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.