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Video transcript

we're the pergamon museum in berlin and one of the most astonishing objects they have is well it's not an object it's a gate for a city there were eight double gates that formed part of the walls around the ancient city of babylon it's huge it doesn't just impress us it impressed people when it was built in fact it was called one of the wonders of the world so nebuchadnezzar of biblical fame ascended to the throne and proceeded to rebuild the already ancient city of babylon this is a city that has its roots in the third millennium bc but had become a major political center under king hammurabi in the 1700s bce the city had remained populated but regained importance in the 6th century under nebuchadnezzar ii and under his father and what we're seeing here is part of the enormous building campaign that nebuchadnezzar ii had undertaken we might recognize nebuchadnezzar from the bible from the book of daniel he's the ruler of babylon who conquers and destroys the temple in jerusalem and who's responsible for the exile of the jews clearly he was very powerful he was able to undertake this enormous building campaign you know he fortified and strengthened 11 miles of wall around the city of babylon he reconstructed the great ziggurat in babylon which had the temple of marduk at its top and is probably the source of the story of the tower of babel he created palaces and he created this extraordinary gate and hanging gardens which were also considered one of the wonders of the world so the city of babylon had eight double gates the one we're looking at is one of those gates and actually the smaller of the double gate the the other one would have been even larger if that's possible to imagine in fact so large that the museum can't actually put it on display even in this very large space this gate which of course would only be open for the friendly is at the end of a long processional way lined with beautiful lions that speak very clearly of pride of power and of nebuchadnezzar's rule the lions that we see on the processional way represent ishtar one of the babylonian goddesses the goddess of war and wisdom and sexuality they're raised up to eye level and they're a little bit smaller than life-size but they're pretty big and they're frightening their mouths are open in these ferocious roars it's true they're snarling aren't they they are but the fact that they're placed in this very regular way makes them seem as though they're almost trained or controlled by king nebuchadnezzar himself it makes us fear not only the lions but it makes us fear the king the image of the lion is beautiful this fiance raised to create a kind of relief sculpture so in addition to the lions there are two other animal forms that decorate the gate and they're both meant to be as ferocious as the lions a kind of ancient bull known as an rook these were supposed to be terribly fierce and then alternating with the rows of a rook are a kind of mesopotamian dragon which is really a composite beast the front paws are those of lions the head and neck come from a snake or serpent the hind legs come from an eagle perhaps and their tails have a stinger like a scorpion those dragons are associated with marduk the patron god of the city and nebuchadnezzar associated himself directly with marduk the rooks that is these bulls are associated with the god a dad a god associated with storms with the fertility of the land with a harvest all of these animals speak to protecting the city but also providing for the city they're ferocious animals but they're also represented in a very regular way along the procession and on the tower and archway of the gate so that there's symmetry a sense of order in the way that they're represented one of the most extraordinary aspects of these towers of the gate as a whole is the color this is an arid place where the sun is bright where it gets really hot and you can imagine how brilliant the blues and the greens of the surface would have originally been not in the context of the museum but in the context of the edge of a desert in mesopotamia there was a real problem you know the egyptians were able to build their great pyramids and other monuments out of the native stone that surrounded them but in mesopotamia they didn't have that this was a river valley babylon is on the banks of the euphrates in fact the euphrates cuts right through the city when the mesopotamians wanted to build they created buildings out of brick created from the clay of the river valley the brilliant blue that we see on the surface of the gate is violence this is a technique that was known to the ancient egyptians and other parts of the ancient world and it uses copper to create this brilliant blue and this is a beautiful example so the gate is massive it's frightening it's decorative and it's brilliantly colored no wonder nebuchadnezzar was so proud of it and wrote an inscription on the side let's go read that now we're not sure where the inscription was originally placed on the wall but in this reconstruction it's on the left side of the left tower here's an excerpt i nebuchadnezzar laid the foundation of the gates down to the ground water level and had them built out of pure blue stone upon the walls in the inner room of the gate are bulls and dragons and thus i magnificently adorn them with luxurious splendor for all mankind to behold in awe and we are in awe two and a half millennia later nebuchadnezzar understood his place in history and he actually wrote inscriptions in his new buildings that not only identified them and identified their purpose and him as their patron but also asked future rulers to rebuild them for him it's as though he knew that empires come and go and that he could speak across history and in our time the ruler of mesopotamia which we now call iraq seemed to pay attention saddam hussein actually had begun the rebuilding of parts of babylonia he built his own palace a few hundred meters away from the ishtar gate and began the reconstruction of parts of the city as well that came to a halt of course in the recent military actions against him and of course he was ultimately deposed and killed and what it meant to rebuild this legendary city saddam hussein was very much rebuilding it not for nebuchadnezzar but for his own political ambitions reclaiming the power of nebuchadnezzar for himself that's right and the power of ancient mesopotamia you