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The Silk Route - World Travel: Pergamon Altar, 2nd c BC, Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany
americas asia & far east africa & middle east europe

Germany: Berlin Museums
September 2013

Museum Island Altes Museum Neues Museum Alte Nationalgallerie Bode Museum Pergamon Museum
Berlin: Ishtar Gate

Berlin has some of the greatest museums in the world; we concentrated on Museum Island, especially the Pergamon Museum with the fabulous Pergamon Altar and Ishtar Gate from Babylon, and the extensive collection of Egyptian artefacts in the Neues Museum.

Museum Island

Museuminsel Berlin
The Jungfernbrücke is the oldest bridge spanning the western arm of the Spee around Museum Island, the Kupfergraben.

Museuminsel Berlin
The Cathedral on Museum Island.

In 2013 we returned to Berlin. It had been over twenty years since our previous visit and we wanted to see how the city had changed and to visit some of the wonderful museums. Our impressions of the changes in the city can be found at Berlin 1990 & 2013.

Museuminsel Berlin
A depiction of Berlin in 1650 on the Schleusenbrücke which spans the Kupfergraben.

Berlin has many treasures in its museums but there were two which we had long wanted to see: the Pergamon Altar and, even more, the Ishtar Gate.

We chose to stay at the Derag Livinghotel Grosser Kurfürst which is just south of Museum Island and even more conveniently, just across the road from Markische Museum U-bahn station.

Museuminsel Berlin
Statue at the entrance to the Altes Museum with the cathedral behind.

Museum Island is a unique area of five closely-sited museums on an island in the River Spee where the city of Berlin was founded. These are the Altes Museum opened in 1830 and built close to the cathedral which ia also on the island, 1845-1855 Neues Museum, 1867-1876 Alte Nationalgalerie, 1897-1904 Bode Museum and the 1910-1930 Pergamon Museum.1

Since reunification there has been an ongoing process of renovation of the buildings to bring their facilities up to date.

This is only a tiny fraction of what is held in the museums, just some of the items we found of particular interest or beauty. Due to ongoing renovations various collections may not be accessible - the Staatliches Museums website should have helpful advice.

 

Altes Museum

altes Museum Berlin
One of two statues flanking the entrance to the Altes Museum.
altes Museum Berlin
Statue of Nike, Greek goddess of victory.
altes Museum Berlin
Boy with Thorn
Roman copy, c 150 AD.
The original "Spinario" originated in the late 3rd century AD.

The oldest of the museums on the island lies at its southern end. It is a pure classical building, fronted by eighteen fluted ionic columns, a fitting home for classical antiquities, which was badly damaged in the Second World War.

The entrance is a lovely bright rotunda, modelled on the pantheon in Rome, with classical statues.2

altes Museum Berlin
A very beautiful funerary relief, the so-called "Stele Giustiniani". c 460 BC

 

altes Museum Berlin
Asklepios, Greek god of healing, with trademark snake and staff.
altes Museum Berlin
Hygeia, Greek goddess of health.
Aphrodisias: the Great  Theatre
Torso of an Old Fisherman, Aphrodisias, Turkey, c 200 BC.
The head is a plaster cast of the original which was discovered in 1989 in Aphrodisias.
altes Museum Berlin
Mosaic: Centaurs fighting Cats of Prey c 130 AD
This magnificent mosaic was once part of the floor decoration of the palace dining room of Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli outside Rome.
altes Museum Berlin
Deified Empress Livia 42-54 AD
Livia, the wife of Emperor Augustus, is a fascinating character - especially vivid in I Claudius by Robert Graves. She was deified by Claudius, her grandson, in 42 AD.
great baths
great baths

 

Neues Museum

neues Museum Berlin
Fragment of a pillar: King Seti I in front of the god Osiris, c1290 BC.

This museum combines three collections: the collection of Egyptian art from the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung, of prehistoric objects from the Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, and of classical antiquities from the Antikensammlung.3  Having a particular interest in certain aspects of Ancient Egypt, there was a quite a bit here of interest, and of course it holds the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti which is zealously guarded to stop photography.

neues Museum Berlin
Kneeling figure of Queen Hatshepsut with cultic vessel, c 1475 BC.

