fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Blues of Bablyon: The Ishtar Gate

Ishtar Gate of Babylon. 575BCE. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Photo by Josep Renalias

Ancient

Blues of Bablyon: The Ishtar Gate

Babylon, the ancient Mesopotamian city (modern day Iraq) existed from 18th century to 6th century BCE. Since that time its legend has generated many myths – the Hanging Gardens, the Tower of Babel, and biblical interpretations added to the mystery of the city. With Babylon’s Ishtar Gate we are able to go beyond the legends and experience the art and architecture of the most vibrant and prosperous era of the city. It was so impressive a structure, that even in ancient times it was considered as one of the Wonders of the World.

ishtar gate

Ishtar Gate of Babylon. 575BCE. Pergamon Museum, Berlin. Source: Twitter @textcultures

The Ishtar Gate is a prime example of art and architecture of the Neo-Babylonian era. Even in ancient times, Babylon was known for its powerful and impressing architecture. Babylonians were very aware of their history and lineage, and it was important that their art reflect this dedication. Mythological characters with magical qualities and representations of gods and kings were common themes of art. A primary medium of the time was bricks with various colored glazes, and they were very skilled and adept at these techniques.

ishtar gate

Detail of lions along the gate. Photo by Josep Renalias

Constructed in 575 BCE during the reign of the revered King Nebuchadnezzar II (605BCE-562 BCE), the Ishtar gate was the 8th gate to the city and the main entrance. As the name suggests, it was dedicated to Ishtar – the goddess of fertility, love, war and sex. Numerous other symbols associated with other gods line the walls, but Ishtar is the primary associated with the gate. Most famously, the entire facade was covered in bright cobalt blue tiles, which shone like jewels under the bright sun. Originally thought to be lapis lazuli covered, this is now debated among experts how the lustrous sheen was accomplished.

ishtar gate

Detail of bulls and dragons. Source: Flickr: ILRI.

Hundreds of bas-relief animals in yellow and brown brick representing other important deities line the walls of the gate and processional way. As with human figures of the time period, these animals are depicted in profile. The lions represent the king and war – important symbols of Babylon, bulls are for Adad the weather god, and the snake-dragon for Marduk, the chief patron god. Babylon was the home of Marduk. These figures also served as a message that Babylon was a protected, powerful and important city. Babylonians saw their city as a paradise with Marduk as a source of this power. This reverence traveled across Mesopotamia.

The gate walls stand 15 meters (50ft) high and is attached to a processional boulevard that extended about a kilometer (half a mile) in length and was 21 meters (70 ft) wide. The processional way was most important for the Festival of Marduk. This was a yearly festival where the statue of the revered god was paraded through the streets.

ishtar gate

Reconstruction of the Ishtar Gate and Processional way. Source: Cultural Travel Guide

The gates of Babylon were discovered by Robert Koldewey of the German Oriental Society. Excavation lasted from 1902-1914 when World War I put a halt to the work. Later in the 20th century, work was able to continue. The bulk of the structure resides at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. The gates were so massive that multiple museums (including several in the US, Istanbul and Paris) throughout the world house portions of it.

ishtar gate

King Nachbuchanezzar II was one of the most influential and transforming kings of Mesopotamia. It was his vision to create the most central, powerful cosmopolitan city. He beautified the city with building projects and art, focused on intellectual pursuits and enlarged the army and territory. His inscription on the Ishtar Gate reads:

“I (Nebuchadnezzar) laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone. I covered their roofs by laying majestic cedars length-wise over them. I hung doors of cedar adorned with bronze at all the gate openings. I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor that people might gaze on them in wonder.”

ishtar gate

Photograph of the ruins of Ishtar Gate at Babylon, Photographer unknown, early 20th c. Source: bible-history.com

Learn more:

 

Giotto’s weeping angels started my love affair with art history.
Seattle, WA based.

Comments

More in Ancient

  • Lower Pecos rock art cover Lower Pecos rock art cover

    Ancient

    Lower Pecos Rock Art: Prehistoric Painting in North America

    By

    On the Texas-Mexico border, there are treasures of prehistoric art: hundreds of painted caves and rock shelters dating as early as 2000 BCE. Filled with multicolored animals, symbols, and humanoid figures, Lower Pecos rock art gives a taste of prehistoric North American belief and ritual. Scholars...

  • Ancient Greece

    There Were Really Hot Guys in Ancient Greece: the Barberini Faun

    By

    Drunk, sleeping men are rarely, if ever, beautiful and sexually appealing, but this is not the case with this really sexy faun from ancient Greece. This monumental statue, today kept in Munich, is not only intriguing for its aesthetics, but also for its obscure origins, stormy...

  • ancient sculptures colors. Memos and color study of Treu Head, 140-150 CE, British Museum, London, UK ancient sculptures colors. Memos and color study of Treu Head, 140-150 CE, British Museum, London, UK

    Ancient

    Attention: Have You Seen Ancient Sculptures’ Colors?

    By

    We admire the beauty and plasticity of ancient sculptures, how harmoniously they fit into the surrounding landscape. But we rarely ask ourselves the question of whether they were presented in this form to people of ancient world. Warning: this may come as a shock. Ancient sculptures...

  • Ancient Rome

    The Portrait of Rome’s Decline: Bust of Decius

    By

    The turmoil of Rome’s decline in the 3rd century enclosed the 21- month reign of Decius. His tenure as emperor was not exceptionally short for the period, plagued as it was by wars both foreign and civil, but its notable features include the tragic outcome of...

  • Ancient

    Masterpiece of the Week: Mithras Slaying the Bull

    By

    Mithras Slaying the Bull is a compilation of the entire religious and symbolic images of Mithraism. It reflects promised immortality and personal salvation. It helps followers seek inner peace and cosmic redemption. It helps souls’ journeys through the otherworld. Mithras Slaying the Bull is a masterpiece...

To Top