Fermé à cause de la grève

Fermé à cause de la grève: closed because of the strike. This phrase has become all too familiar during this visit to Tunisia. I tried to go to Kerkouane, right at the very end of Cap Bon. Two and a half hours by bus from Tunis to Kelibia, then striking a deal with a taxi driver for the rest of the way to this right-out-of-the-way site, only to be met with “fermé à cause de la grève”. Ho hum.

I don’t like to be put off so, despite the high probability that I’d end up staring through the bars of a locked gate, I decided that I’d at least attempt the visit that I’d planned, to Utica.


Utica is situated about 35km north of Tunis. Originally on the coast at the mouth of Medjerda River, the gradual silting up of the estuary means that it is now some 20km inland. Older than Carthage, Utica was founded in around 1100BCE (this date is uncertain and there is some disagreement over its accuracy).

Although the city was originally an ally of Carthage, the relationship began to sour during the First Punic War, and the two cities found themselves on opposing sides. Again in the Third Punic War, Utica sided with Rome, against its now more powerful ex-friend Carthage, and was rewarded when Carthage was defeated. During the Roman Civil War, between the generals Caesar and Pompey (and their supporters), it acted as the focus for Pompey’s supporters after his defeat, but it gradually began to decline during the early Empire, after Augustus moved the seat of provincial government to Carthage. It became a full Roman colony under Septimius Severus, but fell to the Vandals in 439CE.

It was a little bit of a schlep; bus from Tunis to Zama, then walk the 2 miles-ish to the site. The walking route is completely flat, but it was very hot. Still, it was all perfectly do-able.

As expected the site was indeed fermé à cause de la grève, but the Guardian, who was pottering about the garden, very kindly let me in to the museum gardens, and even showed me round 😀 . This was a real stroke of luck, as it meant that I got to see this beautiful mosaic-lined pool.


The mosaic-work echoes the maritime nature of the city; the bounty of the sea; and the importance of trade to the wealth on display here.


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There was originally a fountain in the pool, as indicated by the hole for the pipe, just at the mouth of the god.



There were also two statues of particular interest. First, this over-life-sized Hercules (or perhaps life-sized. I mean, Hercules was a demi-god after all).


And this hero.


This statue was clearly designed to stand in a niche, probably leaning against the back wall, as not only is the rear unmodelled, it has actually been flattened off, even the back of the head (although not, interestingly, those pert buttocks!).

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The Guardian confirmed that the main site was also closed, but he did say that if I walked about 1km down the road to where the fence ends, I’d be able to go onto the site, and if anyone said anything, to say that he’d said it was ok. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so off I went.

Ooh, There’s something in there.


Honestly, I felt like I was going to be arrested any minute. I just ran round the site, wildly snapping as many pictures as I could before I got caught. And I did get caught, eventually. They were very nice about it. A freshen up, a five minute sit down, a drink and a chat, and then I was frog-marched out. They even thought that it was hilarious that the Guardian at the museum had not only told me that I could come in, but also how to get in surreptitiously 😀

Here are a few of my very disorganized snaps.

Opus sectile floor in the excavated Insula.


Fountain and sundial in the courtyard of the House of the Cascades.




Decorated basin in the Insula


View across to the second entrance of the Waterfall House.


Opus sectile floor of the Waterfall House.


It’s a great site and I’ll certainly visit again. Perhaps at a more leisurely pace.


11 Questions to a Museum Blogger on (the day after the day after) Museum Blog Day

So, I’ve been publicly challenged by the marvellous  Tincture of Museum to answer 11 questions about my blogging experience. This game of inquisitorial tag was initiated to celebrate Museum Blog Day by Museum Diary and MuseumMinute.

Now, as you’re looking at my blog you’ll be able to see that ‘I don’t do Blogs’, but apparently I do, so here goes…

1.  Who are you and what do you like about blogging?

I’m MooseandHobbes and I seem to have been credited with the title of  ‘Museum Blogger’. I do feel like I should say from the off that my blog is as random as my brain, so by no means all of my posts are museum-related. I’ll try to keep this on topic though. Just shout of you sense that I’m wandering off. I like blogging random stuff, and judging by my blog visitors, I’m not alone.

2 . What is the most popular post on your blog?

And straight into the random. I had a massive spike in traffic from a gig review of a band called Loop, but my most popular museum posts are about the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Gaziantep and the Hatay Archaeological Museum in Antakya. These posts always get visitors. People like mosaics.


Zeugma Museum

3.  Do you have a blog you want to write but haven’t found the time/research to do it?

Oh, I don’t know. Most of my blog posts just appear by osmosis or automatic writing or something. I don’t usually plan them in advance. They just happen when I feel like writing about something that I’ve just done/seen/experienced. I think that I quite like it that way.

