The Museum of the Ancient Near East is one of the most prominent museums of ancient Near Eastern art and culture in the world. Its collection features unique objects dating from the 6th millennium BC to the first centuries AD. Geographically it ranges from Uruk and Babylon to Assur. Among other things, the collection of the Museum of the Ancient Near East includes world-famous reconstructions of monumental architecture, such as the Ishtar Gate of Babylon. These objects were unearthed in the course of German excavations in Mesopotamia. They lend particular authenticity to the collection which is presented in the southern wing of the Pergamonmuseum.
Since the opening of the “Museum on the Kupfergraben” – today’s Pergamonmuseum – in 1930, about 2,000 archaeological finds from the collection of the Museum of the Ancient Near East have been on exhibit on the main floor of the south wing. The permanent exhibition will be expanded to the upper floor once the building has been renovated and extended in accordance with the Museum Island Master Plan. This
increase in exhibition space will allow for the presentation of many ancient Near Eastern antiquities that could not be exhibited so far. Additionally, it will raise public awareness about the international standing of the Museum of the Ancient Near East which is, after all, one of the most important academic institutions dealing with ancient Near Eastern cultural history.
Immediately after beginning the excavations in Babylon in 1899, Robert Koldewey discovered hundreds of thousands of color-glazed brick fragments. The Berlin-based scholars succeeded in reassembling these fragments, and they reconstructed a monumental gate decorated with reliefs – the Ishtar Gate. The walls of the gate are decorated with reliefs of aurochs and serpent-bodied dragons against a radiant blue background. These creatures represent the Babylonian deities Adad and Marduk. The splendidly designed Ishtar Gate was built during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II (604 – 562 BC). It is one of several gates that once led into Babylon, and part of the city’s wall which counted among the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.”
The Processional Street of Babylon is intimately associated with the Ishtar Gate. Long stretches of its course can still be seen in Babylon. However, lavish decoration was limited to a section of about 180 meters which led to the city gate from the north. Simultaneously with the reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate, a small section of the Processional Street was reconstructed in the Pergamonmuseum, albeit reduced in width in comparison to the original. On both sides, lions are seen striding against a blue background. The lion is the animal companion of Ishtar, the goddess of love and war. During the Babylonian New Year’s festival, the three divine beings lion, dragon, and aurochs acted as guardians of the procession.
In the future, the façade of the rulers’ palace of Tell Halaf will be the gateway between the new fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum and the Museum of the Ancient Near East. The façade shows three monumental statues of gods rising from the backs of two lions and a bull. The entire ensemble is about six meters high. The Late Hittite palace was built in northern Syria in the late 9th century BC. When the finds were divided up, a share of the sculptures and reliefs unearthed by the excavator Max Freiherr von Oppenheim came to Berlin. The sculptures exhibited in the Tell Halaf Museum were destroyed during World War II. However, thousands of basalt fragments could be rescued and the façade restored, a task that took years to accomplish.
The first tablet of the “Middle Assyrian Law” was inscribed during the reign of King Ninurta-apil-Ekur in Iraq (1191 – 1179 BC). The 58 paragraphs focus on dress codes as well as matters pertaining to criminal offenses, women, marriage, and matrimonial property. Many of the laws are remarkably strict, as becomes evident from the following example: “§ 37 If a citizen wishes to divorce his wife, he can give her something if he wants to, but if he is not willing to do so he is not obliged to give her anything: she will go away empty-handed.” However, documents of everyday life show that women enjoyed much more freedom than that. In the future, the tablet will be on exhibit on the upper floor of the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum.
The permanent exhibition of the Museum of the Ancient Near East will be accessible via the historical entrance of the Pergamonmuseum as well as via the James-Simon-Galerie. The monumental objects of the Museum of the Ancient Near East will be part of the Ancient Architectures Tour. In addition, the Museum of the Ancient Near East will be connected to the Archaeological Promenade via the access beneath the new tempietto entrance.