Museum Island Overview of the Buildings
Altes Museum Neues Museum Pergamonmuseum Bode-Museum Alte Nationalgalerie James-Simon-Galerie Archäologisches Zentrum Erweiterung Bode-Museum

Altes Museum

Altes Museum (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2012
Not yet under renovation

The Origin of the Museum Island

The Altes Museum was Berlin’s first museum and the nucleus of the Museum Island. It was built between 1823 and 1830 by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel. Being one of the most important examples of neo-classical architecture, the Altes Museum was trend-setting well into the 20th century.

The Altes Museum houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). Some renovation measures have already been undertaken. Complete restoration work, as envisioned in the Museum Island Master Plan, still remains to be done. The architects’ office of Hilmer & Sattler and Albrecht was commissioned to plan these restorations.

© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

The Southern Face of the Museum Island

The Altes Museum can be seen from Unter den Linden. The main entrance to this “temple of the arts” faces directly onto the Lustgarten. Its large outside staircase and the monumental arrangement of columns reveal the particular importance attached by Friedrich Wilhelm III to the presentation of art. Its wide, inviting portico is an architectural expression of opening the arts to the public. Above the columns, an inscription proclaims the central theme of the Berlin museums, “Studio antiquitatis omnigenae et artium liberalium”: they are dedicated to “the study of the arts and antiquities from all over the world.”

Complete Renovation of the Altes Museum

The Altes Museum will be thoroughly renovated based on plans from the architects’ office of Hilmer & Sattler and Albrecht (Munich/Berlin), which was commissioned in 1998 to draw up these plans. Complete renovation has not yet begun. However, two urgent preliminary measures have already been taken: renovation of the outside staircase and restoration of the paneled ceiling of the rotunda.

As soon as all the construction work has been completed, the semi-basement will also be used for exhibitions and service facilities. In addition, the plan is to put the two inner courtyards of the Altes Museum into use by providing them with glass roofing. And last but not least, the Archaeological Promenade will connect the Altes Museum to the other buildings on the Museum Island spatially and thematically.

Collections in the Altes Museum

Just as today, the Collection of Classical Antiquities of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin will be presented at the Altes Museum in the future. The newly arranged exhibition of Greek art has been shown on the main floor since 2011. It also features the sculptures from the Collection of Classical Antiquities, which were formerly on show in the Pergamonmuseum. On the upper floor, an exquisite selection of Etruscan and Roman art has been exhibited since 2010.

When the Altes Museum opened in 1830, it was intended for “all collections of art.” The works exhibited came from the Collection of Classical Antiquities, the Old Master Paintings, and the Numismatic Collection. From 1904 onward the museum housed only the Collection of Classical Antiquities. From 1966 onward it was used as a museum of contemporary art of the GDR.

In the wake of reunification, the Collection of Classical Antiquities gradually began to move back to the Altes Museum. With the “Antiquarium,” the minor arts collection of the Collection of Classical Antiquities returned to the historical site from their separate locations in Charlottenburg and the Pergamonmuseum in 1998. Many widely acclaimed special exhibitions have been presented on the upper floor of the Altes Museum. Additionally, the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection including the bust of Nefertiti was exhibited there during an interim period from 2005 to 2009.

Altes Museum in 1935 (photograph) Altes Museum in 1969 (photograph) Altes Museum in 1987 (photograph) Future view of the Altes Museum (visualization)

Historical Views

In 1810, King Friedrich Wilhelm III commissioned Wilhelm von Humboldt “to compile a public, well-selected collection of art in Berlin.” The Royal Museum – today’s Altes Museum – built according to plans by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, opened next to the Lustgarten in 1830. It added art as a fourth element to the open rectangle of politics (Berlin Palace), military (Armory), and church (Berlin Cathedral). Shortly before the end of World War II, the Altes Museum burned out almost completely. It was restored between 1958 and 1966. Up to reunification, the building served as a museum for contemporary art of the GDR.

Entrances to the Altes Museum and the Archaeological Promenade (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2015

Entrances

In addition to its historical entrance at the top of the large outside staircase, the Altes Museum will be accessible via the Archaeological Promenade. The latter will lead to, or have its starting point, in one of the so far unused inner courtyards. The Archaeological Promenade will once again provide a passage to the Neues Museum, which until 1945 was connected by a bridge. The other buildings connected to the Archaeological Promenade will then also be accessible from the Altes Museum.

Detail view of the equestrian statues on the outside staircase of the Altes Museum (visualization)
© SPK / ART+COM, 2012

Dates and Facts

  • Architect: Karl Friedrich Schinkel
  • 1832-1830: construction; first presentation of the Antiquities and Paintings collection; from 1904 onward Collection of Classical Antiquities only
  • 1943 and 1945: heavy damage
  • 1958-1966: reconstruction; used for contemporary art of the GDR
  • From 1993 onward: successively used again by the Collection of Classical Antiquities −    1998: competition for complete renovation; winner: architects Hilmer & Sattler and Albrecht
  • 2007: early renovation works to the outside staircase
  • 2009: early restoration of the paneled ceiling in the rotunda