In the ancient temples that remain in Egypt there isn't a huge amount of original colour,except for restored buildings such as the Tomb of Nefertari which we were lucky enough to see in 2000. So it's illuminating to see painted reliefs and realise how immensely colourful the massive walls of the ancient structures must have been.

neues Museum Berlin
Head of a statue of either Queen Hatshepsut or King Tuthmosis III, c 1460-1450 BC.
neues Museum Berlin
Representation of the deified Pharaoh Amenhotep I; 1152-1145 BC. The transparent garment is unusual.

One of my favourite characters in ancient Egypt is Queen Hatshepsut, a remarkable woman. The daughter of Tuthmosis I she married her father's son and heir Tuthmosis II. They had no children so that when he died the son of one of his secondary wives became pharaoh: Tuthmosis III. As he was only a child at this time, Hatshepsut ruled in his place, eventually taking the step of declaring herself pharaoh. She was depicted as a man in many images as the pharaoh was, of course, traditionally male. She ruled for 20 years - even after Tuthmosis III reached manhood. It was only when she died that he took his place as ruler. He obliterated as much of Hatshepsut as he could find from the records, including temple images and instances of her name. The mortuary temple of Queen Hatshepsut is one of the most beautiful buildings at Luxor.

It was great to find some representations of Hatshepsut here.

neues Museum Berlin
Representation of the deified Queen Ahmose-Nofretari, a Theban and mother of Amenhotep I; 1152-1145 BC.
neues Museum Berlin
Kneeling figure of King Sesostris I c 1950 BC.
neues Museum Berlin
Standing-striding figure of Akhenaten or his son Tutankhamun c 1340-1330 BC. During this period representations of people were more lifelike rather than idealised.
neues Museum Berlin
Fragments of reliefs: Egyptian soldiers and Nubian mercenaries, c 1470 BC.
Mortuary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut.
neues Museum Berlin
neues Museum Berlin
neues Museum Berlin
Wall relief showing an ox being butchered.
neues Museum Berlin
Berlin Green Head c 350BC.
This Egyptian head, from the Ptolomeic period, is carved from a green stone with a beautiful finish.
neues Museum Berlin
Fragment of a wall relief from the Sun Temple of King Niuserre.4
Trappers netting migratory birds in the Nile delta. Some birds were killed immediately, others transported to poultry farms for fattening.
Troy
Gold of Troy, 3000 BC, found by Schliemann.
Troy
Gold of Troy found by Schliemann, 3000 BC.
A famous photograph shows Schliemann's wife wearing these.
Troy
Trojan gold vessel in the shape of a ship, 3000 BC, found by Schliemann.

The German archaeologist Schliemann found treasure while excavating at Troy, the legendary city on the west coast of Turkey. He proclaimed as "Priam's Treasure" and much of of it is now held in Russia though some can be seen here in he Neues Museum and Berlin and some in Istanbul.

neues Museum Berlin
Ceremonial gold hat, southern Germany, c 1000-800  BC.
neues Museum Berlin
Roman marble sarcophagus with lions, 300 BC.

A 74 cm tall ceremonial gold hat from the late Bronze Age is another fascinating artefact in the Neues Museum. It is made from a single beaten gold sheet. The ornamentation on the dome and brim of the hat is thought to represent a calendar with which calculate the difference between solar and lunar years and to predict lunar eclipses.5

neues Museum Berlin
Head of Queen Tiy, Egypt, c 1350 BC.

Another celebrated artefact is the head of Queen Tiy, wife of Amenhotep III. It is a beautifully expressive facial carving. She wears the headdress of the cow goddess, Hathor, which was allowed for her role in official acts of worship where she took the part of female deities at the side of her husband.6

neues Museum Berlin
Bust of a king, possibly AmenhotepIV/Akhenaten.

Tiy was the mother of Amenhotep IV who later changed his name to Akhenaten.

neues Museum Berlin
Souvenirs from Berlin including a postcard of the famous bust of Nefertiti.
neues Museum Berlin
Head of a queen, possibly Nefertiti.
neues Museum Berlin
Head of a princess, daughter of Akhenaten, with the classic features of her father.

