The Pergamon

One of the highlights of Berlin is the Museuminsel, or Museum Island. It’s comparable to the Smithsonian, in that some of the world’s best museums are clustered together in easy walking distance. Only in Berlin they cost money. Except on Thursday evenings, that is.

So yesterday four friends from the Goethe Institut and I went to the Pergamon Museum, certainly the best-known museum in town, housing some (ethically dubiously) airlifted altars and monuments from the ancient near east. After waiting in line for over half an hour (the last ten minutes or so in drenching rain, with the five of us huddled beneath a single umbrella), we made it inside.

The first sight visitors are greeted with is the magnificent Pergamon Altar:

The altar was constructed in the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, in modern-day Turkey, in the 2nd century BC, as part of the city’s acropolis. It was excavated, in pieces, in the late 19th century by the German engineer Carl Hoffman, and was transported to Berlin with the consent (now much regretted, I have to imagine) of the Turkish government. (Compare this to the ongoing Yale-Peru spat over Machu Picchu artifacts.) It was originally placed in the nearby, overfilled Altes Museum, but soon a new museum was constructed to showcase the altar.

The frieze along the altar’s base depicts the battle between the Olympian Gods and the Giants:

My comrades in front of the altar — Justyna (Poland), Leidy (Colombia), Sophie (France), and Simon (Spain):

Some more cool relief work:

Of course, these tasteful marble sculptures that now look like

probably used to look something like


At least as impressive as the Pergamon Altar is the Market Gate of Miletus, from 2nd-century AD Anatolia:

The museum is full of ancient writing, inscribed in stone, from what I’d call Babylonian hieroglyphics (Noah, I expect lots of corrections in the comments section)

to Assyrian cuneiform

to Aramaic

to the most beautiful written language, Arabic:

Another highlight: the Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed by Nebuchadnezzar II around 575 BC. Here, a model of what it used to look like, flanked by what actually remains of the walls:

And a close-up of one of the walls:

Berlin is a wonderful city, but I have to say, compared to all this, we live in pretty Spartan times.

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4 Responses to The Pergamon

  1. Noah says:

    Thats awesome. How big is that Ishtar gate replica? I like that alot, I need to see this museum when I arrive.
    In terms of Turkish bitterness about giving it away, I went to Pergamum, where there are all kinds of cool temples and other ancient structures on the acropolis. There is not a single sign pointing to where the Altar to Zeus would have stood, or a single mention that it was ever there. Theres just a pile of rubble with some trash strewn in in the area that I knew the altar once stood.
    Babylonian hieroglyphs? Was there a plaque? Is there any reason that you think those are babylonian? Unless its weirdly stylized cuneiform somehow… I don’t think its Babylonian. Guessing from the fact that it comes earlier in your photo lineup, and the shapes of the squiggles (no wedges used, but looks like cuneiform), my guess would have to be proto-Cuneiform from Uruk, late 4th millenium BC? Might be a bullshit guess, but that’s my final answer.
    Anyway, I’ll be on your continent really soon. Lets make meeting plans

  2. Noah says:

    Nevermind, I have no idea. Its enscribed on stone, think its later than uruk (theres a lot written there, Uruk people often just wrote things like ‘ 6 cows’), and…. I don’t know. Maybe it is some stylized Babylonian cuneiform, or some culture between Egypt, Turkey, and the Near East… or something unguessable on the edges like early Elamte or Luwian script. Now my curiosity is piqued.
    Let me know if you go back

    • Aaron Wiener says:

      I couldn’t find any sort of plaque or anything. I just speculated it was Babylonian because it was with the Ishtar stuff. The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon, reconstructed from excavated material, is, according to Wikipedia, 47 feet wide and 100 feet high.

  3. Pingback: Yet Another Art Tour | Ein Berliner, Briefly

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