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The Heritage of the Old Kings. Ctesiphon and the Persian Sources of Islamic Art

An Exhibition in the Museum of Islamic Art – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in Cooperation with the Topoi Excellence Cluster: November 15, 2016, to April 2, 2017 / Opening on November 14

№ 343/2016 from Oct 17, 2016

How did Islamic cultures and Islamic art arise? Where do their roots lie? Like the Islamic religion itself, Islamic art also built on its predecessors in the Middle East. An exhibition in the Pergamon Museum is devoted to the Persian legacy inherited by Islam. It focuses on Ctesiphon, a vast landscape of ruins south of Baghdad. The exhibition was conceived as part of the project "Fragments, Ruins and Space: The Perception and Representation of Ancient Spaces in Modern Contexts" by the Topoi Excellence Cluster of Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in cooperation with the Museum für Islamische Kunst. The exhibition will be open from November 15, 2016, to April 2, 2017.

Dominated by the monumental vaulted hall of the royal palace, the Taq-e Kesra, the city today is an emblem of the grandeur and downfall of the mighty Sassanid empire, a great power in ancient Persia about which little is known today. For centuries it competed with Rome and Byzantium. In the 7th century CE, however, the conquests by the Arab armies fundamentally changed the political balance of power. Culturally, too, a transformation took place – "Islamic art" was born. But had everything really changed?

The exhibition shows that the existing culture did not simply disappear and that the new culture did not arise out of nothing. Starting with a panoramic view of the world around 600 CE, it introduces a multi-cultural cultural landscape and illustrates how old techniques, ideas, and motifs lived on. Many things were adopted to serve as the basis for new innovations – while others disappeared into the darkness of history.

The exhibition also invites the visitor to consider the purely practical problems of researching the past. How can cultural change be identified from archaeological objects? What difficulties do archaeologists encounter when trying to reconstruct the past and what new opportunities are there for us today? Belonging, as they do, to a cultural legacy shared between Iraq and Iran and a cultural heritage currently under threat, and bearing witness to the birth of Islamic culture, the objects on display raise concrete questions for the present day.

Topoi combines Berlin’s strengths in ancient studies research. Supported by Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, it is the product of cooperation with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Other partners collaborating in the exhibition were the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), the HTW Berlin, the BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, and the Institut für Museumsforschung. The exhibition was made possible with the kind support of Topoi, the Sarikhani Collection London, and the Friends of the Museum für Islamische Kunst.

The exhibition can be viewed daily in the Pergamon Museum. Opening hours are: Mon., Tue., Wed., Fri. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Thurs. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sat. and Sun. 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Further Information



Dr. Nina Diezemann, Topoi Excellence Cluster, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 30 838-73190, Email: nina.diezemann@topoi.org