Museumsinsel overall view

Ancient Architectures Tour

A Tour through the Monumental Architectural Exhibits in the Pergamonmuseum

The main level of the Pergamonmuseum, which is being redesigned according to the Museum Island Master Plan, will allow visitors to experience a close-up encounter with antiquity. In the future, they will be able to marvel at ancient architectural monuments along an impressive circuit. Buildings from ancient Egypt, ancient Near Eastern culture, and Greek and Roman antiquity as well as from Islam will be presented closely together. No other museum in the world can give such an impression of their monumentality. The exhibition designers neumann schneider architekten have been commissioned to install the exhibitions of the Museum of Islamic Art and the Collection of Classical Antiquities.

© SPK / ART+COM / Pergamonaltar: Fraunhofer IGD, 2016

Virtual Tour

The new entrance building, the James-Simon-Galerie, will permit visitors direct access to the Ancient Architectures Tour. There they will walk along the Processional Way from Babylon and pass the Ishtar Gate. Behind it, the Market Gate from Miletus will be the prelude to Greek and Roman antiquity. Visitors will never forget the moment they first see the overwhelming Pergamon Altar. The façade of the early Islamic desert palace of Mschatta, which is just as impressive, can be seen in the north wing. The magnificent final exhibit on the tour will be the ancient Egyptian temple gate of Kalabsha, the pyramid temple of Sahu-Rê, and  the large statues of gods from the rulers’ palace of Tell Halaf. They will be exhibited in the new fourth wing.

Highlights of the Ancient Architectures Tour

Highlights des Rundgangs Antike Architekturen

Featuring monumental frieze panels at its base, the Pergamon Altar is a highlight of Hellenistic art. More than a hundred larger-than-life figures show the battle between the Olympic gods and the Giants. A second frieze on the walls of an adjoining room tells the legend of Telephus. The Pergamon Altar was built between 175 and 159 BC. It was destroyed in early Byzantine times. In the course of late 19th-century excavations conducted at the Pergamon site in Asia Minor, Carl Humann found countless fragments of the altar. From these, the frieze was reassembled in Berlin. The western side of the altar with the flight of stairs was reconstructed. Both altar friezes were thoroughly restored between 1994 and 2004.

The Market Gate of Miletus, built around AD 100, gives an impression of the splendor of Roman cities in Asia Minor. It measures almost 17 meters in height and 29 meters in width. The well-preserved elements of the gate, which was destroyed by an earthquake, were recovered in the course of excavations (1903 – 1905) directed by the Berlin museums. Only few architectural elements needed to be added when the Gate was reconstructed in the late 1920s. It suffered heavy damage during World War II, was inadequately restored in the 1950s, and underwent a first phase of restoration between 2005 and 2008. Further restoration will be carried out in the course of the complete renovation of the Pergamonmuseum.

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.

In the future, Egypt will be included in the unique ensemble of ancient monumental architecture on the Museum Island. The monumental columns and epistyles from the courtyard of King Sahu-Rê’s temple in Abusir will be on exhibit there. The temple was built around 2400 BC. When the finds were divided up following a German excavation headed by Ludwig Borchardt, the objects came to Berlin at the beginning of the 20th century. It was planned to exhibit them in a new building on the Kupfergraben which was, however, never realized. With a delay of one century, the columns from the courtyard of Sahu-Rê’s temple will now find their place on the Museum Island in the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum.

The Kalabsha Gate will be the monumental entrance to the fourth wing of the Pergamonmuseum. The ancient Egyptian temple gate was presented to the Federal Republic of Germany as a gift by Egypt in 1971. It was bestowed out of gratitude for Germany’s participation in the rescue of the Nubian temples threatened by the Aswan Dam. On the relief images of the gate, the pharaoh is seen performing a ritual before the ancient Egyptian gods. According to the hieroglyphic inscriptions, the Pharaoh is the Roman emperor Augustus. Hence, the gate is also a memorial to an ancient east-west dialogue.

When the desert palace of Mschatta was built in the vicinity of today’s Jordanian capital in AD 743/744, the era of antiquity had already passed into history. Its lavishly decorated façade, which measures 35 meters in length, came to Berlin as a gift from Sultan Abdulhamid II to Emperor Wilhelm II. Its figural motifs forge a link between late antiquity and early Islam. Embodying this dialogue, the façade will be both the programmatic final exhibit and a highlight of the Ancient Architectures Tour. It is currently on exhibit on the upper floor of the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum. In the future, it will be shown on the same level as the other monumental architectural objects.


The tour on the main level of the Pergamonmuseum will lead through all four of the wings, and thus through all the collections that will be shown there in the future. It will be directly accessible from the new entrance building, the James-Simon-Galerie. Visitors will also be able to access it from the entrances to the individual collections: they will be able to reach the circuit via the new tempietto entrance and the Collection of Classical Antiquities, as well as via the entrances to the side wings – the north wing with the Museum of Islamic Art and the south wing with the Museum of the Ancient Near East.