The collection of the Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East) comprises works of architecture, art and handicrafts, as well as everyday objects, primarily from archaeological excavations in Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Levant. The collection provides a glimpse into 6,000 years of cultural history, from the first human settlements and the development of writing through to the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires. The highlights of the museum include the unique monumental reconstructions of architectural structures.
The collection reflects the foundations that were built upon by the cultures of the ancient world and the Islamic cultures that followed on from them, as can be seen in the artefacts on display in the Pergamonmuseum.
Along the central axis of the museum are the monumental, brilliantly coloured architectural structures of Babylon, with the Processional Way, the Ishtar Gate and the Throne Room of King Nebuchadnezzar II, dating back to the 6th century BC. The dark-blue wall surfaces are adorned with depictions of lions, bulls and dragons, symbols of the chief deities of Babylon.
Likewise reconstructed are the façades of the temple of Eanna from the ancient Sumerian city of Uruk, with mosaics made from coloured, baked-clay cones, and a temple façade with figural decorations. The city of Uruk is also intimately connected with the earliest stages in the development of writing in the 4th millennium BC. Clay tablets and seals featuring cuneiform script document the spread of writing throughout the whole of the ancient Near East.
Imposing gatekeeper figures in the form of mythical creatures, casts of originals from Nimrud, watch over the reconstruction of a palace interior from the era of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, whose colourful wall decorations are based evidence from excavation finds. Praying figures from the Ishtar temple in Assur and masterfully produced works in stone, clay and metal from temple deposits underscore the skills of the inhabitants of Assur through the millennia.
The Vorderasiatisches Museum is one of the most important institutions when it comes to research into the cultural history of this region, both in Germany and around the world. Because a larger portion of the objects in the collection come from archaeological excavations and came to Berlin through partage, the objects themselves and the documentation of the contexts in which they were found represent an important resource for research in the field. With more than 30,000 items of cuneiform script, the museum also houses one of the biggest collections of Sumerian and Akkadian writings.
The Vorderasiatisches Museum collaborates closely with universities and museums right around the world.
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.