Ishtar Gate

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Ishtar Gate (Arabic: بوابة عشتار‎) was the eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was constructed in about 575 BCE by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II on the north side of the city. Even though the Ishtar Gate is referred to in cuneiform texts as early as in the late Old Babylonian period, its known material evidence stems from the work projects carried out by Nebuchadnezzar II.


It was part of a grand walled processional way leading into the city. The walls were finished in glazed bricks mostly in blue, with animals and deities in low relief at intervals, these also made up of bricks that are molded and colored differently.

The principal entrance to the city, the Ishtar Gate was designed to make a big impression. It was built over earlier structures erected during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar II’s father, King Nabopolassar (r. 626-605 BCE). As the main gateway to the city, its function was to awe visitors with the power and grandeur of Nebuchadrezzar’s restoration.

King Nebuchadnezzar II ordered the construction of the gate and dedicated it to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar. The gate was constructed using glazed brick with alternating rows of bas-relief mušḫuššu (dragons), aurochs (bulls), and lions, symbolizing the gods Marduk, Adad, and Ishtar respectively. The gate, being part of the Walls of Babylon, was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. It was replaced on that list by the Lighthouse of Alexandria from the third century BCE.

Pergamon Reconstruction

circa 575 BCE

A reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way was built at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin out of material excavated by Robert Koldewey and finished in the 1930s. It includes the inscription plaque. It stands 14 meters (46 feet) high and 30 meters (100 feet) wide.

The reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate in the Pergamon Museum is not a complete replica of the entire gate. The original structure was a double gate with a smaller frontal gate and a larger and more grandiose secondary posterior section. The only section on display in the Pergamon Museum is the smaller frontal segment (illustration).

In-situ Babylon Remains

circa 575 BCE

Today only the lower parts of the Ishtar Gate remain in-situ at the site of ancient Babylonian city, known today as Babil. The gate depicted only gods and goddesses with alternating rows of bas-relief mušḫuššu (dragons), aurochs (bulls), and lions, symbolizing the gods Marduk, Adad, and Ishtar respectively. Total length of the ancient gate is about 45 meters from north-south. Parts of the Ishtar Gate and lions from the Processional Way are in various other museums around the world.

Google Arts & Culture

circa 575 BCE

In an effort to illustrate this ancient site in a new way, the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin and Google Arts & Culture have virtually reassembled Ishtar Gate (inspect), in its original location. This work of this project illustrates how the ancient landmark would have looked like before it was parted.

Notable Structures

circa 575 BCE

Gate Complex
The Ishtar Gate was only one small part of the design of ancient Babylon that also included the palace, temples, an inner fortress, walls, gardens, processional routes, and other gates. The lavish city was decorated with over fifteen million baked bricks, according to estimates. Most notable of these structures are Street of the Processions, Ninmakh Temple, and the city walls.

circa 575 BCE

Street of the Processions
Through the gate ran the Processional Street, 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 Processional Way, which has been traced to a length of over half a mile, extended north from the Ishtar Gate. Friezes with sixty ferocious lions representing Ishtar decorated each side of the Processional Way, designed with variations in the color of the fur and the manes. The Processional Way was paved with large stone pieces set in a bed of bitumen and was up to 66 feet wide at some points.

circa 575 BCE

Ninmah Temple
Several important buildings stood around the Ishtar gate, including the Ninmakh Temple to the south-east. The E-mah (great temple of Ninḫursaĝ) as seen from the west, looking over the Ishtar Gate in the bottom foreground. Currently the walls and roofs of the temple are in a very bad condition and no recent renovations have been done. Due to its use as military base by US the site has suffered extensive damage, according to a study by the British Museum, the damage was extensive: some 300,000 sq m (4,000 acres) was covered with gravel.

circa 575 BCE

Replica Ishtar Gate
A replica of the Ishtar Gate was installed some 250 meters north of the ancient gateway to the city of Babylon. It is located at the entrance to the Nebuchadnezzar Museum. It is a very simplified model of the original ancient Ishtar Gate, and is not to scale. The construction was meant to emulate the techniques that were used for the original gate. The purpose of the replica's construction was an attempt to reconnect to Iraq's history. Damage to this reproduction has occurred since the US-Iraq War, specially due to the use of this area by the US military as a camp.

Discovery Excavation and Reconstruction

circa 1897-99 CE

The Ishtar Gate was discovered, subsequently excavated and reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, in 1902 CEby a German archaeologist named Robert Koldewey. Koldewey was leading an excavation in the ancient city of Babylon, which is located in present-day Iraq, when he came across the ruins of the gate.

Koldewey's team spent several years excavating the gate and other parts of Babylon, uncovering a wealth of information about the ancient city and its culture. The discovery of the Ishtar Gate was particularly significant, as it provided a glimpse into the art and architecture of ancient Babylon, and helped to confirm the historical accuracy of the biblical accounts of Babylonian history.

See Also

External Resources


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