I fell inside my textbook. It is the only explanation for this Alice in Wonderland feeling of tumbling into a book and rolling out the other side. How is it that I’m standing in front of the boldly blue, glazed brick Ishtar Gate of Babylon?
I remember the moment when I first saw the Ishtar Gate, in 2-dimensional format, in my World Art History textbook freshman year of art school. The photo showed this massive, blue, glazed brick gate with animal relief sculptures inside a museum with people walking around it. Curious, I looked up the photo credit to see where it was, and my heart sank when I saw it was Berlin, Germany. I’ll never go there.
Or so I thought.
Probably about 3 or 4 years had passed since originally learning of the existence of the Ishtar Gate and an opportunity to Berlin presented itself. My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, and I were poring over the DK Eyewitness travel guide to Berlin (affiliate link) planning our trip for the summer of 2008, and I saw the Ishtar Gate again. “We have to go here! Trust me!” Our decision to choose one art museum out of dozens in the city was done just like that. The unexplainable feeling of joy and wonder that filled my heart when I became a person in a photo with the Ishtar Gate, like my textbook, is testament to how reading about what you’ll see in advance of a trip can make an emotional impact on your travel experience.
It's absolutely a marvel that there are so many surviving fragment pieces of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way of Babylon, built during King of Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar II time of 605-562 B.C. The idea that between 1899 and 1917 the pieces were painstakingly excavated, cataloged, boxed, sat at the excavation site for the duration of World War 1, then shipped to Berlin, and reconstructed INSIDE a museum in Berlin is another feat of human ingenuity to admire too. Part of the southern side of the gate has yet to be unearthed, and another part on the northern side is uncovered and still in Babylon, present day Iraq.
I love that there are still fingerprints from the artisans as they used the brick molds. Although there were approximately 60 lions reliefs on the processional way, and likely all from an original mold, the lions are all unique, and the artisans differentiated the lions on the right wall from the lions on the left wall by the positioning of the lion’s right or left leg forward. The lion was the Babylonian’s symbol of the goddess Ishtar. The Ishtar Gate was decorated with a dragon and a bull relief in repeating pattern. The dragon, named Mushhushshu, was the symbol of the city god, Marduk. The bull was the animal sacred to the weather god, Adad.
You’ll find all of this on Berlin’s Museum Island, which is exactly as the name alludes, an island in the middle of the city with nothing but museums. It's glorious! The Ishtar Gate is in the Pergamonmuseum. Often things are collected to FILL a museum, but with the Pergamonmuseum the opposite was true, they built a museum to hold items already collected, namely BIG collections- entire temples, gates, and giant frescoes. Its namesake is the mammoth Pergamon Altar, which seemingly teleported from its original home to the inside of the museum. I won’t go into detail on that altar since that exhibit will be closed for construction until 2019. Check here for the latest construction information, as I’m sure it will be changing all the time. At the time of publishing this post, the Ishtar Gate is OPEN and so are some of the other exhibits.
As is often the case, my souvenir for this experience was yet another book! And my handy source for writing the details of this post. It’s wonderfully portable and available from the Pergamonmuseum. It covers the discovery, excavation, and reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and The Processional Way. I bought it 2008, and I’d guess they’re probably still selling it. Or you can hunt down a used copy in the states (affiliate link).
Marzahn, Joachim. The Ishtar Gate, The Processional Way, The New Year Festival of Babylon. Trans. Biri Fay and Robert K. Englund. Mainz am Rhein: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz, 1995. Print.
Have you ever had an experience where you felt like you walked into a book, or a book had suddenly come alive in front of you? Or has seeing a photo ever inspired you to get up and go there? Share with me in the comments! I love those types of stories, they give me goosebumps!