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  • Writer's pictureDr Julien Drouart

Pergamon Panorama: The Ancient City of Pergamon

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

The Asisi Panorama at the Pergamon Museum provides a 360° view of an ancient city in Asia Minor. Although the entire display is the product of thorough historical reconstruction, it also pays homage to intellectual lethargy.

Visiting the Panorama at the Pergamon Museum is optional

Since the 2000s, architect and artist Yadegar Asisi has made a name for himself by creating monumental panoramas that depict natural landscapes, cities, or historical scenes. The modus operandi remains largely the same. Digital special effects are imposed on a curved surface to create an impression of depth. The image stays static, with only sound and light effects altering the perception. To enhance the effect, the panoramas are showcased on the interior surfaces of old gasometers, whose circular shape allows for optimal presentation. Asisi renamed these as "panometers," a neologism derived from combining panorama and gasometer.

In Berlin, Asisi is most renowned for Asisi Panorama: Die Mauer Located near Checkpoint Charlie, this work depicts the Berlin Wall in a striking setting. Its popularity with the general public inspired the national collections museums in Berlin. In 2018, the Pergamon Museum, one of Berlin's most significant, opened an Asisi Panorama dedicated to the ancient city bearing the same name.

When Sensationalism Suffices

The monumental scale of the Asisi Panorama at the Pergamon Museum makes it quite awe-inspiring. The expansive circular room offers an unmatched sense of proximity and immersion. The initial approach entails walking around to appreciate the diversity and richness of scenes suggested by the panorama. The spectacle is vertical too. A gigantic observation tower at the room's center allows you to ascend several meters above the ground. By climbing the stairs, the scene is rediscovered. Ancient Pergamon reveals its cattle market, temples, theater, and countless life scenes on a stunning horizon.

The panorama is static, with no movement, and only interrupted by sound effects of daily life and occasion-specific music. The overall spectacle is meant to be grand but hardly persuasive. The shift from day to night alters the colors, but the pace is too brisk. This cycle is looped every few minutes, which, due to its predictable and monotonous staging, hampers immersion, leading many towards the exit sooner than expected.

Some explanatory materials are made available to visitors via descriptive panels or an audio guide provided at the entrance. However, the darkness and background noise during the visit render this information almost inaudible, making the contemplative experience feel like discovering a famous or marvelous landscape. In this context, the Asisi Panorama resembles a TV screen more than anything else. It's easy to overlook the adjoining sections where numerous reliefs are displayed, which are undeniably the most significant exhibits in this annex of the Pergamon Museum.

The Fast-food Cultural Experience

The Asisi Panorama in the Pergamon Museum offers a compelling and easily comprehensible concept. The entire experience appeals to spontaneous impressions, where awe is evoked by the monumental and bombastic presentation. If culture is to be accessible to all, there are traps to avoid. Classic culture does not need to resort to competition, spectacle for spectacle's sake, or an approach solely based on the instantaneous.

The work stands out for its incredible completeness and detailed depiction of a historical scene. This acclaim is well-deserved. However, from a technical perspective, the outcome is somewhat mixed. Up close, the image is blurry and displays some imperfections. Moreover, the choice of a still image is questionable, rendering the whole experience a new Uncanny Valley. It's like a giant wallpaper with sometimes questionable patterns. Thus, room attendants often amuse themselves by pointing out the mistakes and anachronisms hidden in the vast fresco to visitors: a watch, a plastic bottle, a character with two left arms. Whether these are oversights or the artist's inside jokes, these easter eggs seem out of place.

While Yadegar Asisi didn't invent panorama art, he certainly reinvigorated it to the point of gaining recognition. His work belongs to the realm of entertainment. The Pergamon Museum is embracing modernity, but this openness comes at a cost: an immense accumulation of spectacles.

Reasons to Visit

  • A spectacular initial impression

  • The transformative climb to the top of the observation tower

  • The reliefs displayed in the adjacent rooms

Reasons to Avoid

  • An excessive price

  • A very limited visit duration

  • Generally unsatisfying staging

  • Lack of depth

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