Islamic art and Mshatta facade in Pergamon museum

Qasr Mshatta (“Winter Palace”) is the ruin of an Umayyad winter palace, probably commissioned by Caliph Al-Walid II (743-744). The ruins are located approximately 30 km south of Amman, Jordan, north of Queen Alia International Airport, and are part of a string of castles, palaces and caravanserais known collectively in Jordan as the Desert Castles. Though much of the ruins can still be found in situ, the most striking feature of the palace, its facade, has been removed and is on display at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The complex was never completed.

PBMUS_IMG_5790The ruins of Qasr Mushatta consist of a square enclosure, surrounded by an outer wall comprising 25 towers. Its internal space is divided into three equal longitudinal strips, of which just the central one was completed to some degree. This central strip contains three major elements: on its southern side is what K. A. C. Creswell called the “Gateway Block”, followed by the large central courtyard, which leads northwards to the reception hall wing. The Gateway Block presents only the foundations of several rooms arranged symmetrically around a small courtyard. Among the rooms there is a small mosque, recognisable by the concave mihrab on its southern wall, facing Mecca. The large central courtyard had a rectangular pond at its centre. The reception hall wing, called by Creswell the “Main Building”, placed at the centre of the northern part of the enclosure, was the only fully built section of the palace. It consists of a basilica-shaped hall (a vaulted hallway with three aisles separated by columns), leading up to the throne room. The throne room is triconch-shaped (a “triple iwan”), with the central conch once containing the throne, and was covered by a brick dome. The side rooms of the reception hall wing were combined into four residential suites, called in Arabic buyut, the plural of bayt, barrel-vaulted and ventilated through concealed air ducts.

The most famous element of Mshatta is the carved frieze which decorated a section of the southern facade, on both sides of the entrance gate. It is worth noticing that not the entire facade was adorned by the frieze, but only its central third, which corresponded to the very strip of the complex apparently reserved to the caliph, and the only one close to completion. The frieze is of high importance to scholars due to its original combination of Classical and Sasanian decorative elements, thus being an early example of the East-West synthesis which led to the development of a full-fledged Islamic art. While much of the decorated part of the facade has been removed, the rest of the structure can still be visited in situ, though little of what were probably once lavish decorative schemes remain.

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Babylon Ishtar Gate, King Nebuchadnezzar II in Pergamon museum

Dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the gate was constructed using glazed brick with alternating rows of bas-relief mušḫuššu (dragons) and aurochs, symbolizing the gods Marduk and Adad respectively.[1]

The roof and doors of the gate were of cedar, according to the dedication plaque. The gate was covered in lapis lazuli, a deep-blue semi-precious stone that was revered in antiquity due to its vibrancy. These blue glazed bricks would have given the façade a jewel-like shine. Through the gate ran the Processional Way, which was lined with walls showing about 120 lions, bulls, dragons and flowers on enameled yellow and black glazed bricks, symbolizing the goddess Ishtar. The gate itself depicted only gods and goddesses. These included Ishtar, Adad and Marduk. During celebrations of the New Year, statues of the deities were paraded through the gate and down the Processional Way.

The gate, being part of the Walls of Babylon, was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.

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Zeus Altar in Pergamon museum

PBMUS_ZEUSALTAR_IMG_5701The Pergamon Altar is a monumental construction built during the reign of Greek King Eumenes II in the first half of the 2nd century BC on one of the terraces of the acropolis of the ancient Greek city of Pergamon in Asia Minor. The structure is 35.64 metres wide and 33.4 metres dee
p; the front stairway alone is almost 20 metres wide. The base is decorated with a frieze in high relief showing the battle between the Giants and the Olympian gods known as the Gigantomachy. There is a second, smaller and less well-preserved high relief frieze on the inner court walls which surround the actual fire altar on the upper level of the structure at the top of the stairs. In a set of consecutive scenes, it depicts events from the life of Telephus, legendary founder of the city of Pergamon and son of the hero Heracles and Auge, one of Tegean king Aleus’s daughters.

In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann began official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort that lasted until 1886. The excavation was undertaken in order to rescue the altar friezes and expose the foundation of the edifice. Later, other ancient structures on the acropolis were brought to light. Upon negotiating with the Turkish government (a participant in the excavation), it was agreed that all frieze fragments found at the time would become the property of the Berlin museums.

