Monday, 22 February 2016

Berlin - Pergamon Museum

One of the big cultural attractions of Berlin is "Museum Island".  This is the informal name given to the island in the River Spree which has UNESCO World heritage Status because of the cluster of museums located there.  Any city would be proud and honoured to have ONE of them, let alone the collection which Berlin has here.
The museums are:
  • Old Museum (1830)
  • New Museum (1859; rebuilt as Egyptian Museum of Berlin after destruction in WW2)
  • Old National Gallery (1876)
  • Bode Museum (1904, previously called "Kaiser Friedrich Museum)
  • Pergamon Museum (1930)
Which museum to visit with only one afternoon available?  It was partly a matter of elimination - we would visit the gallery which had a collection least like anything we had visited in any city we had already visited.  It was a tough decision. 
The columns of a covered passageway beside the Old National Gallery.
The golden dome of the "Old Synagogue" is in the distance.
The Old National Gallery was modelled on a Roman Temple.
Equestrian statue of King Frederick William IV on the stairs.
From the summaries of the collections exhibited in the various museums and galleries one museum stood out as the preferred place to visit. The winner was .... the Pergamon Museum.  Unfortunately the museums most prized exhibit, and the one which gave the museum its name was closed.  The museum was originally built in 1930 to house the monumental Pergamon Altar recovered from a temple in the Greek city of Pergamon, now in modern Turkey.  The gallery in which the altar will be displayed is being remodelled and is closed until 2019-20.
The Pergamon Altar in its original display setting.
Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Raimond Spekking, 2004
The first "big" display we saw on entry quickly dispelled the disappointment we had earlier felt at not being able to see the star attraction after which the museum was named.  The Ishtar Gate is impressive!  The gate was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but lost its place to the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria in the third century.
Just a section of the beautiful and impressive Ishtar Gate
This gate, the eighth into the inner city of Babylon, was constructed in about 575BC on the orders of King Nebuchadnezzar  II.  It was excavated early last century and a section was reconstructed using the original bricks.  Although after some 2600 years the colours have lost some sparkle they are still brilliant and clearly convey how wondrous the gate must have been.

It was named "Ishtar" after a Babylonian goddess.  The glazed bricks depict alternating rows of mušḫuššu  (dragons) and "aurochs" (bulls).  The roof and doors of the gate were made of cedar and the gate was covered in Lapis Lazuli.

The reconstructed gate is just the outer and smaller part of a double gate.  The larger, rear section is still in storage as it is too big to be reconstructed within the museum.  Of particular interest is the gate's dedication plaque - there is no doubt what it is.

Details of one of the "bull" motifs portrayed in bas-relief brickwork.
As if the gate itself was not enough.  It stood on a ceremonial avenue which passed through the gate.  The walls were decorated with rows of lions and flowers. 
Model showing the ceremonial way with decorated wall and
towers leading toward the Ishtar Gate which stood in
front of an even larger gate into the inner city of Babylon.

A small section (less than a quarter) off the ceremonial
way which has been recreated in the Pergamon Museum.
From ancient Babylon's gate and walls we moved to the next section of the gallery where the marble "Market Gate of Miletus" has been reconstructed.  This gate is about 30m wide, 16m high and 5m deep.  It was built around the 2nd century AD in Miletus (modern Turkey) but destroyed in a great earthquake in 10th or 11th century.  It was rediscovered  and excavated in the early 1900s.  The niches along the upper storey would once have held statues of emperors.

The Miletus Market Gate. 
(Note the mosaic at bottom right)
The "Orpheus" Mosaic, Miletus, 2nd century AD
The treasures kept surprising us as we moved around the museum.

Reconstruction of a gate sentinel from an Assyrian Palace (9th Century BC)

Beautifully and intricately prayer niche
indicating the direction of Mecca in the
Islamic Art section of the Pergamon Museum.

Prayer niche ("mihrab") from the Beyhekim
Mosque, Konya (Anatolia) 13th century.
(Museum of Islamic Art, Pergamon Museum)
I've shown just a few of the big, grand displays.  The museum has a very large collection of interesting artefacts spanning about 4000 years of cultural and artistic activity across several regions of classical antiquity.  There is enough here to keep you occupied for days (if you have the stamina).
Paul & Judy
January 2016

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