Just about every guidebook on Berlin lists the Pergamon Museum, which is on Museum Island in the Mitte district, as one of the “must see” sights in Berlin. But we didn’t have it on our list of places we were intending to visit during our recent stay in the city. From what I’d read it was a museum of artefacts from the Ancient world and I thought it would be similar to the sections of the British Museum devoted to Ancient Greece and Rome. We’d been to see the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum during January and I didn’t think the Pergamon collection would be much different, and there were other things we wanted to see while we were in Berlin. But after we’d bought our 3 day Museum Pass and discovered that the Pergamon was open until 8p.m. on Thursdays, and as it was only just over the river from our hotel, and I like a bargain, we thought we’d pop in and have a quick look round for the last hour and a half before we went for something to eat. I’m very glad we did. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.
It’s actually three museums in one - the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of the Ancient Near East and the Museum of Islamic Art. And there was a lot to see, so our short visit really wasn’t enough (true for our trip to Berlin in general).
One of the big differences between the Pergamon and the British Museum that in the former many of the artefacts have been used in reconstructions of their original locations. I’m sure some purists don’t approve of this approach, but for me it really brought the exhibits to life. They were shown in their context, rather than as isolated pieces of stone.
The first room we visited, a large hall actually, was devoted to the Pergamon alter, a monumental structure excavated from the ancient Hellenic city of Pergamon in modern day Turkey.
Sections of a frieze showing gods and mythical creatures were also displayed around the walls.
Like the Elgin marbles the sculptures are very beautiful and show the talent and skill of the craftsmen who produced them.
And like the artefacts from the Parthenon, there is controversy over the legitimacy of the acquisition of the collection, with some advocating that the collection should be returned to Turkey.
In the adjacent room there were reconstructed structures from the Roman world including the massive Market Gate of Miletus.
But, for me, it was the exhibits from Babylon and the Islamic world were particularly interesting.
The star of the show was the breathtaking (literaly!) Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon.
The photographs I took really don’t do it justice
The gate was dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, and was constructed using glazed bricks. It was a massive structure – a double gate; and only the smaller front part is on display.
The gate is a reconstruction using original parts, but most of the bricks are reproductions. But I don’t think that invalidates the display. So long as the original pieces can be identified and it’s clear what has been done, the artefacts are much more meaningful to most people shown in context and seeing the size and the grandeur of the reconstructed gate really gives a much better impression of the skill of the original creators than seeing a few sections of mosaic.
There were other artefacts from Babylon and Assyria.
As the art and culture from these societies aren’t as lauded as those of the Greeks and Romans, I found them more interesting in many ways.
And then there was the Museum of Islamic Art on the upper floor. Time was beginning to run out so we couldn’t spend as long looking around here as I’d have liked, but there were some stunning displays, like these ornamental fireplaces
This intricately carved wooden roof taken from the Alhambra
– the photo taken looking upwards really doesn’t do it justice –
and this reception room from a broker’s home in Aleppo, Syria that was commissioned during the Ottoman Period
and so much more.
So, it was a lucky decision, taken rather on the spur of the moment because we were staying nearby, it was open later and our Museum ticket covered entry. We could have spent much longer looking round. But it got to 8 o’clock and the museum staff were gently encouraging us to leave and shutting the lights off behind us.
But I’d recommend a visit during Thursday evening. When we called back the next morning to pick up a memento from the gallery shop (they were shutting up as we were leaving on the Thursday) it was heaving as all the coach parties had descended and there was a massive queue and it would have been difficult to get a good look at the exhibits.