagship of our heritage, but it is not well known among Tunisians," Bardo curator Taher Ghalia said on International Museum Day.
"We want to attract more of the national public and we have reorganised the showrooms to present a chronological and didactic route."
Among the most prized works in the collection is "The Triumph of Neptune", a 2nd century mosaic that measures 13 by eight metres (43 by 26 feet).
Formerly on the floor, the piece has been put on the wall of the new entrance hall, making it the largest vertical mosaic in the world.
"For that alone, it was worth it," said Ghalia, who was equally proud to show off the museum's "Mona Lisa": "Virgil's Alcove", a mosaic depicting the ancient Roman poet who wrote "The Aeneid", surrounded by his muses.
The restoration of the Bardo was decided in 2003, and work began in 2009, as part of a programme to restore Tunisia's cultural heritage, with funding from the World Bank.
"For the Bardo, the cost was 10 million euros ($12.7 million), which is very reasonable. This represents a fifth of the sums usually given over to this sort of project," World Bank official Chantal Reliquet said.
Housed in a former palace dating from the 19th century, the museum greets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, with the annual record so far set in 2005 when 600,000 people came.
In 2011 -- the year of the Tunisian popular revolt that toppled president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and triggered the Arab Spring -- only 100,000 people visited the Bardo, but numbers have risen in recent months, Ghalia said.
The official inauguration of the renovated museum will take place in July.