‘Well, they have coins’, Tunesians told me when I asked them what the Money Museum (Musée de la Monnaie) is like. Their tune was not very respectful, in their eyes it did not seem worth a visit. I wanted to see the museum anyway, especially as it is not mentioned in tourist guides and these can be the most interesting visits like the Museum of the History of Cypriot coinage, another hidden pearl. I was certainly not disappointed.
This museum is found within the Tunesian Central Bank and depicts the history of coinage in the area: that means it starts already in the time of Carthago, 4th century BC. Most interesting for me were the coins from the era of the califates like the Ommayyads, Fatimides, Aghlabides and Abbasides: it was like a new world opening for me. Already in the first century of islamic era, coins were made with Qu’ran inscriptions and this museum shows a good quantity of them (a lot in gold, part of the attractiveness of course).
Another thing I learned is that coins can be shiite or sunni. First I thought I misunderstood but the proof was in front of my eyes.
I seriously studied these coins but I am afraid my expertise is too limited to understand the subtile differences.
There is, overall, a very good explanation that goes with these coins but not in English: in Arabic and in French. For the coins of the early centuries I must say it was difficult to relate the information given to the coins as exposed. This suddenly improved when the period of antiquities was left behind. From then on, all is clear, although sometimes quite detailed. For experts, this is the absolute place to be.
The museum also shows some interesting notes that tell us which heroes of the past are valuated enough to be on the national banknotes. I saw f.ex. Ibn Rachik, Hannibal, Ibn Khaldoun.
It has many square coins: And it presents plenty of memorial coins, and coins of special sites where I found Amsterdam among them.
Last but not least: the library they have offers books in 5 or 6 languages, not just about coinage but also about history and art of the region. It is an excellent collection for those who want to study and it seems to be an undiscovered place: you can sit there in complete tranquillity, surrounded by friendly workers who are happy to welcome anyone interested in their cultural heritage.
The Money Museum (Musée de la Monnaie) of Tunis: worth a visit!