4. If you could go behind the scenes of any museum, which one would it be and why?

The Red Castle Museum in Tripoli (formerly called the Jamahiriya Museum). I was fortunate enough to be able to visit this museum in 2008 and I’m extremely hopeful that I’ll be able to visit again before I die. Based on the, frankly, jaw-dropping collection on display, I can only dream about what riches could be found backstage.

I should also say that the curators here are total heroes. During the recent revolution they collected up everything that could be moved and hid it all in various underground store rooms and overlooked cubby holes, even welding doors shut to protect artifacts in the event of trouble. The museum was broken into by (then-called) ‘rebels’ who, to be fair, weren’t really on the rob, but by removing as many of the portable objects as possible the museum staff really helped to safeguard and protect their heritage.  Good work chaps.


Muammar Gaddafi’s Volkswagen Beetle from the 1960s. This was one of the few items in the museum to be vandalised during the revolution.

5. If you could interview anyone, anyone at all, for your blog, who would you talk to and what would be the first question you ask them?

David Mattingly, ‘Our Man in Libya’. My first question would be “can I come to Libya with you? Seriously. I’ll carry your bags”.

6. What is your earliest museum memory?

I have a terrible memory, but wafting about in there is a vague memory of a school visit to the National Railway Museum in York. In all honesty the only thing that I remember is that there were trains, but I’m going to be visiting York again soon, so maybe I’ll be able to pay a visit and top up my brain with something a little more insightful.

7. What was the last museum you visited what did you see?

The last museum I visited wasn’t actually a museum, but there was an exhibition, so I’m going with it. It was the Crossrail Visitor Information Centre for the Portals to the Past exhibition. I was getting some info and photos for a talk that I was giving about Roman ritual practice in London (I just LOVE all those Walbrook sites). Good stuff. Archaeology. Skulls. 😀


8.What is the weirdest thing you have done in a museum?

Me and couple of friends went to Dr Johnson’s House for Regency Dancing 😀 😀 I don’t know if this really counts as weird, but it’s at least a bit different and enormous fun.

9. If you could live in a museum which one who you choose?

Probably the John Soane Museum, just because it’s bonkers. And there are Hogarths. What more does anyone need?

10. Which museum do you think more people should know about?

I absolutely love the Crypt at All Hallows by the Tower. It’s right next to the (also super) Tower of London, but much overlooked by the masses. For me, this space is proof positive that a fantastic and fascinating museum doesn’t have to be big or showy. I recommend it to any of my non-London friends who are visiting the Smoke. Especially the Romanists.


11. What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone who was thinking about starting a blog?

Start now. You don’t need to write big long posts with intricate in-depth research. You can just post a picture of something cool you’ve seen and share it with your friends.

11/1 What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?

This was one of Tincture’s questions and I liked it so I’ve nicked it.

I don’t normally look at search terms, although I am practically obsessed with looking at which countries visitors are viewing from. However, as I saw this on Tincture’s 11 Questions, it prompted me to have a look at mine.

I’ve got “person under a train” and “evidence of the alans”. I’m assuming that that second one was a typo (maybe), but the fact that it lead someone to my blog just goes to prove its total randomness.

Best blog image? Depends on how you define ‘best’, but I like this one from a post about some volunteer archiving work that I’ve been doing at The Royal Armouries (at the Tower).


These are the guidelines for processing and storing finds, as issued in 1983.

So that’s me.

I’m going to tag Jan Drew because she’s relatively new to blogging and I think that this is a good way to meet people. I know Jan through our involvement with the Thames Discovery Programme

I’m also going to take a rather free approach to the word ‘museum’ and tag my old mucker Badger, AKA Detritus of Empire. He does history, he does archaeology, he does immigrant carp and stuffed squirrels. Did I mention I like random?

So Jan and Badger, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to answer the following questions:

  1. Who are you and what do you like about blogging?
  2. What is the most popular post on your blog?
  3. How do you decide what to post about?
  4. Do you have a post which you hesitated before posting because it was just too random/dodgy/libellous?
  5. What is your favourite local or specialist museum? The smaller and more random the better
  6. How would you encourage someone who doesn’t like museums to visit the aforementioned museum?
  7. What is your earliest museum memory?
  8. What was the last museum you visited and what did you see?
  9. Have you ever seen an exhibit in a museum that you felt (or came close to feeling) should not have been displayed (or displayed differently)?
  10. If you could live in a museum which one who you choose?
  11. What’s the oddest search term that has led people to your blog?

Oh, and as I’ve taken a rather free approach to the word ‘museum’ you are allowed to take a rather free approach to the questions.

  • Include the BEST BLOG image in your post, and link back to the person who nominated you (that would be me, or this blog post).
  • Devise eleven new questions – or feel free to keep any of these ones here if you like them – and pass them on to how ever many bloggers you would like to.

Good luck 😀


Jan and Badger have risen to the challenge and posted their own blogs. You can find Jan’s here http://drewj1485.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/museum-challenge/ and Badger’s here http://detritusofempire.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/museandhobbes-throws-gauntlet.html