 

The Pharaoh Akhenaten and his wife, Nefertiti, are famous - she for her beauty and he for attempting to impose a monotheistic religion in Egypt, worship of the sun god or Aten. This replaced the millenia-old traditional worship of many gods, which, nevertheless, became reestablished after Akhenten's death.

The famous bust of Nefertiti is displayed in a glass case zealously guarded to stop any photography. It is a portrait of a beautiful woman, looking confident and regal, though the missing left eye is rather disconcerting!

 

Alte Nationalgallerie

alte nationalgallerie Berlin

 

 

Since the Neue Nationalgallerie was opened in 1968 the original Nationalgellerie has become the Alte Nationalgallerie and holds almost exclusively nineteenth century paintings and sculpture.

With limited time and such a great deal to see this was not high on our list and we did not visit.

 

Bode Museum

bode museum Berlin
High relief wood carving, Western Roman Empire, c 400AD.
A wonderfully detailed carving: Roman soldiers come to the aid of a besieged city, the Barbarian attackers trying to escape on horseback.8

 

The Bode Museum opened - as the Kaiser Friedrich Museum - in 1904. It was originally the idea of Crown Princess Victoria of Prussia, which was put into practice some years later by Wilhelm von Bode, after whom it was renamed in 1956. He was also its first director.7 Standing at the northern tip of Museum Island it was to house the Renaissance collection. Today it houses the sculpture collection and the Museum of Byzantine Art.

 

bode museum Berlin
Mosaic from the Church of San Michele in Africisco, Ravenna, c 545-546AD.

 

Pergamon Museum

Pergamon Museum

Six-curled, lion-taming hero (plaster cast), the original is from the Palace of Sargon II, 721-705 BC.

This was our primary target, to see the Pergamon altar and the celebrated Ishtar Gate.

The museum was hosting an exhibition on Uruk, the famed Mesopotamian city which dominated the region for over 2000 years from  around 4000 BC. At the entrance was a fabulous relief of a lion-taming hero. Though only a plaster cast of the original, which is in the Louvre, it was still impressive. The lion-taming hero, as dictated by tradition, had six curls in his hair and is one of the oldest and most enduring of the subjects of Ancient Near Eastern art. He is often associated with the legendary King Gilgamesh of Uruk. The relief was originally part of the outer facade of the throne room inside the palace of the Neo-Assyrian ruler Sargon II.

Pergamon Museum
Segment from the facade of the Inanna Temple built by the Kassite ruler Kara-indash; Uruk, c 1413 BC.

A small temple of fired brick from Uruk has niches holding male and female deities, life-giving water pouring onto the ground from the vessels in their hands. It was built by a Kassite ruler, Kara-indash,whose people had come into Mesopotamia from the east around 2000 BC. The temple originally stood on a platform 22.5m x 17.5m. and the reconstructed walls in the museum use a great many original brick fragments.

Pergamon Museum

 

Acropolis, Pergamon
The magnificent Pergamon Altar
Acropolis, Pergamon
Model of the Pergamon Altar

However, it was some monumental architecture we were particularly interested in, and the Pergamon Altar was the first  thing to be seen on entering the museum. We had visited the remains of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in western Turkey in 2006 and had wanted to see the altar ever since. Built during the reign of Eumenes II around 200-150 BC it is a massive structure, 36.80m wide and 34.20m deep at the base with five levels, dwarfing the human figure.9

Acropolis, Pergamon
Model of Pergamon: front is the huge Altar, the white mass of the theatre slopes down the hillside, above, facing out over the theatre, is the Temple of Trajan within a colonnaded courtyard; centre is the Temple of Athena.

The walls surrounding the steps leading to the fire court above are decorated with a high relief frieze depicting the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods. The giants were believed to be partly formed of snakes, hence the preponderance of these in the frieze.

Acropolis, Pergamon
Model of the Pergamon Altar - above the frieze was an arcade filled with statues

The sense of violent movement achieved in the sculptures is startling.

The fragments were excavated from the acropolis towards the end of the nineteenth century by the German archaeologist Carl Humann. All fragments of the frieze were brought back to Berlin.

