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Museum Island Berlin: Treasures on the Spree River


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Museum Island Berlin: Treasures on the Spree River


Berlin originated on a small island on the Spree River, then expanded to its present size. Now the northern part of the island is occupied by museums, which began to be built there at the beginning of the 19th century. For the first museum, Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm III bought 2 private collections of ancient antique art and artifacts. The museum was named Royal, but after the construction of other museums nearby, it began to be called the Old.

Over 100 years after the construction of the Royal Museum, 4 more museums were built on the Spreinsel Island:

  1. New museum
  2. Old National Gallery
  3. Bode Museum
  4. Pergamon Museum.

By the end of the 19th century, the island was named Museum. The richest collection of museums is constantly growing, and in the 21st century a plan to expand the Museum Island was again adopted.

Old Museum: Prussian Pantheon of Culture

Friedrich Wilhelm III wanted the Royal Museum to be perceived as a temple of culture, because it was built in the style of ancient religious buildings: a large-scale staircase, heavy columns, a rotunda, and sculptures. The Kaiser immortalized his participation in the creation of the museum with a Latin inscription on the pediment. The museum opened to visitors in 1830 and immediately gained popularity.

The Prussian kings of the Hohenzollern were passionate collectors of antiquities. They were especially interested in antique art: statues, vases, jugs, architectural fragments. Starting with King Frederick Wilhelm I (17th century), the Kaisers bought antique art objects in whole collections, as well as individual pieces. They paid not only in gold: 1 large collection of antique vases cost William I two regiments of dragoons.

The Museum Collection of Antiquities, the legacy of the Prussian kings, grew, divided, re-united and is now distributed among 3 museums: Old, New and Pergamon. Samples of classical antique art - Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, the Etruscan state - were left in the exposition of the Old Museum.

The gem of the collection - the ancient Greek statue of Persephone on the throne - is familiar to everyone from history books. The bronze sculpture "Praying Boy" (III century BC), acquired by Frederick II from the Prince of Liechtenstein, belonged in turn to representatives of the European nobility from different countries. 

New Museum: Egyptian Courtyard and Bust of Nefertiti

This Berlin museum is new only in relation to the Old Museum, as it was built in 1855 "to help" the first, the Royal. The 19th century for Germany was a century of archeology, a century of stunning finds by German scientists; there was literally not enough space to accommodate artifacts. The new museum became the second museum on the island.

The new museum was built by the next Hohenzollern - Friedrich Wilhelm IV. It houses a collection of ancient Egyptian art from precious jewelry to samples of burial culture. People come here to look at the collection of papyri.

The main magnet for tourists is the bust of Nefertiti, but there are also many busts and sculptures of pharaohs and ordinary people. Egyptian letters are presented not only on papyri, but also as decoration of walls, the same sculptures. Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi amaze with skill of stone-cutters and artistic originality.

In addition to the Egyptian rooms, the New Museum displays a collection of ancient Europe and Asia, also painstakingly collected by the Prussian kings. The main find is a golden hat from the late Bronze Age, circa 1000 BC. A metal hat with a very high crown (rather, a cap) was used in cult rites in southern Europe. Several such finds are known in the world: the Berlin hat is made of an alloy of gold and silver.

In Berlin, it was not only kings who were inspired by the idea of creating an island of culture. German banker Johann Wagener donated his collection of paintings, over 260 canvases, to the Academy of Arts. Later, a national gallery was built for them next to the Old Museum in 1876.

The Old National Gallery is built, like the Old Museum, in the form of an antique temple. The architect designed the gallery based on a sketch by Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV - at the entrance, visitors are even greeted by an equestrian statue of this monarch.

Fans of European painting will like the works of representatives of German classicism and romanticism, French impressionism, German modernism in the gallery. The collection of the Old National Gallery is based on canvases and sculptures of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Bode Museum: Byzantine icons and 4 coin halls

The Bode Museum opened in 1904 as the museum of Frederick III, who initiated its creation. During the days of the German Democratic Republic, the royal name of the museum was changed to the name of its practical creator, historian and museum expert Wilhelm von Bode.

The massive neo-baroque building is connected by two bridges to the banks of the river, and around the dome are allegorical figures depicting arts.

There are 3 main exhibitions in the halls of the Bode Museum:

  1. Sculptural collection
  2. Museum of Byzantine Art
  3. Coin cabinet.

The sculptural collection exhibits samples of sculpture in various formats, starting from the Middle Ages. There are figurines made of terracotta, ivory, porcelain, and there are also larger images. Works by famous German, Italian and French sculptors are presented in the Assembly Hall.

The Museum of Byzantine Art presents artifacts not only from Byzantium itself, starting from the 3rd century AD, but also from Turkey, Russia and other countries. Byzantine icons, luxury items, mosaics are presented to art lovers of this era.

The Mint Cabinet presents a huge collection of numismatics, catalogs of coins and medals.

Pergamon Museum: Altar of Zeus, Nebuchadnezzar's Throne Room, Ishtar Gate

The Pergamon Museum has opened twice. At the end of the 19th century, an antique exhibit was brought to Berlin, a find that stunned the entire scientific world from the ancient city of Pergamon. German engineer and archaeologist Karl Human found it in Turkey, negotiated with the Turkish government and transported it to Germany. The huge altar could not accommodate the museums that were already on the Museum Island, but the find was priceless, so a special building was built for it. The museum was built in a hurry, an error in the foundation contributed to the rapid destruction of the building, and it was demolished. On the same site, a new one was built, which opened in 1930, the last of 5 museums.

The main exhibits of the Pergamon Museum are architectural structures and fragments. The 120 m long Pergamon Altar of Zeus, with a high marble staircase and columns, is amazing. It was built in the 2nd century BC. Presented here are the gates of the ancient Roman market with a height of 17 m of the II century BC, the gates of ancient Babylon with the image of the goddess Ishtar, a fragment of the throne room of the ruler of Babylon, stone carvings from the walls of the palace of the Caliphs of the VIII century.

During World War II, museums were badly damaged: they were restored at the end of the 20th century, but the restoration was not completed. At the beginning of the XXI century, restoration work was carried out, the buildings were completely restored, but the Pergamon Altar demanded restoration, which will last until 2024.

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