Although possible as a day-trip destination from Ayvalık, BERGAMA, site of the ancient city of Pergamon, rates an overnight stop in its own right. Towering over modern Bergama, the stunning acropolis of the Pergamene dynasty is the main attraction, but two lesser sights, the Asklepion and Kızıl Avlu, as well as the town’s medieval quarter, are well worth exploring. Bear in mind that the two parts of ancient Pergamon, unshaded and extremely hot at midday in summer, are some distance from each other.
Pergamon rose to prominence as the base of Lysimakhos, a successor to Alexander the Great who died in 281 BC. He left considerable treasure to his eunuch-steward Philetaeros who passed it on to his nephew Eumenes I, founder of the Pergamene dynasty. The city only achieved true greatness under Eumenes II (197–159 BC), who built its gymnasium, the Altar of Zeus, library, theatre and acropolis wall. Eumenes’ brother Attalos II ruled until 138 BC, followed by the five-year reign of the cruel but scholarly Attalos III, who perversely left the kingdom to the Romans. Under them Pergamon became an artistic and commercial centre of 150,000 people, but after the arrival of the Goths in 262 AD, it declined and fell into ruin.
The German engineer Carl Humann rediscovered ancient Pergamon in 1871, when some locals showed him a strange mosaic that turned out to be part of the relief from the Altar of Zeus. Humann bought the mosaic, and began excavating the acropolis. Work was completed by 1886, but unfortunately most of the finds were carted off to Germany, including the Altar of Zeus reliefs, now in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
In 1998 a second significant archeological site, the Roman spa and asklepion of Allianoi, was discovered 19km east of Pergamon. However, it had only been partly excavated before the Yortanlı irrigation dam flooded the site in 2011 despite domestic and international protest (see wallianoi.org). The site was first “re-buried” under a protective layer of clay so that future generations may be able to excavate it once the dam’s tenure (only 50 years say some experts) is complete.Read More
Once you enter the site of Pergamon’s Acropolis, an uphill path from the former city gate leads southwest to the huge, square Altar of Zeus, standing in the shade of two large stone pines. Built by 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, 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.
A narrow staircase leads down from the Temple of Athena to the spectacular Hellenistic theatre, cut into the hillside and with capacity for ten thousand 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, 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.
Behind the temple are the remains of barracks and the highest reaches of the city’s perimeter wall. Nearby yawns a cistern once fed by an aqueduct, traces of which are still visible running parallel to a modern one on the hillside to the northwest. Finally, as you begin your descent back down towards the main entrance, you’ll pass – east of the library and Athena temple – the extensive but jumbled ruins of the royal palaces.
The terrace south of the Altar of Zeus now holds little more than Carl Humann’s grave, though as the upper agora it was once the commercial and social focus of Pergamon. An ancient street descends past the Temple of Demeter, where the local variant of the Eleusinian Mysteries was enacted. Across the way lies the gymnasium, where the city’s youth were educated. Its upper level, with its palaestra and lecture hall, was for young men, the middle was used by the adolescents, and the lower served as a playground for small boys. From the lower agora, the path back down to town is indicated by blue waymarks.
Pergamon’s library and the birth of the modern book
Pergamon’s library and the birth of the modern book
Founded by Eumenes II and enlarged by Attalos II, both fanatical collectors of books, Pergamon’s Library grew to contain 200,000 titles – volumes by Aristotle and Theophrastos were paid for with their weight in gold. Eventually the Egyptian Ptolemies, alarmed at this growing rival to their own library in Alexandria, banned the export of papyrus, on which all scrolls were written, and of which they were sole producers.
In response to this bid to stem the library’s expansion, the Pergamene dynasty revived the old practice of writing on specially treated animal skins, parchment. That led quickly to the invention of the codex or paged book, since parchment couldn’t be rolled up like papyrus. The words “parchment” and the more archaic “pergamene” both derive from “Pergamon”. The library was appropriated by Mark Antony, who gave it to Cleopatra as a gift, and many of its works survived in Alexandria until destroyed by the Arabs in the seventh century.
Bergama’s various archeological sites are so widely spread out that only the most ardent (and thrifty) of walkers would insist on walking to them.
The entrance to the Acropolis is accessible on foot from the old town, but the most direct route is an uphill path that can be hard to find, while the main road, which is also steep, is not particularly direct, doubling back on itself for about 5km. Most visitors choose to ride up to the ticket booth by cable car and then walk down through the ruins.
The Asklepion is also an uphill hike from the town centre, either on a steep track or along a winding road. Both pass through a large, clearly marked military zone (no photos), closed to all traffic at dusk. More walker-friendly are the Archeological Museum and Kızıl Avlu, around 1500m apart and at the southern and northern ends of Bergama’s main road respectively.