PBMUS_710IMG_5495Karl Humann’s 1881 plan of the Pergamon acropolis.
In Berlin, Italian restorers reassembled the panels comprising the frieze from the thousands of fragments that had been recovered. In order to display the result and create a context for it, a new museum was erected in 1901 on Berlin’s Museum Island. Because this first Pergamon Museum proved to be both inadequate and structurally unsound, it was demolished in 1909 and replaced with a much larger museum, which opened in 1930. This new museum is still open to the public on the island. Despite the fact that the new museum was home to a variety of collections beyond the friezes (for example, a famous reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate of ancient Babylon), the city’s inhabitants decided to name it the Pergamon Museum for the friezes and reconstruction of the west front of the altar. The Pergamon Altar is today the most famous item in the Berlin Collection of Classical Antiquities, which is on display in the Pergamon Museum and in the Altes Museum, both of which are on Berlin’s Museum Island.

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Photo of the location (right on top of the hill of the Zeus Altar, now a small road). See more photos of Pergamon here.

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Museuminsel Berlin

BMUS_IMG_5910The Altes Museum (German for Old Museum) is a museum building on Museum Island in Berlin, Germany. Since restoration work in 2010/11, it houses the Antikensammlung (antiquities collection) of the Berlin State Museums. The museum building was built between 1823 and 1830 by the architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the neoclassical style to house the Prussian royal family’s art collection. The historic, protected building counts among the most distinguished in neoclassicism and is a high point of Schinkel’s career. Until 1845, it was called the Königliches Museum (Royal Museum).

BMUS_IMG_8395The Neues Museum (“New Museum”) is a museum in Berlin, Germany, located to the north of the Altes Museum (Old Museum) on Museum Island.It was built between 1843 and 1855 according to plans by Friedrich August Stüler, a student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel. The museum was closed at the beginning of World War II in 1939, and was heavily damaged during the bombing of Berlin. The rebuilding was overseen by the English architect David Chipperfield. The museum officially reopened in October 2009. Exhibits include the Egyptian and Prehistory and Early History collections, as it did before the war. The artifacts it houses include the iconic bust of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti.

BMUS_PergamonmuseumThe Pergamon Museum (German: Pergamonmuseum) is situated on the Museum Island in Berlin. The site was designed by Alfred Messel and Ludwig Hoffmann and was constructed in twenty years, from 1910 to 1930. The Pergamon Museum houses original-sized, reconstructed monumental buildings such as the Pergamon Altar and the Market Gate of Miletus, all consisting of parts transported from Turkey. The museum is subdivided into the antiquity collection, the Middle East museum, and the museum of Islamic art. By the time the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum on Museum Island (today the Bodemuseum) had opened, it was clear that the museum was not large enough to host all of the art and archaeological treasures excavated under German supervision. Excavations were underway in Babylon, Uruk, Assur, Miletus, Priene and Egypt, and objects from these sites could not be properly displayed within the existing German museum system. As early as 1907, Wilhelm von Bode, the director of the Kaiser-Friedrich-Wilhelm-Museum had plans to build a new museum nearby to accommodate ancient architecture, German post-antiquity art, and Middle Eastern and Islamic art.

Visited in March (Pergamon, Altes Museum) and November 2009 (the re opened Neues Museum). Photos made with A710IS and Canon 1000D.

 PBMUS_ZEUSALTAR_710IMG_5493 Zeus Altar  in Pergamon museum
Greek and Roman Art in Pergamon museum  PBMUS_IMG_5612
 MILLETE_IMG_5708 Millletus market gate in Pergamon museum
Greek temple in Pergamon museum  PBMUS_IMG_5660
 PBMUS_IMG_5750  Babylon Ishtar Gate, King Nebuchadnezzar II  in Pergamon museum
 Assyrian, Sumerian and Babylonian culture in Pergamon museum  PBMUS_IMG_5794
 PBMUS_IMG_5785  Islamic art and Mshatta facade in Pergamon museum
 Altes museum  ABMUS_IMG_5980
 PBMUS_IMG_8345  Nefertite
 Neues museum  NBMUS_IMG_8370
 NBMUS_IMG_8330  Neues museum Egypt collection

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