A replica of the front part of the altar, including the fire court, was eventually created, incorporating the original fragments.



Acropolis, Pergamon
A dog of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, kills a giant with a bite to the neck.
Acropolis, Pergamon
Acropolis, Pergamon
Athena, daughter of Zeus and the city goddess, battles the giants;
the primitive earth goddess Gaia rises from the ground

Acropolis, Pergamon
Acropolis, Pergamon
Triton, part human, part dolphin, part horse
Acropolis, Pergamon
Hekate, goddess of magic and the night
Acropolis, Pergamon
Acropolis, Pergamon

The court of the fire altar was also decorated with a carved frieze, this one telling the story of Telephus, the legendary founder of Pergamon and son of Hercules and Auge, a priestess of Athena. Fragments of the frieze are also displayed in the reconstructed fire court of the altar in the museum. On the floor is an incomplete mosaic showing garlands of fruit, leaves and berries with small birds, and a beautiful panel with a parrot.

Miletus
Behind the two central columns of the Market Gate is a Greek inscription marking the place of a trader.
Acropolis, Pergamon
Miletus
Market Gate of Miletus

We had also visited Miletus on the Aegean coast, a Greek trading port which declined after the sea receded. In the museum they have the reconstruction of the massive Market Gate, the north entrance to the South Agora.

Miletus
Fluted Corinthian columns and complex coffered ceiling of the Market Gate.
Miletus
Orpheus Mosaic c 200 AD

It dates from the second century AD but collapsed in an earthquake around 800 years later. It includes significant amounts of modern material, but gives an excellent impression of the monumental architecture of the city.

The loveliest and most evocative part are a couple of inscriptions from traders marking their patch.

Miletus
On the side of the Market Gate is this piece of ancient graffiti which declares that this spot is where the Ephesian, Attalos, has his stall.
Miletus
Detail from the Orpheus Mosaic.

 

 

Pergamon Museum
Relief depicting a river town, 150-200 AD.
Neither Miletus nor Babylon, just something I liked for its naively evocative carving.

Another treasure form Miletus is the Orpheus Mosaic - a beautiful mosaic floor from the dining room of a Roman private house.

 

Pergamon Museum
Model of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way
Pergamon Museum
The Processional Way leading to the Ishtar Gate.

The monumental Ishtar Gate is so magnificent and impressive that we spent a good half hour looking at it. Dating from 600 BC it was designed to intimidate and inspire awe in those approaching the city of Babylon along the Processional Way. The original was a double gate, this smaller outer gate led to a much larger inner gate.

Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum

The 20m wide walled street approaching the northern gate of the city, the Ishtar Gate, was covered, in a stretch of around 180m before the gate, with glazed bricks depicting the goddess Ishtar in the form of a lion - 60 lions on each side.10

The massive Ishtar Gate is also covered in beautiful blue glazed bricks and panels with animals: dragons which represent the kingdom's god, Marduk, and bulls which represent the weather god Adad .11 Huge cedar doors covered in bronze closed the entrance at night.

Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Pergamon Museum
Cuneiform writing on the walls of the gate, part of Nebuchadnezzar II's Inscription.
Pergamon Museum

 

Pergamon Museum

Building Inscription of King Nebuchadnezzar II (604-562 BC).

During excavations a number of brick fragments with white cuneiform writing were discovered. Though their exact original location is unknown, they are Nebuchadnezzar's Inscription referring to the building of the gate. The information panel at the museum provides a partial translation:

"I [Nebuchadnezzar] laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. Upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus I magnificently adorned them with luxurious splendour for all mankind to behold in awe."

Pergamon Museum

References

  1. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Museuminsel Berlin
  2. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Altes Museum
  3. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Neues Museum
  4. SMB-digital: Relief fragments from the Sun Temple of Niuserre
  5. SMB-digital: Golden Zeremonialhut
  6. SMB-digital: Kopf der Teje
  7. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin: Bode Museum
  8. Bode Museum: Befreiung einer belagerten Stadt
  9. Pergamonmuseum: Der Große Altar von Pergamon
  10. Pergamonmuseum: Prozessionstraße von Babylon
  11. Pergamonmuseum: Ischtar-Tor