Explore The North Aegean
Although possible as a day-trip destination from Ayvalık, BERGAMA, site of the ancient city of Pergamon, rates an overnight in its own right. The stunning acropolis is the main attraction, but two lesser sights and the town’s medieval quarter may detain you further. Bergama seems unpromising at first: the long approach to the centre passes nondescript modern buildings, with the two parts of ancient Pergamon some distance from town.
The foremost attraction in Bergama itself is the Kızıl Avlu or “Red Basilica”, a huge red-brick edifice on the river below the acropolis. Originally built as a second-century AD temple to the Egyptian gods Serapis, Harpokrates and Isis, it was used as a basilica by the Byzantines – who merely built a smaller church within the confines. Pergamon was one of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse addressed by St John the Divine, who referred to it in Revelation 2:13 as “the throne of Satan”, perhaps a nod to the still-extant Egyptian cult. It’s now a crumbling ruin containing a mosque in one of its towers, with the ancient Selinos River (today the Bergama Çayı) passing underneath the basilica via two tunnels. Just downstream you’ll see a handsome Ottoman bridge, built in 1384, with two equally well-preserved Roman bridges upstream.
The area uphill from the basilica, north of the river, is the town’s old quarter, a jumble of Ottoman buildings, antique and carpet shops, mosques and maze-like streets. The antique stalls are full of very beautiful, overpriced copperware – too many coach tours have had their effect. Similarly, the reputation of Bergama carpets has been besmirched by too much synthetic dye and machine-weaving – beware.
Pergamon first gained prominence as the base of Lysimakhos, one of Alexander the Great’s successors. He left considerable treasure with his eunuch-steward Philetaeros, who inherited it when Lysimakhos was killed in 281 BC. Philetaeros passed these riches on to his nephew Eumenes I founder of the Pergamene dynasty but the city did not achieve true greatness until the reign of 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 Pergamon’s last king, the cruel but scholarly Attalos III, who perversely left the kingdom in his will to the Romans. Under them Pergamon grew to be a renowned artistic and commercial centre of 150,000 people, but after the arrival of the Goths in 262 AD, the city declined as it was claimed by successive invaders before falling 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 was built: despite domestic and international protest (see wwww.allianoi.org for details), the site looks set to be submerged beneath 17m of water.Read More
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.
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 – thus attempting to stem the library’s expansion. In response the Pergamene dynasty revived the old practice of writing on specially treated animal skins – parchment – which 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” are both actually derived 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.