In the centre of Berlin is the Museum Island. Four of the worlds biggest museums can to be found here. Because of my love for Greek ancient history and culture the Pergamon museum was my first stop on a visit to the great German city. The museum houses the Altar to Zeus from the city of Pergamon in the now modern Turkey.
The Pergamon Altar dates from the 2nd century BC, with a 113 meters long sculptural frieze depicting the struggle of the gods and the giants, and the Gate of Miletus from Roman antiquity.
In 1878, the German engineer Carl Humann began official excavations on the acropolis of Pergamon, an effort that lasted until 1886. The excavation was undertaken in order to rescue the altar friezes and expose the foundation of the edifice. In agreement with the Turkish government (a participant in the excavation), it was agreed that all frieze fragments found at the time would become the property of the Berlin museums.
The altar freeze is beautifully restored and well preserved and very accessible to the public. But…
…Would it not be incredible to see the Altar of Zeus in its original setting in Pergamon.
I visited the site of Pergamon later with my family. What an superb layout for an ancient city, located high on a mountain, with views over the surrounding landscape. There is no chance of a surprise attack from any hostile army here. Today access is by cable car.
The site of the museum is rather desolate. A tree marks the centre of the ancient structure.
The rest is partially renovated. But still beautiful. The highlight for me was the great amphitheatre. In true Greek style it makes use of the natural slope of the mountain with the landscape as backdrop.
I wondered whether the altar should not be returned to this setting. After all it should belong to the people of this country.
Until I read how remaining marble statues and parts of buildings was ( and is, even today) burned in furnaces to use as chalk to make the agriculture of surrounding farms yield better crops. Apparently parts of the freeze was used for this purpose before proper excavation. Outside conditions is not great for preservation either.
Should one make replicas? There are a lot of downs to that idea as well. The debate goes on. Lets enjoy our world heritage in the mean time.