The 19th century’s archaeological discovery of Mesopotamia took place in the context of Enlightenment ideals, European nationalism, and the race to colonize both new lands and their ancient pasts. Assyria was the first civilization to be discovered, with British and French excavators pioneering the field. The 1856 decipherment of cuneiform proved decisive for interpreting the thousands of inscribed tablets unearthed in Assyria and Babylonia. The city of Babylon was the first large-scale German project in Mesopotamia, conducted during the last, most ambitious phase of German imperialism, 1899–1917. Excavators discovered the fantastic Ishtar Gate, a colossal brick structure that had been covered with colored glaze, decorated with lions, dragons, and bulls. However, no tower was discovered, and although the Hanging Gardens were identified, not everyone was convinced. Babylon became known, but what they found was new and strange.