The Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Ishtar Gate

Ishtar Gate at Berlin Museum

Ishtar Gate

The Ishtar Gate was a gate to the inner city of Babylon, constructed by order of King Nebuchadnezzar II in about 575 BCE. The gate was integral to the ancient Walls of Babylon and was considered one of the original Seven Wonders of the World. When a Greek poet of the 2nd Century BC compiled the seven wonders of the ancient world, only one city could claim two world wonders, and that was Babylon. Babylon was the home of the Hanging Gardens and Babylon’s city wall with Ishtar Gate.

Dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, the gate was constructed using glazed brick with alternating rows of bas-reliefs of dragons and bulls, symbolising the gods Marduk and Adad respectively. Ishtar was a goddess of fertility, love, war, and sex. Adad was a weather god, and Marduk was the chief or national god of Babylon.

Ish-tar Gate detail

The gate was decorated with lapis lazuli, a deep-blue semi-precious stone, which was used to produce vibrant blue colours. These blue glazed bricks provide the jewel-like shine. Through the gate ran the Processional Way, which was lined with walls showing about 120 lions, bulls, dragons and flowers on enamelled yellow and black glazed bricks, symbolising the goddess Ishtar.

Pergamon Museum Berlin 2007109

A model of the central procession street towards Ishtar Gate in Babylon.

Located between the Tigris and Euphrates in what is today is Iraq, Babylon was made magnificent by king Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th Century BC. He made it one of the wonders of Mesopotamia by building large structures and by decorating the structures with expensive glazed bricks in vibrant blues, reds and yellows. Ancient texts describe the many splendours of Babylon, which at its time was the most significant metropolis in the world.

The Ishtar gate was excavated between 1902 to 1914 CE during which 45 feet (13.7 m) of the original foundation of the gate was discovered. The material excavated by Robert Koldewey was used in a reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate. In 1930 it was reconstructed using the original bricks and was on display at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Due to size restrictions at the museum, the Ishtar Gate is neither complete nor its original size. The gate was initially a double gate, but the current exhibit only uses the smaller, frontal part. The excavated remains of the second gate are currently in storage.

Pergamon Museum Berlin 2007110

Model of the gate, showing the double structure

Many museums around the world that have received remains from the original Ishtar Gate. Below are just some of the museums where you can see other portions of the Ishtar Gate:

  • The Istanbul Archaeology Museum, Turkey
  • Munich’s State Museum of Egyptian Art
  • New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
  • The Oriental Institute of Chicago, USA
  • The Detroit Institute of Art, USA
  • The Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada
  • The Louvre, Paris

Ishtar Gate Processional Way section, Pergamon Museum

The Ishtar Gate Processional Way

The Ishtar Gate Processional Way is a red and yellow brick-paved corridor, which was initially over half a mile long with walls on each side, over 15 metres tall. The walls were decorated with over 120 images of lions, bulls, dragons, and flowers, made from enamelled blue, yellow and brown tiles. It was this processional way that led to the temple of Marduk which was in the form of a ziggurat.

Aerial map of the Ishtar Gate Archeological Map

Reflections

  • Is the survival of the 2,500 year-old Ishtar Gate a World Wonder?
  • When will the museum reconstruct the second gate that is in storage?

Ishtar Gate

  • Constructed by:     Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II
  • Date:                          circa 575 BCE.
  • Dimensions:           38 feet (11.5 m)
  • Excavations:            1902 to 1914 CE
  • Museum:                 Pergamon Museum

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“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Edmund Burke

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Photo Credit: 1 ) By Rictor Norton [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Photographer: ALE! [GFDL, GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Gryffindor (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 4) By Gryffindor (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 5) By BrokenSphere (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons