Refugees Find Inspiration as Museum Tour Guides

WORLD

Babylonian artifacts provide a reminder of home, and hope, for Syrian and Iraqi refugees. (BBC)

Use our resources to learn more about contemporary migrants to Europe.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

The Ishtar Gate was a gate, or entranceway, to the city of Babylon, capital of the ancient Babylonian Empire in what is today Iraq. The Ishtar Gate was constructed in about 575 BCE, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was dedicated to Ishtar, a goddess of love and war. Photograph by Underwood and Underwood, courtesy National Geographic

The Ishtar Gate was a gate, or entranceway, to the city of Babylon, capital of the ancient Babylonian Empire in what is today Iraq. The Ishtar Gate was constructed in about 575 BCE, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II, and was dedicated to Ishtar, a goddess of love and war. This amazing photo was taken in the ruins of Babylon in 1916.
Photograph by Underwood and Underwood, courtesy National Geographic

The roof and doors of the Ishtar Gate were made of cedar, and have long since deteriorated. Its clay bricks were glazed in lapis lazuli, a bright blue stone. Rows of dragons and aurochs, as well as flowers and geometric designs, decorate the gate. During King Nebuchadnezzar II’s era, the Ishtar Gate was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today, artifacts are spread throughout museums of the world, with the largest portion in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany. Photograph by Rictor Norton, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

During King Nebuchadnezzar II’s era, the Ishtar Gate was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Today, artifacts are spread throughout museums of the world, with the largest portion in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Germany (above). The roof and doors of the Ishtar Gate were made of cedar, and have long since deteriorated. Its clay bricks were glazed in lapis lazuli, and are decorated in rows of dragons and aurochs. 
Photograph by Rictor Norton, courtesy Wikimedia. CC-BY-2.0

Discussion Ideas

 

  • Museums such as the Pergamon Museum in Berlin are home to Babylonian artifacts, which refugees are encouraged to visit and tour. What is Babylonia, and what does it have to do with refugees from Syria and Iraq?
    • Babylonia was one of the earliest civilizations on Earth, developing in Mesopotamia in the 1700s BCE. For centuries, Babylonia’s capital city, Babylon, was one of the largest cities in the world, with a population of more than 200,000.
    • Babylonia was located around the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, in what is today central and southern Iraq. The remains of Babylon are in the city of Hillah, about 85 kilometers (53 mi) south of Baghdad. The history of the Babylonian Empire is part of the region’s long, rich heritage.

 

  • How did Babylonian artifacts from Iraq get to a museum in Berlin?
    • When German and other western archaeologists excavated the Ishtar Gate site in the late 1800s and early 1900s, they simply took artifacts back to Europe with them. They then reconstructed the gate with the material (bricks) they brought back. (Archaeology was very different a hundred years ago. This would not happen today and Middle Eastern art experts have periodically called for repatriation of the Ishtar Gate and other artifacts to Iraq.)
    • The Ishtar Gate was not rebuilt entirely in Berlin. In addition to the big structure in Germany, click below to see artifacts from the site displayed in:

 

  • How are the Pergamon and other German museums working with refugees and other new immigrants?
    • The asylum-seekers are being trained to work as museum guides. “They are paid the standard museum guide fee of €40 (£32; $46) per hour-long tour. The project aims to help them integrate into German society by easing them back into work and restoring a sense of self-worth.”
    • In addition, working with German history has helped new immigrants learn about their adopted country’s cultural identity.

 

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

BBC: Berlin museum tours inspire Mid-East refugees

Nat Geo: Migrant Crisis Q&A

Pergamon Museum: Ancient Near Eastern Cultures

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