Expansion of Pergamon Museum in Berlin to give ancient art new home

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The Independent Online

The road is now clear for a long-awaited restoration of the German capital's Pergamon Museum, which houses treasures such as the Pergamon Altar and Babylon's Ishtar Gate, after the government approved a budget for the project.

The neoclassical museum will gain a new wing during the overhaul, which will cost a maximum of €351m (£240m) and be financed by the federal government. With federal and state budgets tight, approval for the financing has been delayed by many years.

The new fourth wing, which will be built across the entrance to the museum's massive courtyard, "will allow us to show all major cultures on a single level," Klaus Dieter Lehmann, the head of Berlin's Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, told a press conference yesterday. "You will then have, on one level, everything from Mesopotamia, through Egypt, Greece, Rome and classical antiquity up to the Islamic era."

The Pergamon Museum drew nearly a million visitors last year, making it one of Berlin's most popular attractions. It remains unclear how long the restoration will take.

Building work is due to start in 2011 and continue until 2026, said Stefan Vieths, a representative of the project's architect, O M Ungers. Under current plans, the refurbishment will be carried out in stages, allowing at least part of the museum to be kept open while work is done.

But Mr Lehmann and Mr Vieths said that officials would examine whether work can be speeded up by closing the building completely for a time and transferring some of the main attractions to other venues. The museum, which opened in 1930, was damaged during the Second World War, and bullet holes still pockmark its façades. It is the best-known of the five museums on Berlin's Museum Island, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

The work is part of a £1.5bn project to renovate the entire complex, which was only partly restored by the former Communist East German regime.

Emergency work has been carried out in recent years to shore up the roof while the resoration plans were still to be approved. Restorers also tackled some of the museum's artworks.

The restored marble frieze of the Pergamon Altar, which dates back to the 2nd century BC, was unveiled in 2004. More recently, officials have embarked on a plan to dismantle and remove much of the towering Roman Market Gate of Miletus for restoration.