Ishtar Gate: History, Facts & Location

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you will learn about Ancient Babylon's Ishtar Gate. We will delve into its history, its location in the world, and some interesting facts about this famous gate.

Ancient Babylon

The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamom Museum
Ishtar Gate at the Pergamom Museum

The Ishtar Gate was a massive entryway that led into the magnificent ancient city of Babylon. Ancient Babylon was located in modern day Iraq, and was at its greatest from 604-562 B.C. The city was home to more than 200,000 people during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II. The gate was built for Ishtar, the goddess of love and war, and was one of eight fortified gates that led into one of the greatest ancient cities of the world.

Features of the Gate

The Ishtar Gate sat at the end of the Processional Way, a beautiful street paved with bricks that stretched over half a mile leading toward the city. The great Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar II, built the gate in 575 B.C. to welcome visitors to the magnificent city.

The Ishtar Gate was covered in beautiful burnt and glazed bricks that featured images of dragons, lions and young bulls. The colors of the bricks were vibrant aqua blues and greens and yellows. The gate was more than 38 feet high

It also featured an inscription with the words of Nebuchadnezzar saying, 'I placed wild bulls and ferocious dragons in the gateways and thus adorned them with luxurious splendor so that people might gaze on them in wonder'.

The Processional Way
The Processional Way

Current Location and Controversy

In the early 20th century, German archaeologists, led by Robert Koldeway, excavated pieces of the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way. The Processional Way originally featured 120 friezes featuring a golden lion, and the Germans took 118 of those. Those pieces were transported back to Berlin and housed in the Pergamom Museum.

Reconstructions of the Ishtar Gate and the Processional Way are still some of the premiere objects on display at the Pergamom Museum's Vorderasiatisches Exhibit, or Exhibit for the Ancient Near East. The exhibit has 270,000 pieces that were unearthed by the German archaeologists working in the early 20th century in the ancient cities of Babylon, Assur, Uruk, and Habuba Kabira. Iraq has since requested that these priceless artifacts be returned. Mohammed Aziz Selman al-Ibrahim, an archaeologist, and official of the antiquities and heritage department of Iraq's ministry of culture, called for its return.

These antiquities have not been returned and continue to be displayed in Berlin. Of course, Germany is not alone in having taken Middle Eastern antiquities back to European museums. For example, Egypt has asked France to return antiquities housed in the Louvre Museum, and debates rage over whether or not artifacts were taken legally from their home countries. Germany contends that its excavations were legal, but modern sympathies about the bad old days of colonialism make this a grey area.

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