The collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East) is housed in the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum. Its collection includes world-famous works of art brought back to Berlin from archaeological excavations at sites relating to the ancient Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian and North Syrian/East Anatolian civilisations, in what are today Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Along the central axis of the museum are its most famous treasures: world-renowned reconstructions of the magnificent, giant, brilliantly coloured architectural structures of Babylon. Here the visitor can actually walk through the Ishtar Gate, down the Processional Way and along the facade of the Throne Room of King Nebuchadnezzar II, dating back to the 6th century BCE. The structures have been reconstructed to approximately their original dimensions from hundreds of thousands of fragments of the original glazed tiles. Modelled in bas-relief on dark-blue wall surfaces are representations of lions, bulls and dragons, symbols of the chief deities of Babylon. In the Babylon Room, a model of the legendary Tower of Babel, chief shrine of the city’s god, Marduk, gives an idea of what this massively influential building really looked like.
The museum has other unique examples of ancient Near Eastern monumental architecture on display. Found in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Uruk, the temple of Eanna dates back to the 3rd and 2nd millennium BCE. Two parts of it have been reconstructed: a courtyard wall decorated with mosaics made from coloured, baked-clay cones, and the niched facade of a temple with bas-relief statues made from fired bricks. Other excavated finds from Uruk provide evidence about the art and culture of the Sumerians, including the earliest development of writing in the 4th millennium BCE. Clay tablets and seals kept in the collection document the spread of writing throughout the whole of the ancient Near East.
Almost 3,000 years ago the palace of Kalchu, periodically the capital city of Assyria, was embellished with alabaster reliefs of astonishingly rich detail. Replicas of mighty door-keepers in the shape of mythical beasts dominate the reconstructed room of a palace from this Neo-Assyrian period. The mastery of Assyrian artists and craftsmen of the 2nd and 1st millennia BCE is amply demonstrated by a wealth of vessels, jewellery, utensils, clay and stone reliefs, tiles and small works of sculpture made from various materials.
The origins of the Berlin collection of oriental antiquities are closely bound up with the development of Assyriology and the early successes of the philologist, Georg Friedrich Grotefend, in deciphering cuneiform script. Both led to a general interest in the early cultures of Babylon and Assyria. An additional factor was the founding, in 1898, of the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft (German Oriental Society) which provided essential support for oriental archaeology.
The Department of the Ancient Near East was founded in Berlin in 1899 after the spectacular discovery of the coloured tiles of the Ishtar Gate and the Babylonian Processional Way. The outstanding quality of the collection is principally due to finds made in the course of German excavations between 1888 and 1939. After being housed initially in the Kaiser Friedrich-Museum, now the Bode-Museum, the collection was moved in 1929 to the south wing of the Pergamonmuseum. When this was opened in the following year, the world-famous Processional Way and Ishtar Gate could finally be admired and studied by visitors.
On the advice of its then director, Walter Andrae, the museum’s permanent fixtures were not removed for safe-storage during the Second World War. They survived almost intact. The moveable objects ended up, after the War, in the Soviet Union, from where they were returned in 1958. The parts of the collection which had remained in Berlin were opened to the public in the Pergamonmuseum in 1953. Here, on the Museumsinsel Berlin, its permanent displays and rotating exhibitions continue to be seen by the public.
Titles of publication released by the Vorderasiatisches Museum are listed in the bibliography of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.