Let’s go to Museum Island! Yes, that’s really what it’s called. And it really is an island, in the river Spree. It is the site of five outstanding museums:
- The Altes Museum (Old Museum), which contains the Collection of Classical Antiquities
- The Neues Museum (New Museum), which houses the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection as well as the Museum of Prehistory and Early History
- The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), containing 19th century paintings and sculptures
- The Bode Museum, which contains the Sculpture Collection and the Museum of Byzantine Art
- The Pergamon Museum, which houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Museum of the Ancient Near East, and the Museum of Islamic Art.
We only had one day to visit the museums, and hoped to get to three of them, but ended up only seeing two – the Pergamon Museum in the morning, and the Neues Museum after lunch.
The Pergamon Museum contains reconstructions of historically significant buildings. First was the Pergamon Altar, from the ancient Greek city of Pergamon, located in what is now Turkey. The friezes which lined the altar and the walls of the courtyard depict battles between Olympian gods and giants, and life events of Telephus, the son of Hercules. I didn’t get a good photo of the altar building, but you can see how large it is in the link above. Here is a portion of the courtyard frieze, with an artist’s conception of what the original frieze may have looked like below it:
Next was the marble Market Gate of Miletus, which was the northern entrance to the southern market in Miletus (also now part of Turkey).
It’s even bigger than it appears in the photo above. The people in the foreground are on a balcony. See the tiny people in the lower right? They’re at ground level in front of the gate. From there, it looks like this:
In order to rebuild the gate, much of it had to be recreated with new material, especially the lower half of the gate. Evidently there was a lot of criticism of that – but I don’t care, since just seeing chunks of it wouldn’t give you the majesty of the whole structure. On the floor in front of it is a beautiful mosaic tile floor which was once in the dining room of a private house in Miletus. It depicts Orpheus (in the center of the top square), who had the ability to charm animals. It was one of several mosaic floors displayed in the museum. I just love them, and marvel at the tiny cubes of stone used to make them, which you can see in this detail of the mosaic.
I particularly loved the Ishtar Gate, the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon, dating to about 575 BC. It was originally considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but was later bumped off the list after the building of the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Along with the gate, sections of the Processional Way are also displayed (the part on the wall to the left of the gate). Of course, much of the tile has been replaced, but you can easily tell the newer bright blue tile from the originals with their cracked and worn surface. Here’s a detail of one of the lions from the Processional Way:
Passing through the gate, we entered the Museum of the Ancient Near East, with objects from the Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and northern Syrian/eastern Anatolian regions. Today those areas include Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. I told Larry that this double statue of a man and woman from Tell Halaf (9th century BC) was what we’d probably look like in a few years:
The third museum in the Pergamon building is the Museum of Islamic Art. The tilework was astoundingly beautiful, as in this prayer niche:
The metalwork was incredible. Gorgeous jewelery and household items, like this 13th century pitcher and basin made of brass with silver and gold inlay:
And look! There was even a guy with bracelets and a handbag. I wonder what he kept in his purse?
After the Pergamon, we took a break for lunch, then headed back to the Neues Museum. The highlight at this museum is the incredible Painted Bust of Nefertiti. Photos are not allowed in that room, but fortunately there’s this lovely one available under a Creative Commons license:
Of course, photographs don’t do her justice at all. The color and detail are amazing when you see them in person. There are even age lines under her eyes. She is stunning.
Here are a couple of my other favorites from the Neues museum – the statue of the head of a Princess of the Akhénaton family (1345 BC):
The shape was fascinating – it was designed to have hair mounted on the head, so perhaps the shape of the skull was done this way to hold the shape of the hair and/or headdress:
And last of all, this wine vessel in the shape of the god Bes, the protector of households (particularly women and children) and patron of music and pleasure: (1360 BC). Bes was a bearded dwarf who was always depicted front-facing, and with his tongue sticking out:
Maybe we all need a little Bes in our lives. I need to immediately take up pottery so I can make a replica of this.
I’m sure that’s more than enough of museums for you. I’ll wrap up Berlin in the next post with some green space.
All posts for this vacation can be found with this tag: Europe2013