Babylon. Myth and Truth

Saddam Hussein is the most recent example of the Hybris and Nemesis of tyrants. Two thousend years after the last ruler entered through the Ishtar Gate, American tanks drove on the streets of Babylon (what did not contribute to the conservation of the treasures). Babylon was once the theater of powerful rulers and a modern, well developed society, paving the way for the European take over. Europeans owe this civilisation. Nebukadnezar and Hammurabi are among the best known personalities. Saddam saw himself as the reincarnation of Nebukadnezar and he planned, based on the plans of the German archeolog Robert Koldewey, the reconstruction of the palace of Nebukadnezar. About 60 million bricks bear the name of Saddam Hussein, like once the names of the Babylonian ruler. His presence in Babylon confirmed his status of descendant of Nebukadnezar. The fierce plunder and destruction of Babylon after the fall of Saddam Hussein was for many Iraqis the day of reckoning and not an act of barbarism. The Pergamon museum in Berlin pays attention to Babylon with vivid associations, which no other city can quite evoke as strongly in our minds. It ventures to explore the myth of Babel and the true facts surrounding the ancient city of Babylon: two worlds – one exhibition. The Pergamon museum exhibits already the fragments of the Ishtar Gate and this exhibition contributes to a broader understanding of this civilisation. The first section of the exhibition (=Truth) exposes the roots of our Western culture by looking at the archaeological remains of Babylon, thus revealing what lies behind the legends. This section centres around the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way of Babylon, one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. Over 800 objects are exhibited, among them statues, reliefs, votive offerings, architectural fragments, and documents. The second section of the exhibition (=Myth) regards Babylon as a metaphor for the dark sides of civilisation – repression and the lack of freedom, terror and violence, hubris and madness. In European art and culture, the myth of Babel is closely related to mankind’s primal fears. Here, visitors experience the mythical story of the rise and fall of Babylon as a city of sin and tyranny, as the site of the confusion of tongues and the metropolis of eternal apocalypse. They venture on an expedition to the mysterious roots of these ideas, their emergence and establishment throughout the centuries up to the current day. The story is not one of a historical truth about Babylon, but of a truth about a civilisation that needs the myth of Babel in order to understand itself. This is the first exhibition to present the Babylonian treasures from the world’s ‘universal museums’ jointly in a single show. In this way, 3000 years of Babylonian history is brought to life in a unique and comprehensive fashion.