London's Babylon exhibit divides myth and reality

Fri Dec 19, 2008 1:35pm EST
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By Charlie Breslin

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A new exhibition in London explores the reality behind the myths of ancient Babylon through art and relics from the historic site.

"Babylon: Myth and Reality" at the British Museum places artifacts from the site of the ancient city alongside contemporary news footage and works depicting Babylonian themes from such artists as William Blake, Cornelis Anthonisz and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

The exhibition draws on the combined collections of the British Museum in London, the Louvre and the Reunion des musees nationaux in Paris as well as the Vorderasiatisches Museum Berlin.

Lead curator Irving Finkel said the fascination with Babylon possibly stems from the fact that so much of its history is an amalgamation of myth and reality. The exhibition displays several artistic interpretations of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, though its historical existence is still hotly debated.

The reality of ancient Babylon is demonstrated through numerous artifacts from the site.

The walls are flanked by blue-and-gold glazed panels from the city's processional road and detailed cuneiform scripts describe pivotal moments from Babylon's history.

One giant tablet covered in cuneiform known as the "East India House" slab describes Nebuchadnezzar's rebuilding of the city's holy districts. Another, the "Cyrus Cylinder" relates Cyrus of Persia's conquest of Babylon in 539 BC.

The site of Babylon, which sits about 85 miles south of modern Baghdad, has been altered often in modern times. The area was damaged during the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to topple President Saddam Hussein, who also built a huge palace nearby that overlooks the city.   Continued...