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India's ancient Buddhist gate has new replica in Berlin

January 16, 2023

Berlin has a new sight: A replica of the famous East Gate of Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in India. It is a stunning addition to the outdoor space of Berlin's Humboldt Forum museum complex.

A replica of ancient Indian gate in front of the Berlin Cathedral in red sandstone
A replica of the Sanchi gate is erected in front of the Berlin Palace opposite the Berlin Cathedral and leads to the entrance of the Humboldt Forum museum complexImage: Annette Riedl/dpa/picture alliance

Step back in time as you witness the grandeur of ancient India at Berlin's Humboldt Forum museum complex. A replica of the famous East Gate of Sanchi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been meticulously crafted and placed in front of the reconstructed baroque façade of the Berlin Palace, which houses the Ethnological Museum of Berlin and the Museum of Asian Art.

Eine Replik des berühmten Sanchi-Tors für das Humboldt Forum
The gate is located directly in front of Berlin's city castle leading to the Ethnological Museum and the Museum of Asian Art in Berlin's Humboldt ForumImage: Stiftung Humboldt Forum im Berliner Schloss

The gate, known as one of the famous Sanchi "stupas," Sanskrit for Buddhist shrines, was built by German and Indian sculptors and cost around 1.6 million euros (approximately $1.7 million). It features intricate reliefs, crafted from red sandstone quarried near the Bavarian city of Würzburg.

Weighing about 150 tons, the gate is nearly 10 meters tall and 6 meters wide, with detailed scenes depicting episodes from the life of the Buddha on the three crossbeams and two pillars. Buddhist symbols, erotic-looking lucky genii, and depictions of elephants, lions, and peacocks decorate the gate.

However, visitors won't find a depiction of Buddha himself as at the time of the construction of the original gate, he was represented by symbols like a throne under a tree or footprints.

Historic depiction of the Sanchi Stupa
The Sanchi Stupa was found well-preserved by British colonialists in 1869Image: Victoria & Albert Museum, London

The third replica

It's not the first time Berlin is exhibiting a replica of this famous gate. Another plaster cast of the original gate was previously on display in what was then known as the Royal Museum of Ethnology in Berlin in 1886.

The museum had purchased the replica, made of plaster, from the British South Kensington Museum in London (now the Victoria and Albert Museum). Its components are now in the external depot of Berlin's Museum of Asian Art. Another copy made of cast stone has been on display in a Berlin suburb since 1970. 

Historical image of a replica of the East Gate of Sanchi
The 'original cast' of the East Gate of Sanchi in its first permanent installation at the South Kensington Museum in London in 1872Image: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

The Sanchi stupa was discovered by the British general, Henry Taylor, in 1818. In the late 1860s, British Lieutenant Henry Hardy Cole made a cast of the East Gate of Sanchi, the main portal of the ancient stupa, for the Victoria and Albert Museum, which later made several copies and offered them for sale to different European institutions. 

UNESCO World Heritage since 1989

Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in the year 1989, Sanchi attracts tourists from all over the world. The Buddhist complex is one of the oldest, most significant and most well-preserved Buddhist sanctuaries in India. 

Indien | Sanchi Weltkulturerbe | Große Stupa
Sanchi is one of the oldest and most well-preserved Buddhist sanctuaries in IndiaImage: Adam Woolfitt/robertharding/picture alliance

India’s Ambassador to Berlin, Harish Parvathaneni welcomed the initiative of the Humboldt Forum "to place the replica of the Sanchi Gate in the heart of Berlin," saying it deserves recognition because it "embodies Buddha’s message of peace, compassion and love for all living beings."

The Sanchi Gate represents "the close relationship between India and Germany and the long-standing, strong ties between the people of our countries," he added.

Diversity in Berlin

The replica is a stunning addition to the outdoor space of Berlin's Humboldt Forum."I am very excited about the replica of the East Gate of the Sanctuary of Sanchi in front of the Humboldt Forum", Hartmut Dorgerloh, general director of the institution, said in a press statement.

"As an exciting counterpoint to the baroque facades, what visitors can look forward to inside the building will now also be visible in front of the portals of the Humboldt Forum: The diversity of the world in the center of Berlin."

Alongside the reconstructed gate, a bronze model of the Stupa of Sanchi will be displayed. This model will help to understand the reconstruction, make the entire complex more accessible, and also serve as a tactile model for those with visual impairments.

Edited by: Manasi Gopalakrishnan