Uruk – 5,000 Years of the Megacity: The Vorderasiatisches Museum Launches a Virtual Exhibition

15.03.2022
Vorderasiatisches Museum

More than 5,000 years ago, the Iraqi city of Uruk was one of the largest cities in Mesopotamia and was the home of the hero Gilgamesh. Since 1912, the city has been the subject of extensive investigation through excavations overseen by the oriental department of the German Archaeological Institute. In 2013, the special exhibition Uruk – 5,000 Years of the Megacity presented the research outcomes to a broader public for the first time, fascinating more than 470,000 visitors to the Pergamonmuseum. Now, the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin’s Vorderasiatisches Museum is making the entire exhibition available in the form of a virtual tour: www.smb.museum/uruk-digital.

The special exhibition Uruk – 5,000 Years of the Megacity was a 2013 collaboration between the Vorderasiatisches Museum, the oriental department of the German Archaeological Institute, the Curt Engelhorn Foundation for the Reiss-Engelhorn-Museen and the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft, and was presented on Berlin’s Museumsinsel and at the LWL Archaeological Museum, Westphalian State Museum in Herne. It gathered together objects from Uruk from the collections of the Vorderasiatisches Museum and the Heidelberg Uruk collection, and also featured impressive loans from London, Paris, Brussels, Oxford and Dresden.

Using their web browser, users can now visit the entire exhibition in the virtual realm – including all the exhibition texts, photos and films, as well as the exhibition design by resD, the virtual reconstructions of architectural structures in Uruk by the company artefacts-berlin.de, and the filmic presentation of the topography and historical evolution of Uruk produced by the German Aerospace Center (DLR Oberpfaffenhofen).

On the City of Uruk

Like no other place, the city of Uruk embodies the fundamental concept of an ancient city. More than a kilometre of city walls marked out the city limits, while the gods were venerated in the temples, where writing was also invented. Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk and hero of the eponymous epic, is considered to have erected the city walls. In its current permanent exhibition, the Vorderasiatisches Museum has objects and vibrant temple façades from the Deutesche Orient-Gesellschaft’s excavations in Uruk on display, which made their way to Berlin before the Second World War through the partage agreements.

Having been studied in depth for more than a century, Uruk is also a big topic in ancient Near Eastern archaeology. A number of the innovations of our civilised world, such as writing and bookkeeping, originated here more than 5,000 years ago. Since 2016, Uruk has been recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage site and is part of the cultural and natural heritage site “The Ahwar of Southern Iraq: Refuge of biodiversity and the relict landscape of the Mesopotamian cities”. Many of the excavation areas can be viewed on site, while others have been re-filled for conservational reasons.

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Since 2015, the German Archaeological Institute has been carrying on its work on site and has been making new contributions to our understanding of the city, which will be presented to the public. At the same time, painstaking conservation work is being carried out to protect the most important structures from erosion and to prepare them for visitors.