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Museum Island

Coordinates: 52°31′17″N 13°23′44″E / 52.52139°N 13.39556°E / 52.52139; 13.39556
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Museum Island
UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Bode-Museum on Museum Island
LocationBerlin, Germany
CriteriaCultural: ii, iv
Inscription1999 (23rd Session)
Area8.6 ha (21 acres)
Buffer zone22.5 ha (56 acres)
Coordinates52°31′17″N 13°23′44″E / 52.52139°N 13.39556°E / 52.52139; 13.39556

Map of Museum Island (in red)
Museum Island is located in Germany
Museum Island
Location of Museum Island in Germany
Museum Island is located in Berlin
Museum Island
Museum Island (Berlin)

The Museum Island (German: Museumsinsel) is a museum complex on the northern part of the Spree Island in the historic heart of Berlin, Germany. It is one of the capital's most visited sights and one of the most important museum sites in Europe. Originally, built from 1830 to 1930, by order of the Prussian Kings, according to plans by five architects, the Museum Island was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 because of its testimony to the architectural and cultural development of museums in the 19th and 20th centuries. It consists of the Altes Museum, the Neues Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie, the Bode-Museum and the Pergamonmuseum.[1] As the Museum Island designation includes all of Spree Island north of the Karl Leibniz avenue, the historic Berlin Cathedral is also located there, next to the open Lustgarten park. To the south of Leibniz avenue, the reconstructed Berlin Palace houses the Humboldt Forum museum and opened in 2020. Also adjacent, across the west branch of the Spree is the German Historical Museum. Since German reunification, the Museum Island has been rebuilt and extended according to a master plan.[2] In 2019, a new visitor center and art gallery, the James Simon Gallery (by a sixth architect), was opened within the Museum Island heritage site.


The Museum Island is so-called for the complex of internationally significant museums, all part of the Berlin State Museums, that occupy the Spree island's northern part. In 1999, the museum complex was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites because of its unique testimony to the evolution of museums as a social and cultural phenomena and the corresponding development of museum architecture.[1]


  • The Humboldt Forum opened in late 2020 in the reconstructed Berlin Palace opposite the Berliner Dom and Lustgarten park, and incorporated the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art; both are successor institutions of the Ancient Prussian Art Chamber, which was also located in the Berlin Palace and which was established in the mid 16th century. In late 2022, the opening of the eastern wing, the last section of the Humboldt Forum museum, meant the Humboldt Forum museum was finally completed.[3]
  • German Historical Museum, in the historic Zeughaus, and including an extension by I. M. Pei, is located opposite Lustgarten park, just off the Island, along the Unter den Linden.


A first exhibition hall was erected in 1797 at the suggestion of the archaeologist Aloys Hirt. In 1822, Schinkel designed the plans for the Altes Museum to house the royal Antikensammlung, the arrangement of the collection was overseen by Wilhelm von Humboldt. The island, originally a residential area, was dedicated to "art and science" by King Frederick William IV of Prussia in 1841. Further extended under succeeding Prussian kings, the museum's collections of art and archeology were turned into a public foundation after 1918. They are today maintained by the Berlin State Museums branch of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Museum Island with Pergamon and Bode Museum, 1951

Museum Island further comprises the Lustgarten park and the Berlin Cathedral. Between the Bode and Pergamon Museums it is crossed by the Stadtbahn railway viaduct. The adjacent territory to the south is the site of the former royal and imperial Berlin Palace and the Palace of the Republic.

