Exhibition partnership: Early capitals of Islamic culture. The artistic heritage of Umayyad Damascus and Abbasid Baghdad (660-950)


An exhibition partnership between the Museum für Islamische Kunst – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the National Museum at Riyadh.

The Museum für Islamische Kunst, part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, continues its ongoing partnership with the National Museum at Riyadh with an exhibition entitled “Early Capitals of Islamic Culture”. The exhibition, which has already been shown at Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, focuses on the cultural legacy of Damascus and Baghdad – the two first capital cities of the Islamic world. This is the first time that a number of rare archaeological treasures and exceptional artistic masterpieces dating from the first centuries of the Islamic period have been on public display. The objects shed light on a historically significant epoch that bridged pre-Islamic late antiquity with the golden age of the 8th and 9th centuries. They provide a vivid account of the survival of antique forms, techniques, and aesthetic practices, their appropriation and adaptation, but also illustrate how the period gave rise to groundbreaking innovations.

Displaying over 100 objects from the collections of the Museum für Islamische Kunst, the exhibition lends insights into one of the most fascinating periods of human history. The objects displayed were originally found among the palace complexes, capitals, and seats of power of both the Umayyad and Abbasids, and date from the respective periods of these first two Islamic dynasties. The exhibition includes displays on a number of “desert castles” from the Umayyad period: Khirbat al-Minya (built between 705–15), Qusayr Amra (c. 730s), the famous Mshatta Palace (c. 744), and the gigantic capital city of Samarra (9th century). Archaeological finds from the Ancient Persian-Sassanid capital and early Islamic provincial capital, Ctesiphon in Iraq (5th–7th century), provide examples of Islamic art’s sources of inspiration and creative antecedents.

Housed in the Pergamonmuseum on the Museumsinsel, Berlin’s Museum für Islamische Kunst was one of the first museums of Islamic art and archaeology to be founded anywhere in the world. There is a particular emphasis on collections of archaeological objects and masterpieces from the first centuries of the Islamic period, which are in turn complemented by a number of collaborative projects involving various countries in the Islamic world. For years the museum has participated in cultural preservation programmes, including the “Syrian Heritage Archive Project”, as well as museum and educational projects for conservators and restorers throughout the Islamic world (including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and a number of Arab countries).