Museum Island is one of the top tourist attractions in Berlin, a museum-lovers paradise that houses five of Europe’s most impressive collections of antiquities, art and culture. While the Pergamon may draw in hordes of adoring travelers to marvel at its monolithic treasures and the Neues Museum is a favourite of those who want to worship at the bust of Nefertiti, The Altes Museum (Old Museum) is where it all started and is well worth a visit in its own right.
The oldest of the structures on Museum Island, the Altes Museum, originally called the Königliches Museum (Royal Museum), was constructed in 1830 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel and is recognized around the world as one of Europe’s most important Neoclassical buildings. Its façade boasts eighteen tall Ionic columns, a roof bedecked with large antique sculptures and many other references to the Pantheon in Rome. This architectural style was intended to portray Prussian royalty and the past of Berlin itself in a strong and powerful light by emphasizing its rightful place in an intellectual lineage extending from the Roman Empire. As a result, the building can appear quite intimidating – a fact utilized by the Nazi party, who used the museum as the backdrop for many political rallies and propaganda posters during World War Two.
Originally built to house the increasingly large array of artifacts and antiquities being excavated by Prussian archaeologists and the Prussian Royal Family’s personal collection of art, the Altes Museum was at one time home to many of the treasures, including the Pergamon Altar and the Ishtar Gate, now housed in Museum Island’s other four institutions. Like the Neues Museum (originally built in 1855 to house the overflow from the Altes Museum), it was badly damaged during the bombing of Berlin, and sat as a hulking ruin until 1955. It was completely reconstructed and renovated, and was re-opened in 1966, once again drawing visitors to Museum Island.
The Altes Museum now houses the Collection of Classical Antiquities, which consists of sculptures, pottery, reliefs, paintings, mosaics and jewelry. The ground floor is primarily Ancient Greek artifacts, while the first floor focuses on Etruscan and Roman pieces. The collection showcases objects from a wide array of social classes and uses, placing as much emphasis on items of daily use as on decorative adornments of the elite.
Most famously, the museum is home to gorgeous portraits of Antony and Cleopatra, a collection of exquisite silver Roman vessels and a stunning Greek bronze statue entitled “The Praying Boy.” Top marks also go to the “erotic cabinet” – a collection of carvings and pottery recommended for over 18s only!
Whether you plan to spend a few hours, a day or a week on Museum Island, make sure you explore the wonders of the Altes Museum. No trip to Berlin would be complete without it!
Adults 12 Euros/Concession 6 Euros (book online to save 1 Euro)
Also available as part of the Museum Island ticket: 18 Euros/9 Euros (book online to save 1 Euro)
Hours: 7 days a week 10am-6pm (except Thursdays 10am – 8pm)
Written by Jessica O’Neill