Essential Architecture-  Berlin

Altes Museum


Karl Friedrich Schinkel


Bodestraße 1-3, Mitte (in the Lustgarten "Leisure Garden") Museumsinsel, Berlin


1823 to 1830


Greek Revival




The Altes Museum or Old Museum was originally for the Prussian Royal family's art collection, built in Berlin in a neoclassical style by architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel between 1823 and 1830. The building uses the Greek Stoa in Athens as a model. The museum uses the Ionic Order to articulate the front, which is the only part of the exterior with any visual sign of the Orders; the other three remaining facades are of brick and stone banding. It also is placed on a plinth, giving the building the hierarchy it desperately needed. Also, the museum was raised in order to protect the artwork from inevitable inundation as Museum Island, on which the Altes Museum was the first museum to stand, was known for flooding. The Spree river from which the island protrudes was actually reconfigured by the architect, Schinkel, in order to allow enough ground space for the museum to be built. Necessary roadway changes, bridge expansions, and canals were introduced around the same time as the Altes Museum construction. The original dome was an exact hemisphere, modelled on the Roman Pantheon. It was made invisible to the exterior observer because of the museum's proximity to the Berlin Cathedral; the museum was not meant to compete with the cathedral's dome. In 1830 it opened to the public but was quite badly damaged during the Second World War. After restorations in 1966 during which the dome was rebuilt to form a half elipse, it re-opened as a museum displaying ancient Greek and Roman artefacts. It is the oldest and largest public building in Berlin and sits in the Lustgarten near the Berliner Stadtschloss (Berlin City Palace), adjacent to the Berliner Dom, which was also partly designed by Schinkel. Combined with the new facades of the Berliner Dom and the Berliner Stadtschloss Berlin City Palace, the Altes Museum became one of the heads of authority: God, King and Art.

The Altes Museum in the Lustgarten "Leisure Garden" emerged as the first structure of the extensive museum complex built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel from 1824-30 as an urban counterbalance to the Berliner Castle. It is the one of first buildings in Europe to have been constructed expressly as an museum. Schinkel offset the Hohenzollernschloss, a symbol of political power, with a building which could be regarded as a structure of early bourgeois culture, made open and accessible through its floating colonnades and a broad, open staircase. Here, the royal art collections were exhibited publicly for the first time and became accessible to all.

A broad staircase flanked by sculptures leads to a hall supported by eighteen Ionic sandstone pillars and two corner pilasters. The entire length of attic facing the Leisure Garden carries the inscription: "FRIDERICUS GUILELMUS III STUDIO ANTIQUITATIS OMNIGENIAE ET ARTIUM LIBERALIUM MUSEUM CONSTITUIT MDCCCXXVIII" ("Friedrich Wilhelm III dedicated this museum to the study of all antiquity and liberal arts in 1828"). The portico leads through an impressive main portal of bronze to a double staircase ending in an upper hall resembling a vestibule. The staircase and vestibule, separated by a colonnade create a fascinating impression of both interior and exterior space while offering an unusual panorama of Berlin: the Leisure Garden, the Cathedral, the former castle square and the armory. The rotunda adjacent on the interior, an adaptation of the Roman Pantheon painted according to Schinkel's specifications and with Greek statues positioned between the pillars, was intended as a solemn space to set the mood for the museum visit. The Altes Museum, which had been partly destroyed during the war, was restored until 1966. It is among the oldest, artistically most significant architectural works of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.