The Prussian collections became separated during the Cold War during the division of the city, but were reunited after German reunification, with the exception of some art and artifacts removed after World War II by Allied troops. These include the Priam's Treasure, also called the gold of Troy, excavated by Heinrich Schliemann in 1873, then smuggled out of Turkey to Berlin and smuggled out of Germany to Moscow. Today it is kept at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.[4]

As for the city's major museums, it took much of the 1990s for a consensus to emerge that Museum Island's buildings should be restored and modernized, with General Director Wolf-Dieter Dube's cautious plan for their use finally approved in January 1999. Then, six months later, Peter-Klaus Schuster took over and set in motion a far more ambitious program intended to turn Museum Island into a Louvre on the Spree.[5] The federal government pledged $20 million a year through 2010 for projects to enhance Berlin's prestige and Unesco declared the island a World Heritage Site.[6]

The contents of the museums were decided on as follows: The Pergamon, with the Greek altar that gives it its name, retained much of its collection and was defined as a museum of ancient architecture. The Neues Museum presented archaeological objects as well as Egyptian and Etruscan sculptures, including the renowned bust of Queen Nefertiti. The Altes Museum, the oldest on the island, displayed Greek and Roman art objects on its first floor and hold exhibitions on its second floor. The Bode Museum's paintings went from Late Byzantine to 1800. And, as now, the Alte Nationalgalerie will cover the 19th century.[5] Once this process is completed, perhaps by 2020, the Gemäldegalerie's painting collection will be transferred to the Bode, and a new annex, and Museum Island will present all art from the ancient civilizations to 1900.[7] The James Simon Gallery, a $94 million visitors' center designed by the British architect David Chipperfield, is being built beside the Neues Museum. It will in turn be linked to the Neues, Altes, Pergamon and Bode Museums by an underground passageway decorated with archaeological objects.[7]

Once the Museum Island Master Plan is completed, the so-called Archaeological Promenade will connect four of the five museums on the Museum Island. The Promenade will begin at the Old Museum in the south, lead through the New Museum and the Pergamon Museum and end at the Bode Museum, located at the northern tip of the Island. Before World War II, these museums were connected by bridge passages above ground; they were destroyed due to the effects of the war. There have never been plans to rebuild them; instead, the central courts of individual museums will be lowered, which has already been done in the Bode Museum and in the New Museum. They will be connected by subterranean galleries. In a way, this archaeological promenade can be regarded as the sixth museum in the Island, because it is devised not only as a connecting corridor but also as a strung-out exhibition room for interdisciplinary presentations. The Archaeological Promenade may be characterized as a cross-total of the collections that are shown separately (in accordance with cultural regions, epochs, and art genres) in the individual museums of the Island. The Archaeological Promenade will address multi-focus topics that have occupied the human mind irrespective of time and cultural region, be it a question of life after death or issues of beauty and other topics.[8]

Museum Island is referenced in the song "On the Museum Island" by folk artist Emmy the Great.[citation needed]

The southern section of the island, south of Gertraudenstraße, is commonly referred to as Fischerinsel (Fisher Island) and is the site of a high-rise apartment development built when Mitte was part of East Berlin.


Panorama with River Spree
Panorama with River Spree

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Museumsinsel (Museum Island), Berlin". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. Archived from the original on 6 May 2021. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  2. ^ "Masterplan Museumsinsel". Archived from the original on 4 February 2023. Retrieved 11 July 2020.
  3. ^ "Completed Humboldt Forum opens in Berlin – DW – 09/16/2022". dw.com.
  4. ^ "Ancient Troy and Schliemann's excavations".
  5. ^ a b Alan Riding (12 March 2002), Berlin, Banking on Its Museums; Seeking a New Identity, the City Shakes Up Its Art Legacy Archived 29 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  6. ^ Desmond Butler (2 December 2001), Berlin Museum's Revival Bolsters German Identity Archived 6 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  7. ^ a b Alan Riding (27 November 2006), German Museums Move Closer to Reunification Archived 11 January 2018 at the Wayback Machine New York Times.
  8. ^ Hermann Parzinger (17 December 2015), Museum Island and Humboldt-Forum: A New Centre for Art and Culture in Berlin Archived 4 February 2023 at the Wayback Machine SCIENCE First Hand.

External links[edit]

52°31′17″N 13°23′44″E / 52.52139°N 13.39556°E / 52.52139; 13.39556