Pergamon. Panorama of the Ancient Metropolis

March 22, 2012

Germany

Anyone who is familiar with Museum Island in Berlin will have noticed, that a further building has joined the museums skyline there since last September. 25 metres tall, the 360° Panorama by Berlin-based artist Yadegar Asisi proudly stands next to the Pergamon Museum as part of the special exhibition ‘Pergamon. Panorama of the Ancient Metropolis’.

The Panorama (left) and Pergamon Museum (right)

The Panorama (left) and Pergamon Museum (right)

The unique exhibition invites visitors to travel back in time to the year 129 AD and shows the metropolis in its original splendour. The panoramic view measures just over 100 metres in length and depicts the buildings on the slopes of the acropolis of Pergamon. Asisi and his team have done an excellent job in reconstructing the historical scenes and bringing the ancient city back to life. From a central viewing platform visitors can immerse themselves in the daily life of Pergamon, while a light installation simulates day and night, and the background music by composer Eric Babak adds a fitting soundscape. I arrived during ‘night time’ with the cicadas chirping, the windows of the houses lit – or so it seemed – and the stellar constellations visible in the sky. As ‘morning’ approached, the red light made it feel like the sun was really rising. The cicadas gave way to chirping birds, which were eventually drowned out by a babble of voices and noises growing louder. The attention to detail that Asisi has put in to the reconstruction is phenomenal. There is so much to discover, that I ended up staying for five ‘days’. First of all, you notice the prominent buildings – the temples, theatre, and of course the famous Pergamon altar, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the museum. But there are also ordinary houses, surrounded by vegetation stretching into the distances with mountains on the horizon. Then you start to notice the people, from men in togas with their heads bent over some scrolls, soldiers in full garb with helmets and shields or a stone mason sculpting in his workshop, to people mingling at the market stalls, a group of boys climbing up  some cliffs, or a mother cradling her baby. You can hear people’s steps and animal’s hooves, carts being pulled and dogs barking, there’s smoke coming off the hillsides and birds flying in the sky. As someone who suffers from vertigo, I had to overcome my fear of heights to ascend the viewing platform, but it was definitely worth it (though I have to admit I didn’t manage to stand at the edge and look all the way down the Panorama, but you can also view it from ground level afterwards so I did see bottom half, just at a later point^^).

‘Discovery of a Metropolis’ in the exhibition

‘Discovery of a Metropolis’ in the exhibition

In the accompanying exhibition, visitors get an extensive insight in to the history, art and culture of Pergamon, from the origins of the city, through the height of its success as a city state, as portrayed in the Panorama, to its rise from the ruins. I really liked the way the flow of the exhibition had been built up thematically. It starts out with a look ‘behind the scenes’ of the site’s initial discovery and excavation in the 19th century (‘Discovery of a Metropolis’), including original plans, diaries, sketches and drawings to assist reconstruction, digging permits, even receipts, alongside historical photographs. The storyline then jumps back in time, introducing the ‘Origins of the City’ as an early settlement in the 7th century BC, through the early Bronze Age in the shadow of Troy, up to the 4th century under Persian rule. Lots of maps help to set the scene, alongside surviving architectural and pottery fragments. Following on from this, ‘Life in the City’ then takes a look at Pergamon as a city state, from its administrative and legislative structure, to construction techniques and astounding technical achievements such as their water pipe system. surviving traces, materials, and structures tell the story of Pergamon as a centre of advancement and innovation, textile processing and handicrafts, and the physical and philosophical education of it’s male youth. ‘Victorious Rulers’ introduces the kings and dynasties who embellished their capital to glory their victories, lavishly decorating the interior spaces of their palaces to compensate for the lack of space that prevented them from showing off their wealth through building extensive palace structures. They can also be credited with establishing Royal Museums, considered to be the first art collections in the world. Finally, after an impressive family tree (or perhaps more of a forrest than a single tree) tries to sum up the complex relationships between the ancient gods, ‘Mountain of the Gods’ pays homage to the political and religious centre of the city with a focus on some of the more important gods, sic as Athena or Dionysos.

Family tree of the gods

Family tree of the gods

Throughout the exhibition, many of the sculptures featured in the Panorama are on display, and a computer animation accessible via iPads at the end of the exhibition shows some of these in situ. ‘Arisen from the Ruins’ also brings to exhibition storyline full circle by revisiting the news of the ancient site’s discovery, the competition held for artists to design a museum for the Pergamon Altar, and the altar’s final journey to its new home in Berlin. The exhibition is still showing until September 2012, and with the Pergamon Museum due to close renovation in 2013,  what better excuse to go and visit. You won’t be disappointed.

 

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