New Middle East Galleries Open With Giant Festival At The Penn Museum, April 21-22

Celebrate the opening of the newly renovated space with a festival showcasing the music, food, art and culture of the Middle East...

The wait is finally over! The Penn Museum opens its redesigned Middle East Galleries this weekend with a two-day festival on April 21 and 22.

The new space showcases over 1,200 ancient artifacts and objects — more than half displayed for the first time — that tell a profound story about humanity and illustrate how ancient Mesopotamian societies and the cities where they lived are not all that different from present-day society and cities.


  • The Penn Museum’s new Middle East Galleries open on Saturday, April 21.
  • The Opening Weekend Festival (April 21-22) includes performances, workshops, crafting activities and a Middle Eastern bazaar.
  • The exhibit features over 1,200 artifacts, some exhibited for the first time.
  • Opening festival activies are free with museum admission.

The Penn Museum’s expansive collection of artifacts and other historical objects position the institution as a world leader in Near East archaeology. This opening marks the completion of one phase of the museum’s first massive renovation in nearly 100 years.

Visitors can see how the Penn Museum’s new look is starting to manifest, tour the new galleries and celebrate the rich culture of the Middle East at this weekend’s highly anticipated opening festival.

Penn Museum's Middle East Galleries
(Photo courtesy Eric Sucar/Penn Communications)
Many of the rare objects on display — like The Bull Lyre (shown) and Ram in the Thicket — were found in the King’s Grave at the Royal Cemetery of Ur.

Gallery Highlights

The new galleries explore how people in ancient Mesopotamia lived in the cities they built and the parallels between their society and urban societies today.

The three galleries — “Towards Cities,” “Ur: The Great City” and “The World of Cities” — take visitors on a 10,000-year journey that analyzes and unearths truths about the progress and development of this fascinating society.

The exhibit features a collection of 1,200 artifacts, from fine art pieces and royal jewelry to household items and stone tools. Highlights include Mesopotamian Queen Puabi’s 4,500-year-old ornate headdress and crowning jewelry, the famous “Ram in the Thicket” statuette, a giant relief of an Assyrian winged genie from the palace of King Ashur-Nasir-Pal II and one of the world’s oldest wine vessels.

Penn Museum's Middle East Galleries
(Photo courtesy Eric Sucar/Penn Communications)
A giant relief of an Assyrian winged genie is one of many stand-out objects on display at the Middle East Galleries.

More than half of the artifacts and objects displayed in the 6,000-square-foot space have never been exhibited before. Modern updates throughout the space like interactive stations and touchable reproductions of artifacts provide guests with a more hands-on, sensory-driven museum experience.

Beginning opening weekend and continuing through May, guests can take a tour of the galleries led by immigrants and refugees from Syria and Iraq.

The Penn Museum recruited these individuals to be part of the new Global Guides: Immigrant Stories Tour Progam, which trains local immigrants and refugees to give unique tours to visitors based on their own experiences and insights about life in the Middle East.

Penn Museum's Middle East Galleries
(Photo courtesy Eric Sucar/Penn Communications)
Global Guides combine historical content with their own experience to give museum guests a deeper appreciation of the material on view in the Middle East Galleries.

Opening Weekend Festival

The Opening Weekend Festival features a variety of programming that highlights the Middle East’s rich culture.

Guests can learn calligraphy at the Arabic Calligraphy Workshop, play a doumbek drum at the Middle Eastern Drum Workshop and explore the spices of the Middle East at the Spice Station.

The Turkish American Friendship Society of the U.S. Choir and Al-Bustan Ensemble and guests perform their classic and contemporary Arab music live in back-to-back shows on Sunday, April 22, in the Egypt Gallery. The Iraqi football team — formed for Philadelphia’s Unity Cup tournament — plans to put on a show as well during a skills demonstration in Warden Garden.

(Photo courtesy Penn Museum)
During the Opening Weekend Festival, guests can discuss the exhibit and renovation with the curators, graduate students, researchers and designers who took part in the massive redesign.

A special opening-weekend marketplace sells teas and spices from the Middle East and the museum’s Paper Mill Café offers up a special Middle Eastern menu for the weekend featuring chicken biryani, ancient grain tabbouleh salad, roasted eggplant with tahini and mint and more dishes inspired by the region’s delicacies.

Curators and other experts who helped design and arrange the new galleries are around both days of the festival to answer questions and chat about the exhibit.

Be among the first to see the new-and-improved Middle East Galleries at the Penn Museum’s special Opening Weekend Festival!

Middle East Galleries Opening & Weekend Festival at the Penn Museum

When:Festival, April 21-22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Galleries, open regular museum hours
Where:Penn Museum, 3260 South Street
Cost:Free with general admission: $15, adults, $13, seniors (65 & older); $10, children (6-17) and full-time students with college ID; free, museum members, active U.S. military personnel, children (5 & under) and PennCard holders (Penn faculty, staff, and students)


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