The acropolis is readily accessible on foot from the old town – though this is one attraction you may want to reach by taxi, at least going uphill, since the path can be difficult to find.
From the former city gate, a path leads southwest to the huge, square Altar of Zeus, standing in the shade of two large stone pines. Built during the reign of Eumenes II to commemorate his father’s victory over the Gauls, the altar was decorated with reliefs depicting the battle between the Titans and the gods, symbolizing the triumph of order over chaos (and, presumably, that of Attalos I over the Gauls). Even today its former splendour is apparent, if much diminished by the removal of the reliefs to Berlin. The main approach stairway was on the west, though this is now the most deteriorated side.
Directly northeast of and exactly parallel to the Altar of Zeus, on the next terrace up, lie the sparse remains of the third-century BC Temple of Athena. Only some of its stepped foundations survive in situ, although the entrance gate, with its inscribed dedication “King Eumenes to Athena the Bearer of Victories”, has been reconstructed in Berlin. The scanty north stoa of the temple once housed Pergamon’s famous Library, which at its peak rivalled Alexandria’s.
From the Temple of Athena a narrow staircase leads down to the spectacular Hellenistic theatre, cut into the hillside and with a capacity for 10,000 spectators. The wooden stage was removed after each performance – the holes into which the supporting posts were driven can still be seen on the stage terrace – to allow free access to the Temple of Dionysos, built on the same terrace.
Still further north and uphill looms the Corinthian Temple of Trajan, where both Trajan and Hadrian were revered during Roman times – their busts were also taken to Berlin. German archeologists have re-erected some of the temple columns, plus much of the stoa that surrounded the shrine on three sides. The north architrave is lined with Medusa heads, two of them modern recastings.
Bergama’s other significant archeological site is the Asklepion, the ancient, sacred therapeutic centre. The main road there, about 2km long, begins in front of the Böblingen Pension and passes through a large, clearly marked military zone, closed to traffic at dusk – don’t take photographs outside of the site itself.
Healing methods at all asklepia combined the ritualistic and the practical. Patients were required to sleep in the temple so that Asklepios, semi-divine son of Apollo and god of healing, might appear in their dreams to suggest diagnosis and treatment. However, special diets, bathing in hot or cold water and exercise also figured in the therapeutic regimes. Galen (129–202 AD), the greatest physician of antiquity, whose theories dominated medicine until the sixteenth century, was born and worked here as well as in Rome.
Much of what can be seen here today dates from the reign of Hadrian (117–38 AD), when the Pergamene Asklepion functioned much like a nineteenth-century spa. Some came to be cured of specific ailments, but for others a prolonged visit was part of the social life of the wealthy and leisured.