Reconstructed Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The reconstructed Ishtar Gate (بوابة عشتار‎) at the Pergamon Museum is the upper part of the ancient eighth gate to the inner city of Babylon. It was excavated in the early 20th century, and a reconstruction using original bricks, completed in 1930, is now shown in Berlin's Pergamon Museum. It was built over earlier structures erected during the reign of Nebuchadrezzar II’s father, King Nabopolassar (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.

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The reconstructed Ishtar gate in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The external facade features two columns and five rows of depicted animals on two seperate panels on each side of the entrance portal. Rows on both panels from top to bottom depict aurochs, mušḫuššus, aurochs, mušḫuššus, aurochs respectively. The front of the gate has a low-relief sculpted design with a repeated pattern of images of two of the major gods of the Babylonian pantheon. This is only the top (nearly) half of the outer most gate (illustration).


circa 575 BCE

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 (inspect) of bas-relief mušḫuššu (dragons), aurochs (bulls), and lions, symbolizing the gods Marduk, Adad, and Ishtar respectively. Parts of the gate and lions from the Processional Way are in various other museums around the world. Only four museums acquired dragons, while lions went to several museums.

circa 575 BCE

The upper part of the gate had in fact been found in thousands of fragments which were taken to Berlon and paistakingly restored to produce the monument that is now visible in the Vordersasiatisches Museum. 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.

circa 575 BCE

The decoration of the walls of the Ishtar Gate consisted of alternated figures of bulls and dragons (sirrush). They are placed in horizontal rows on the parts of the walls that are open to observation by those entering or passing, and also on the front of both the northern wings, but not where they would be wholly or partially invisible to the casual observer. The rows are repeated one above another; dragons and bulls are never mixed in the same horizontal row, but a line of bulls is followed by one of sirrush.

circa 575 BCE

An artistic reconstruction of the 6th century BCE structure errected by Nebuchadnezzar II. The bricks of the Ishtar gate were made from finely textured clay pressed into wooden forms. Each of the animal reliefs were also made from bricks formed by pressing clay into reusable molds. Seams between the bricks were carefully planned not to occur on the eyes of the animals or any other aesthetically unacceptable places. The bricks were sun-dried and then fired once before glazing. The clay was brownish red in this bisque-fired state.

The Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II

circa 575 BCE

The part of the Akkadian cuneiform Inscription of Nebuchadnezzar II, dedication by Nebuchadnezzar to explain the gate’s purpose. The 15 meters tall by 10 meters wide inscription is in white-glazed and blue glazed bricks and includes includes 60 lines of writing. The inscription was created around the same time as the gates construction, around 605–562 BCE. The inscription mentions, "Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, the pious prince appointed by the will of Marduk..." and then goes on to appraise him and provide fome details of the building project.

Depictions of the "Animal-Gods"

circa 575 BCE

Adad or Ishkur
The second god shown in the pattern of reliefs on the Ishtar Gate is Adad (also known as Ishkur), whose sacred animal was the aurochs (inspect), a now-extinct ancestor of cattle. Adad had power over destructive storms and beneficial rain. The design of the Ishtar gate also includes linear borders and patterns of rosettes, often seen as symbols of fertility.

circa 575 BCE

A close-up of Mušḫuššu on Ishtar Gate, a mythological hybrid, it is a scaly dragon with hind legs resembling the talons of an eagle, feline forelegs, a long neck and tail, a horned head, a snake-like tongue, and a crest. The mušḫuššu is the sacred animal of Marduk and his son Nabu during the Neo-Babylonian Empire. It was taken over by Marduk from Tishpak, the local god of Eshnunna. Marduk was seen as the divine champion of good against evil, and the incantations of the Babylonians often sought his protection.

circa 575 BCE

The Lion of Babylon from a portion of the processional way, symbolically represented the King of Babylon. Ishtar, symbolized by the star and her sacred animal, the lion, she was also the goddess of war and the protector of ruling dynasties and their armies.

Lower Parts of the Ishtar Gate

circa 575 BCE

Looking across the length of the gate's interior pathway. 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.

Other Buildings

circa 575 BCE

Several important buildings stood around the gate's interior, including the Ninmakh Temple to the 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.

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