What is the Ishtar Gate?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Ishtar Gate is a formidable structure which once guarded one of the eight entrances into the city of Babylon. Originally thought lost, parts of the Ishtar Gate were unearthed in 1899, and a reconstruction of the gate featuring much of the original material, including the dedication plaque, was completed in the Pergamom Museum in Berlin in the 1930s. Today, several sections of the Ishtar Gate can be found in museums around the world, and visitors to Berlin can see the restored gate for themselves.

The Ishtar Gate once guarded an entrance to the city of Babylon, which was located in modern Iraq.
The Ishtar Gate once guarded an entrance to the city of Babylon, which was located in modern Iraq.

Construction of the Ishtar Gate took place around the sixth century BCE, on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar II, a famous ruler of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar ordered a number of building projects which were designed to honor the Babylonian gods while beautifying the city, and the massive walls and gates of Babylon were among these projects. When completed, the Ishtar Gate would have towered over the walls around it, with decorations in blue and gold tile and a gate built from solid cedar.

This gate was actually a double gate, with a covered promenade known as the processional way stretching from one gate to the other. This promenade is estimated to have been around half a mile (roughly one kilometer) long, and it was also covered, in a roof made from cedar. The walls along the promenade were covered in a motif of golden lions against a blue background, while the outer walls of the gate had depictions of predecessors of the modern cow known as aurochs, along with dragon-like beasts.

The Ishtar Gate was dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar, who oversees both love and war, and it was a popular site for ceremonial processions and parades. Statues of gods and goddesses could be paraded along the processional way for major religious events, and prominent members of society also participated in such events as part of their religious faith. In its time, the gate was considered one of the marvels of the ancient world, along with the walls of Babylon.

Visiting the Ishtar Gate is well worth it, should you ever find yourself in Berlin. The gate stands 47 feet (almost 15 meters) tall, and it has been carefully restored so that people can get a sense of the original look and feel of the gate. Passing through the Ishtar Gate is also quite an experience, as the architecture and craftsmanship are really remarkable, when one considers the fact that the Ishtar Gate was constructed entirely by hand, and without the benefit or assistance of many modern construction tools.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@turkay1-- You're absolutely right. Pieces of the Gates of Ishtar, which were excavated from Iraq, is now in Museums in Germany, Turkey, US, Canada and Sweden. And Iraq is making a claim on them and asking for the artifacts to be returned but has not succeeded until now.

It's not really anybody's fault that this happened though. Until the 1930s, Iraq didn't have any laws on the ownership of excavation. In fact, before the 1930s, half of all artifacts excavated from Iraq were given to those who discovered them. And of course, those discoveries were made by foreign archaeologists. So it's not surprising that whenever a new piece was found, it was taken out of Iraq to whatever country the excavator came from.

I do agree with you that it's nicer to see historical artifacts in the land that they were discovered. But on the other hand, all countries who have pieces of the Ishtar Gate are preserving it rather well. Not to mention that not everyone has the chance to visit Iraq and more people can see it when it's located in several places. I guess we'll see how things will develop after this.


@turkay1-- Yes, I've seen the Gates of Ishtar! I didn't know anything about it before I went to the museum in Berlin, but it's definitely a sight worth seeing.

First of all, it's huge and very impressive. The blue color and the golden lions and other creatures representing the Gods is what strikes you at first. The blue is so lively considering how old the gate is. I also can't believe such artwork was done so long ago. The depiction of the lions is really very good and detailed. Even though the gate itself is very large and tall, the door is pretty narrow and I found that interesting.

I've heard that another piece of the gate is in the Museum of Ancient Orient in Istanbul, Turkey. I'm planning on visiting Istanbul next year. I might check it out there as well.


Wow, what's remaining of the Ishtar gate is in Germany?! How come?

Wasn't Babylon and Ishtar Gate located in Iraq of today?

I don't really know how the preservation and showcasing of historical artifacts work. But I also don't understand how these things end up in other countries that have nothing to do with it.

But at the same time, I guess not every country is careful and gives artifacts the value they deserve. The Ishtar Gate will definitely be something I will look out for when I visit Germany though.

Has anyone seen it? What did you think of it?

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