On a weekend away in Berlin a fortnight back (part of the reason there have been so few posts on here recently), we wandered onto Museum Island and took a walk around the Pergamon Museum. In short, it is fantastic! The early 20th century Germans seem to have just transplanted or reconstructed parts of ancient cities through the Mediterranean and Middle East. Whatever the ethics of this may be, the sheer scale of these exhibits is astonishing (the photo below shows me being dwarfed by the Ishtar Gate of Babylon).
The Pergamon Altar that the museum is actually named after is currently closed for remodelling, but the Market Gate of Miletus, the Processional Way (also from Babylon), and a room from Ottoman Aleppo impress on an epic scale. The so-called Aleppo Room has a particular poignancy, with a display outside showing the damage to the original district of the Syrian city.
Other exhibits are on a smaller scale, but displays from Assur, Sumer, and a dozen locations throughout the islamic world (in the Museum fuer Islamische Kunst in the same building) are engrossing. With each culture or location house in their own separate display, it highlights these unique cultures a lot more than other museums – where one can seem to blend into another around time and space.
I am definitely looking forward to returning in a few years for the updated and reopened Pergamon exhibit.
I recently went to a talk by Katie Tucker in a pub in Southsea/Portsmouth*. She’s the leader of a group from the University of Winchester that has potentially found the bones of King Alfred the Great. As she’s an archaeologist specializing in bones the talk was a bit short on biographical detail, but nonetheless provided a fascinating description of the investigation into and the story behind his remains and final resting place. In the aftermath of Richard III’s re-appearance this search was splashed all over tabloid front pages with lurid headlines and dubious mis-quotes. The results may not be quite as complete as that of the University of Leicester but Dr Tucker’s investigation was quite a different one with a brilliant conclusion in its own way.
When Alfred died in 899 AD, he was originally buried in the old Minster at Winchester but within a few years he had be shifted to the New Minster next door, built by his son as a dynastic church for the family. So far so good*, but the difficulties start when the Normans arrived and decided to build a new cathedral on the site. Alfred’s remains, and those of some close relatives and companions, were packed up and taken to a new abbey at Hyde on a new site. They were reburied here, although the exact position is disputed. Then in 1538 the abbey was dissolved and demolished, and in 1788 the site had a prison built on top. This is where the location of the bodies starts to get messed up – contemporary reports suggested that the bones were scattered by the building work.
Continue reading Post 41: The Search For King Alfred