Bourguiba’s palace turned into museum

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The summer residence of Tunisia’s first post-independence president Habib Bourguiba has turned into a museum providing the public with a rare opportunity to explore the leader’s private life.

The palace, which was built in the late 60s, opened its doors to the public on Saturday (April 6), to commemorate the 13th anniversary of Bourguiba’s death.

Located some 200 kms south of the capital Tunis, the museum is said to become one of the country’s most popular touristic attractions.

Visitors waited in long queues outside the museum just a day after it was opened.

Hisham Mimash, a functionary in the Ministry of Justice, said the museum provides people with the chance to explore some of Bourguiba’s personal life.

“We did not have the chance to see him and to see how he was living. So we came here to learn about his life and explore how this leader used to live . We’d like to know some details about his private life,”said Mimash as he toured the museum with his family.

Bourguiba, the architect of modern Tunisia who ruled the North African country for more than three decades, died in 2000.

Shortly after independence from France in 1956, Bourguiba gave Tunisian women the right to vote, abolished polygamy, forbade marriage under the age of 17 and allowed woman equal rights to divorce. He spent his last years at home in Monastir.

The museum throws light on Bourguiba’s history and lifestyle through a display of furnished rooms, old photographs of Bourguiba and his wife, and various artworks.

Visitors at the palace said the museum reflects Bourguiba’s way of life.

"The furniture is simple and the decorations are marvelous. Look at the doors for example. This simplicity in art proves that the Leader was a very simple man,” said visitor
Najla Tabka.

Mimash said the museum tells stories about Tunisia’s history and educates his children about their own country.

“My children must know the history of their country, the history of Tunisia so that if they go abroad they would know what stories to tell about Tunisia,” he said.

Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, who was Bourguiba’s prime minister, succeeded him in 1987 after doctors declared the president unfit to rule.

But Ben Ali was toppled by mass protests on Jan. 14 after 23 years in power and fled to Saudi Arabia.